The value of older workers

Apr 14 2010 by Janet Howd Print This Article

Whatever approach an organisation takes to embrace its older employees, there is no escaping the fact that this must be done. The demographic time bomb is still ticking away in the background and there is no sign of a boost in birth rates defusing it any time soon.

Any serious business must face up to the challenge of engaging effectively with its older workers or face up to unplugable gaps in its workforce in the very near future.

Writing here on Management-issues last month, Dr Jorgen Thorsell explored why it is that more mature workers are the least likely to takeup training opportunities. While I fully agree with his observation that organisations must change their attitude towards older workers by engaging affirmatively with them, I would argue that the greatest change in attitude must come from older people themselves.

Close on sixty five years has passed since state pensions came into being, and in that time as much change has occurred in the appearance of the world of work as in the appearance of its oldest workers.

Well before the current recession hit our pockets the proportion of total pay stashed away in pensions was insufficient to provide for a workforce whose physical and mental health now lasts - on average - three times as long as it did when pensions were initially created.

Now, more than ever, companies and workers are either going to have to pay a much greater proportion of wages into the pension pot or accept 75 as the new retirement age

The first article I ever wrote for Management Issues in March 2006 suggested ways to make this pill more palatable. But mine was then a bit of a lone voice.

Four years on with people in general much more aware that to retain older people in the market place is both good for the individual and good for society, it seems worth reiterating my ideas.

"Clearly, if people of all ages are to be successfully engaged in the process of wealth creation, there is much to be done. Older people in the vanguard of change will inevitably have to contend with more than their fair share of the pain associated with expectations about retirement not being realised, but if we get the model right and balance qualitative and quantitative measures effectively their efforts will definitely benefit those who come after - and for many of us that means our own offspring.

We could, for example, negotiate with government to take sabbatical leave at relevant intervals throughout a working life in lieu of final-slab-state-pensions and get it to create legislation - with teeth Ė re shorter working hours.

There will be time (and it will make economic sense as working till seventy five becomes the norm) for people to retrain in their late thirties and early forties to do completely different jobs from the ones they first embarked on. The reduction in boredom this would produce should increase economic performance just at a time when there would be a natural falling off.

Late flowering careers could become the norm and as the time left before retirement would be long enough for promotion still to be in prospect, late entry employees would have the incentive to knuckle down and deliver their best.

Fears that - in a world of work which includes great grandparents - young people are likely to lose out, should be calmed by the fact that the young will not have the current economic burden of support for a top heavy, older population to contend with."

Re-attiring retirees in this way will go a long way towards healing divisions at work between different age groups while the psychological and philosophical value added to individuals by making their later years as worthwhile and companionable as any other part of life will be beyond price.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.