The veteran army officer remains revered for their ability to strategise well after they retire. The older actor is celebrated for their contribution to the entertainment industry and for creating memorable moments through theatre or film. The retired athlete remains admired for their superb human achievements long after the race has been run. And the scientist, composer, or humanitarian is honoured for a lifetime’s work in their chosen field and celebrated for years after their discoveries or masterpieces have changed the world.
Yet, something funny happens in the psyche of the worker when it comes to older employees – which often has little to do with being revered and even less to do with humour. Sadly it illustrates that as a nation we are more interested in the celebrity factor that is often out of our reach than in our older workers who have contributed so much and are so close.
So if that is the case, why are we failing to adequately document the older workers’ knowledge, showcase their talents and celebrate them as mentors? Have we become so desensitised that we only want “new” while ‘old’ is irrelevant? Is it simply too hard or we just don’t know how?
As a starting point let’s get clear firstly who is the older Australian, after all? New research undertaken by Westpac has revealed senior Australian business people believe, on average, 47 years old is when age related discrimination first becomes a problem for workers in Australian organisations.
Yet it would be fair to say that most business and professional people are at the peak of their career around this time. Many are in the best position they have ever been in to collaborate, connect and communicate their knowledge and experience and move the dial that points them to further success.
Here are five steps to go from Older to Bolder
1. Take initiative and help create deliberate learning opportunities in early and tertiary education for different generations to cross pollinate and interact. It all begins with education, so volunteer your time and expertise in ways that will be help people understand the value of different perspectives and ages. If in a position to influence team or group work, ensure there is an equal representation from all ages so people consciously and unconsciously adapt to different ways of problem solving.
2. Ensure graduates and new inductees into organisations are buddied with at least three people from different generations. Keep these exchanges regular and as part of their KPI’s.
3. Provide external work experience opportunities for staff to spend time in different businesses so they are exposed to alternate practices and different ways of thinking in business. Make sure they communicate their learnings back into the organisation.
4. Set up Learning Forums in Open Spaces where staff can learn new skills (work or non work related topics) and hear about what staff can do in and outside their work environment. Allow people to spend time in discussion so there is a greater sense of comfort with different people and exposure to different ideas.
5. Disrupt traditional style meetings so everyone can chair or facilitate a meeting, champion an idea and share results in different ways. Encourage hot desk arrangements so people become more adept and comfortable at interacting.
While these five tips are practical strategies and take time to fully reap the rewards, it will also take a courageous and committed conversation that can present a commercial and business case to all levels of your people if you truly want to bring people together to collaborate rather than let people than stagnate.
Ricky Nowak is a Certified HR Leadership Consultant, Behind Closed Doors Facilitator, Speaker and Author with over 35 years business and corporate experience in leadership across Australasia, specializing in making good people great leaders.