A Question for the Ages

A study came out recently that surprised many—it looks like there may not be as much ageism is the workplace as we once thought, according to reporting by John Boitnott in Entrepreneur.

Addison Group published a survey of more than 1,000 full- and part-time employees, debunking some of the more popular misconceptions about the role of age in the workplace, Boitnott writes. It found that 90-plus percent of employees are satisfied with the diversity of age ranges in their workplace, while 79 percent reported they’d take a job at a company where the workforce skewed older, and 75 percent would take a job at a company where it skewed younger. 

I’m not overly surprised because at the company where I work as an editor of a health trade publication, there are many, many 60-plus employees. The wisdom of these older employees is a great thing; the tech ignorance/phobia, not so much. Based on my personal observations, some older people are adept at technology, but the majority are not. That means people heading departments heavily utilizing tech the leaders do not understand. It isn’t just that they don’t understand how to do advanced computer coding, which most of us don’t know how to do. It’s that some may not know how to post a photo to Facebook, don’t have an Instagram account, are unable to create a link on a company Website, and can’t tag a page so people searching the site will be able to easily find it.

When I see the 65-year-old who works above me at the company, I think about my grandmother at the same age in the 1980s. She was comfortably in retirement at that point, and while she nimbly did work around the house, she was not up to trekking into the office every day. It’s a good thing that today’s seniors have much more energy and stamina, but sometimes I’m frustrated by their antiquated approach to work. Industry knowledge and the age-old wisdom of knowing how to relate to others are huge assets, but those assets don’t fully offset the technology discomfort and ignorance. 

For generations, technology was about the same. Other than the substitution of the calculator for the slide-rule, there wasn’t much difference in the technology my parents had in the classroom in the 1950s, and the technology I had in the classroom in the 1980s. That’s no longer the case. Compare the technology young people have in their pockets alone in the form of the smartphone with all the technology put together that the average person had in 1985 or earlier. It’s no wonder that so many older employees struggle to adapt, often developing plans that make little sense given modern technology. They may have an idea for the Website that doesn’t fully utilize the site’s capabilities (because they don’t understand those capabilities), or maybe they are overly hesitant to give the ideas of young people in their department a chance because they don’t understand those ideas.

To avoid throwing the baby (Boomer) out with the bathwater, companies could offer older employees contract positions, in which they are given assignments that don’t depend on technological know-how. They can brainstorm in in-person meetings in which they can optimize their superior ability to relate to others and utilize their industry knowledge. This helps avoid having a technology-ignorant person in the position of having to review and approve Website upgrades, new intranet communications, or the exciting new mobile app your company’s young people want to develop 

Moving seniors into strategic contract positions has another benefit: It opens up exciting new leadership opportunities for Generation X and Millennial employees. Respecting the most senior members of a society is a great thing, but so is the advancement of the next generation. 

How do you ensure new ideas and opportunities for young and middle-aged employees aren’t trumped by organizational loyalty to the Baby Boomer generation?



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