Are you over 60? Do you hope to live beyond 60? Do you have parents or grandparents that have lived beyond 60? If your answer to these questions is no, then this post will have no practical value to you. For everyone else, what is your game plan for an economically productive and satisfying life in your older years? And if you are responsible for a team of employees, does age matter?
By 2050, the number of people ages 65+ will total just under 1.5 billion, or 16 percent of the global total. This compares to only 5 percent in 1950. This global trend is well known – but how will it affect your career and retirement choices, and to what extent is it changing your career priorities? Even former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney who wrote the song ‘When I’m Sixty-four’ in his teens – and still musically active in his 70s – would, I’m sure, admit that he rocks to a different beat these days.
When I started out, I thought that the path to success in life was simple – invest in a great education, land a fabulous job in my chosen field and work obsessively to get ahead. Along the way, I hoped to find true love, raise a family, buy a house and travel the world. All I had to do was stay focused and do my job well. But life is rarely that simple.
No one can rest on their laurels. To quote Eric Hoffer: “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.” But with life expectancy projected to pass 100 in some industrial countries by the second half of the century, can society as a whole and companies in particular afford to put people ‘out to pasture’ when they can still be productive team members and tax payers?
For all but a very small minority of people at the top, the corporate world is a cult of youth. The ‘up or out’ mentality favours younger employees, if only because they have more rungs of the corporate ladder before them, have fewer competing responsibilities, and are cheaper. But as a communicator I know that messages that resonate well with one audience (in this case, shareholders), don’t necessarily meet the needs of others (such as society, local communities, employees), or indeed benefit the company itself in the long-term. That’s why some enlightened companies are adapting to the challenges and even benefits of an aging workforce.
Anthropologist and author, Jared Diamond, puts it well in his TED Talk entitled ‘How societies can grow old better.’ While there are many things that older people can no longer do so well, there are equally many things that they do better. A challenge for society, he points out, is to make productive use of the things that older people are better at doing, due to their:
- Longer and likely more varied experience
- Understanding of people and human relationships
- Ability to help other people without their own ego getting in the way
- Ability to think about large databases (as opposed to very specific fields of study)
- Roles involving: supervising, administrating, advising, strategizing, teaching, synthesizing, and devising long-term plans
- Role as a repository of information and personal experience of crisis caused by rare events
I recently did a Communications Team Dynamics session with a client, using the Belbin Team Roles model to ensure everyone understood the need for a mixture of personalities, strengths, predispositions, and preferences. Some preferred writing and were strong on editing, others were good with detail and better at event management, still others were less strong on the details but were inspiring, and so make the workplace more enjoyable for everyone else.
Given the importance to corporate communications of many of the strengths that improve with age – next time I’ll be looking to ensure that there is a mixture of ages as well. After all, how long do you think James Bond would last without being kept in check by M?