So I’ve been consulting the past couple of years, but I’d really like something more permanent—preferably a full-time position that makes good use of my 20+ years in marketing communications, while indulging my curiosity and desire to keep learning. Yes, I’d like a consistent income. But more than that, I’d like to find the right fit with the right organization and the right people.
Anyway, because I’m interested in new opportunities, I follow the Twitter streams and blogs of many career savvy people who have fresh ideas about the current job market. And recently, I came across a blog post offering tips on how to behave, “When Your Boss is Younger than Your Child.”
Now I don’t have kids, but I’m certainly old enough to have kids who have kids. So I clicked on the article and read the opening paragraph:
“By choice and necessity, more older Americans are staying in the workforce. As a result, many workplaces now have multiple generations of employees spanning 40 or even 50 years of age. Odds are that senior workers will end up working for someone young enough to be their child, if not younger.”
*Gasp!* Spanning 40 or even 50 years of age? Does this mean I’m near the end of the employee life-cycle?
The article then gave some pointers for older workers such as:
Don’t generalize. “Be careful about generalizing, and assuming that a young boss is going to behave in a certain way…”
Listen. “Make sure you are listening to your younger boss…”
Change. “Being open to new things is essential in today’s workplace…”
And so on. As I read through the post, it struck me that this is good advice for any age group, not just “older” Americans. And that got me thinking about some of the common misconceptions and stereotypes I’ve found surrounding older workers.
The truth is many of us in our 40s, 50s and beyond—who are now in the workforce or looking for work due to a layoff—have been learning and earning right along with everyone else these past few years. A lot of us have had more than one career in more than one industry, so we know firsthand the importance of being flexible and open to change. Our deep experience often means we’re less inclined to make quick assumptions, and more inclined to listen carefully to all points of view. It also means we tend to speak up when we think something’s important because if we can help, and don’t, it’s on us.
Now, we may not text as quickly as 20-somethings—or check-in at our locations on a regular basis—but many of us are early technology adopters. What we don’t know, we usually know how to find out. We also tend to know a lot of other stuff that’s pretty useful, too, like: how to write and implement strategic plans; how to manage teams; how to craft and administer budgets; how to provide excellent customer service, and much more.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked for people who are younger and I’ve also managed several who are older. Keeping skills current is important, true. But after that, I’ve found the key to building a successful organization has little to do with age and everything to do with how well individual team members respect and value each other’s contributions toward achieving common goals.
Older workers shouldn’t assume younger workers are less capable, but neither should younger workers view those with years of experience as having exceeded their expiration date. When we stereotype each other—by race, gender, age or any other characteristic that ultimately doesn’t matter to doing the job well—we limit what we can achieve as individuals and organizations, and even as a nation.
At a time when American businesses are scrambling to maintain their leadership positions in a chaotic global economy, I see the depth of the U.S. workforce bench as an underdeveloped strength. We need our best and brightest people on the job, whether eighteen or eighty. Don’t you agree?