Age Diversity Will Be A Massive Source Of Strength
Last weekend, I was skimming through some old papers I’d received at a Human Resources conference some years ago. I was supposed to be cleaning out the shelves in the basement. My possessions undergo a rigorous protocol to determine whether or not they remain in my possession. Items in constant use stay where they are constantly used, like on the bench. Items occasionally used get slotted into a cupboard, although a nearby cupboard. Items rarely used get posted to a distant cupboard up the back in the dark that you can only reach with a stepstool, a torch whilst dislocating vertebrae in the process. There follows a descending evolution of merit to the pile out the back of the shed in the garden which is a prerequisite to the local Council’s inorganic collection. (Oddly enough, many organisations have a similar descending proximity approach to their people, particularly the bit about the distance, the dark and the garden. Hence the term, “gardening leave.”)
So, I’m looking at the conference papers for the first time since the conference, not so much out of interest but out of a desire to avoid doing the actual cleaning. There was a list of the tools employers can use to assess the suitability of candidates for employment. Each tool was ranked in order of its proven effectiveness in determining the eventual success of candidates in the workplace. The number one tool had an effectiveness of 0.52 which places it fractionally above tossing a coin or picking red or black on a casino’s roulette wheel. Fortunately it suggested that combining a number of tools was the best way to increase the odds of selecting suitable candidates. Good advice – more people should read advice like that more often. But that wasn’t what caught my eye as I read the paper amidst the dust, spiders and unknown sticky floor stains covered in sawdust of my basement detritus. The lowest scoring determinant was age.
A recent Department of Labour report showed New Zealand is leading the way in employing more older people in the workforce. (Older? Older than what? Age is such a relative concept. Comedian Mitch Hedberg has a joke about someone giving him a photograph of themselves then said, “This is a photograph of me when I was younger.” Surely, every photograph of you is a photo of you when you were younger? Anything else is way too Dorian Gray for my liking.)
It is said that ‘older’ workers (55-59) are less likely to want to climb the corporate ladder, more likely to want to add value in a job they enjoy and are more loyal. It didn’t say if they were more prone to writing impromptu letters to the editor, criticising the haircuts of their younger colleagues or making constant glowing references to some unspecified semi-fictional period known as the “good old days” when it only rained at night, the All Blacks always won and everyone had two well paying jobs yet still had sufficient spare time to coach their local primary school’s rugby team that went on to produce several All Blacks who always won on gloriously sunny Saturdays.
Older workers do stand out though for other reasons. They have names like Stanley, Harold, Gladys and Edith. I have not once ever met a sixty-year-old named Kylie or Madison. Mind you, I’ve never met a five-year-old Gladys either. Perhaps I should search MySpace.com? Perhaps not.
Many employers would struggle today to survive without workers who immigrated here. From high tech companies to the local supermarket’s checkout, we are greeted by people with different cultures, languages and skin tone. Hopefully we generally try to accept those people and ease their transition to their new environment. If we do that for folks from another country, why wouldn’t we do that for folks from another time? (Which is effectively what older workers are.) They have a different culture, a different language and a different skin tone, no matter how much moisturiser they’ve plastered on themselves over the decades. Time travel is possible; it just happens to be one-way and a very slow process.
Older workers sticking it out have adapted to a changing work environment and so should employers. I was in Burger King recently and couldn’t help overhearing the mobile phone conversation of a lady at the table next to me – probably sixty (the lady not the table.) She was engaged in a blackmarket online exchange of knitting patterns, using a similar business model to the music file-sharing concepts of Napster. Wow, that is a successful collision of cultures. I almost regret turning her in.
People are not like household possessions. Employers should not shunt them down some informal ladder as they age until they lay unwanted on a pile behind the garden shed awaiting the employment equivalent of the inorganic collection to come and take them away. (Although if it’s the Council doing the taking, maybe they put them to work and that’s why my #$%@ resource consent is taking so long!)
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