Nothing stays the same for long, that’s for sure. Of course, had we been living in the beginning of the 20th century rather than the beginning of the 21st century, we’d have faced dramatic change too: the agrarian economy gave way to the industrial economy; electricity transformed peoples’ lives; railways brought the cities and the countryside closer together, and the telephone revolutionised communication.
Yet, the rate of change seems to be faster and deeper today than even, say, 40 years ago. Perhaps the biggest change for older workers, and the most challenging, is in communication and information technology. Many Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964, as you probably know), having entered the workforce before the advent of computers, were aghast at having to learn even the basics and although most coped, some remain ‘technologically challenged’.
But is that a big deal? Why not assign the right duties to the right people, which you should be doing anyway? Younger employees generally thrive on technology while many older employees are more comfortable using other skill sets. No big deal. When you need a mature employee (there, that sounds better than older employee, doesn’t it?!) training and practice will save the day. Everyone can learn when they want to, whatever their age.
As a matter of fact, mature people learn just as quickly as immature people (oh, that sounds bad doesn’t it?!) Strike that. Mature people learn as quickly as younger people and what’s more, there is a lot of research evidence suggesting that once the oldies have acquired a skill, they can apply it more effectively. This is partly due to their experience and partly to their brains: inductive reasoning (moving from the specific to the general) and spatial orientation (awareness of the space around you and where your body is in relation to it) peak at around 50 years of age and verbal abilities and verbal memory peak at around 60 years.
Baby Boomers tend to be easier to manage, too, because they don’t expect as much from their employers and their managers and do many younger workers. They’ve been conditioned into accepting ‘mushroom management’ (let’s just say being treated more like cogs in a wheel than real live people), so many will still put up with a lot more expletive deleted than younger people are willing to. Boomers are also likely to stay in the job longer if for no other reason than they know it’s harder for them to find jobs than the 20- and 30-somethings.
In shying away from mature workers, organisations are missing out on the benefits of their experience, their accumulated common sense and their ability to think problems through and follow up on their solutions to make sure they’re working. They’re also missing out on older workers’ ability to tap into all the networks and relationships they’ve built up over the years, their willingness to not move on to greener pastures and their willingness to put up with–but let’s not go there again.
It doesn’t matter, though, because just around the corner, organisations won’t be able to afford the luxury of ignoring the older talent pool. There simply aren’t enough younger workers entering the workforce to replace the retiring Boomers. Then everyone will just have to learn to work together. Goodness, what a thought!