COMMENT ON: Face Of The Future – Beware Grey 2K

While some would suggest that we face tight labour markets because of the greying workforce, others advise tuning out “the sky is falling” predictions of widespread talent shortage.
So what is the reality? Speaking from personal experience, I find it all very confusing, and I am of an age where I wear confusion like badge.
Strong arguments from both sides only lead to even more confusion, so primarily my aim here is to spread some of that confusion around. management professor at the University of Pennsylvania suggested that alarms about talent famine are akin to the technology wizards’ dire warnings about Y2K. And yes, I do remember it, thanks for asking. He went on to suggest that the new danger be called Grey2K.
Of course, one of the ways to solve the problem of ageing boomers and possibly too few workers, is to keep older workers engaged in the workforce. But that means having to understand inter-generational attitude differences.
There’s no question that, over the next several years, the 30- to 45-year-olds will continue to take the management roles and they will probably be smaller mob than the baby boomers. But get this; some of the baby boomers will not want to retire. And you can rest assured that there is probably someone at home who is keen for them not to retire.
At this juncture the overwhelming temptation is to bury you in mass of statistical data supporting both sides of the argument, but in typical “aged person” response I can’t figure out which set of numbers to use, let alone understand what they mean.
It is probably far more important to think about retaining that institutional knowledge and putting it to good use rather than sweating over the numbers anyway. However, in slight deference to the statistically minded it is worth noting that almost half our workforce is over 40 and the number of workers over the age of 65 also continues to increase.
This may not have been particularly helpful so far, and if you think it is going to improve, then think again. The mantle of grumpiness does not sit easy on the shoulders of we who are part of the grey brigade. We have to deal with people of the younger persuasion worrying about how to manage us, and how we will cope with the speed of introduction of new technology.
We love to read about the shrinking workforce and the desperate need to retain our wisdom and experience, such as it is, but we choose to ignore the other stuff because we can and do cope with technology and working with mixture of people of varying ages.
What we would really like, is to be treated as an integral part of the workforce just like anyone else. Yes we do get bewildered by the changing face of what was once HR and is now ‘people and culture’, ‘people and capability’, or sundry other weird and wonderful sobriquets.
However, just like HR, changing the name to ‘ageing workforce’ has not changed how we view ourselves and what we do. We still want to be recognised for our contribution to the business and to be allowed to make that contribution in way that suits the organisation and ourselves.
Yes that will mean changes, but surely we can all cope with change by now. If this looks like rant from grumpmeister, then it probably is. If you were looking for intellectual enlightenment, for God’s sake what were you thinking? Now get back to work and take better care of your elder statespeople or whatever it is you call them.

Getting the most from older employees

1. Encourage people to start thinking about how they want to manage the remainder of their career from around the age of 45 onward, and not to wait until they are into their 60s. This helps both the organisation and the individual to plan ahead knowing what is important to both parties.
2. Discourage the mindset that age is barrier to picking up new technology or anything else. Learning is lifetime challenge that we all enjoy and getting older does not change the excitement of picking up on something new.
3. Make it easy for your older workers to pass on their institutional knowledge even to the extent of setting it as KPI. On the other side of the coin, encourage your staff to seek out and use the experience and knowledge available.
4. Consider running formal or informal management seminars that focus on retaining older workers and how best to utilise their experience and knowledge.
5. Be open to more flexible working regime that will allow older workers to continue as valuable contributor to your organisation.
6. Measure contribution as you would for any employee – don’t measure on age alone.

Reece Norton is consultant with the Grafton Consulting Group which works with organisations to provide tailored individual programmes and group seminars that enable people over the age of 45 to develop game plan for getting the most out of the remainder of their career.

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