"Life begins at 40." "Don't trust anyone over 30." "Hire a teenager, they know everything." The age-related comments can be fun. But when it comes to the workplace, the issue of age isn't funny. Assuming that everyone over 50 is "old" is having some disastrous consequences. When we assume people are no longer able when they really are, we take the most experienced minds out of the fray. We can't afford to do that. As a business, as a culture, as family members.
Webster's lists nine different definitions of the word "old.In terms of people, which version of "old" are we using, "experienced" or "worn?" Our continued success as a society hinges on which we choose. Because 50 is not "worn" so much as polished. We are throwing away really good stuff--and then paying to keep it somewhere else.
Seventy percent of the physical problems we blame on aging are actually the result of lifestyle choices. It's not your age that's keeping you from doing that bike ride. It's that the most exertion you've bothered to require of yourself for the last ten years is opening the car door. Excusing our bad habits with our birthdays is a down payment on a long gloomy death spiral. We are likely to live until at least 80. Thirty years of assuming we can't do what we want because we're "old" is pretty tragic.
Businesses who assume 50 is "old" are squandering some of their best talent, too. Instead of helping the experienced workforce get comfortable with new technology, they look for ways to usher them out the door. Rather than capitalizing on the full breadth of talent by creating cross-generational teams, they shunt older workers off to the side, where their experience and insight isn't avaiable to new employees. They do the gag gifts and the retirement speeches for people they really need to keep without every exploring the possibility of a creative work arrangement?"
Wired magazine's April issue includes an article about taking your job on the road--in your RV. It wasn't written for "old" people. But it's definitely an option to consider for a key older employee who wants to retire mostly to have that kind of freedom. The irony of the current business mindset is that while companies continue to assume that experienced workers want traditional retirement, they are creating flexible work arrangements to attract Gen Y workers as their replacements. The "new kids" want to work when they want wherever they want, responsible only for the end result rather than showing up every day. It's called ROWE--results only work environment. To offer such options to new, inexperienced workers--who probably won't reach the level of productivity the older workers have for ten years or maybe much longer--and NOT offer it as an alternative to retirement is painfully short-sighted.
As a business, there may also be room to retain the experience you already paid to develop in creative ways that take less than a full time salary to accomplish. This is daunting economy, yes. But it's also the perfect opportunity to try some things while the pace is a little slower. How can you marry new technology with old savvy to get the best bang for your labor buck?
And then there is the little matter of government entitlements. When someone retires, they go on everybody else's payroll, via FICA taxes. Social Security comes out of our wallets—businesses and individual workers--not "the government's.When we decide people are "old" and encourage them to retire at, let's say 62, we are buying on taking care of them, via Social Security checks, for about 18 years.
Most people are still healthy when they retire. They are still capable of doing great work on something in which they believe, particularly if it's a customized arrangement. Instead, the invisible wall of ageism goes up around them. Our culture assumes they are washed up, worn out, and useless. We pay them to not work anymore and then wonder how to replace what they knew and could do. And once they've retired, we make re-entry into the labor market, even if highly qualified, just short of impossible. It's like we are afraid "old" is contagious.
And it doesn't stop there. Once people start being "old," it's hard not to buy in on the stereotype. They need more medical attention. Much of it wouldn't be necessary if these capable people could remain engaged. But when the only person who'll talk to you is your doctor, you talk to your doctor. Once Medicare is part of that person's setup, we are all pay that bill.
We need to revisit when "old" starts. I'm voting for somewhere around 95 or maybe 98. Many of us can keep going all the way to the day we die if we just have the opportunity. People over 50 have a lot left to offer and a lot left to do. As a culture, we need to give them the chance. Our collective mindset needs to change—and that happens one person at a time. So change you mind about "old."
Mary Lloyd has sinced written about articles on various topics from self improvement and motivation, Fitness and Careers and Job Hunting. Mary Lloyd is the author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. She offers seminars on how you can create a meaningful retirement for yourself and consults to help your business attract and use retire. Mary Lloyd's top article generates over 3600 views. Bookmark Mary Lloyd to your Favourites.
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