“I have a wonderful respect for old people.”
“I think old people should just be old and go away.”
“…the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old ”
Proverbs 20:29 NLT
Just recently, I visited a local drive-in near where I live. I went inside to place my order and, since it was a very busy evening, had to wait in line. Once I reached the counter and placed my order, I paid the high school aged girl waiting on me and gave her a card, valid locally at many local establishments, for a 10% discount. To my surprise and chagrin she said, “Sir, I can’t use this card because I’ve already given you the senior discount”.
The good news was she had given me the larger of the two discounts. The bad news was it wasn’t because she wanted to make sure I saved the most money but she’d concluded that I was a senior from my appearance. My dismay was caused not so much because she was incorrect (I recently turned fifty-nine) but that it was the very first time someone had provided a senior discount (or at least had told me they had…).
My initial reaction was “I’m not sure I qualify” – perhaps a bit of denial on my part. The real blow was that the young woman behind the counter had drawn a conclusion based on my appearance. Baby boomers in the workforce and, more importantly, those looking for work, face this same type of judgment.
That’s Just the Way It Is
Many Boomers I know who are looking for work expect discrimination. They attribute getting passed over for positions to being “too old”, “not young enough” or cite a company’s workforce as skewing younger. I’m not going to rant about age discrimination. Actually, I’m more concerned about the conclusions I see drawn by young and old in the world of work. Now, there may well be discriminatory practices that exist and companies do continue to cling to myths about older workers like; “they increase insurance costs because of their health”, “they aren’t technically savvy” or “their performance will be sub-par and their higher salaries don’t yield any returns”. To make matters worse older folks may limit themselves from the beginning of their job search by their belief that what society has been saying about them is true. Well, it’s Poppycock…
The cover story of August’s HR Magazine (the periodical from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)) is about investing in older workers. The article notes that workers age 50 and older currently make up a third of the workforce. It also cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that workers 55 and older hold over 1,830,000 jobs as chief executives, managers and front line supervisors. That kind of distribution throughout the workforce illustrates the influence older workers have. The article also points out 24% of older workers are unemployed. By 2030, the population will include 72 million folks over the age of 55. Perhaps older workers should be valued for their knowledge, experience and wisdom and those looking for work sought for what they can bring to the table.
Older workers possess a breath of knowledge that benefits the companies for which they work. They can provide insights into the history of the organizations as well as into history in general. They are the folks who grew up before computers, cell phones and texting. They have some abilities that are becoming rare in the workplace called soft skills. They know how to work face to face with their team members and can still write a letter or work when the server is down or the power is out. As the work force ages it also means the torch will need to be passed. Succession planning depends on good mentoring and older workers can use their wisdom and work experience to help groom younger workers for additional duties and positions that are more responsible.
It’s time everyone recognizes the positive impact older workers have had and can continue to have in the workplace. Young folks need to appreciate them for the value they can provide and older folks need to appreciate the value they themselves possess. Maybe it’s not about teaching old dogs new tricks but about what tricks old dogs can teach others. Woof!
Here to serve,
Next month: How Much Rope?