A long time ago, in a workplace far away, an employee was retired after 25 years of faithful service or certainly when he or she reached the ripe old age of 65. Pocketing the engraved watch, the retiree left the building to wander out into the sunset where golden years awaited, small box under one arm filled with accumulated memories and all the skills and knowledge she or he had garnered over decades.
Cut to today’s workplace. Long-time workers are opting to remain in the workplace by choice or financial necessity, and smart organizations are happy to have them. We’re living longer, staying healthier and continuing to gain new skills and learn new things. We don’t see the need to retire unless there’s a new career we’ve longed to explore or a hobby we’ve always meant to take up but never had time for. We understand that while we lose brain cells to age, they continue to regenerate, and form new pathways and connections as long as we continue to challenge and stimulate them.
the modern workforce is multi-generational
Multi-generational workforces were previously unseen. Young, first-job employees now share cubicles with veteran workers, and not always happily. It would be naïve to assume that coworkers always ‘get’ each other, especially if they’re separated by a generation or two, and if their needs and the things they look for in work differ wildly. But there’s gold in this mother lode of experience if you’re willing to mine it. So before you write off your seasoned colleagues as out-of-touch or less than tech-savvy, remember that they have their strengths, too.
tap into the wisdom experienced workers bring to the table
Yes, we can hear you groaning from here. It might sound like a cliché to ask the wizened veteran for their advice. But older coworkers do bring valuable wisdom and life experience to the table. They’ve been around the workplace block and probably seen a whole lot of situations you could only dream of. There’s very little they haven’t survived that wouldn’t apply to today’s challenges in one form or another.
Good news: their advice is free to savvy young workers willing to take advantage and listen. For one thing, they understand balance, not just between work and life, but also in the workplace. They’ve seen burnout firsthand and know it brings no long-term value to an employer. Tight deadlines aside, they’re experts at time management and know how to pace themselves so the work gets done well and on time with no casualties.
They know how to listen and they recognize the value of compromise. Anyone who’s been a part of the workforce for a while knows you can’t win every battle, or even most of them. They’ve dealt with plenty of coworkers in their time. Good ones, bad ones, and everything in between. They know a thing or two about what it takes to get along with people from different walks of life who have different perspectives. Hint: it’s usually compromise.
While they’ve adapted technology (even if sometimes begrudgingly!) they learned their communication skills before mobile technology, Facebook and autocorrect were even a consideration. They understand the value of face-to-face communication, developing, expanding and articulating the thought process, and how to write, spell and edit communiqués. Most importantly, they’ve had to learn resilience and flexibility, two of the most valuable workplace – and life – skills, and imperatives for new workers who want to succeed.
Older workers know how to manage people; they’ve been doing it a long time. Their people skills have been honed by years of practical and varied experience. People respect them and they know how to get things done cooperatively. That’s why they’re sought out as mentors. Their mentorship brings a richness and depth that online resources simply aren’t built to provide. A seasoned mentor can fill in the gaps in the learning curve in nuanced, meaningful ways. Smart companies build strong mentorship programs that take advantage of everything mature workers offer.
a big-picture perspective
In today’s world where immediate gratification dominates, older workers can provide a calm, big picture perspective of the world that is both reassuring and confidence building. They function in the present but with wisdom from the past, and an understanding of and an eye to a company’s long-term goals and objectives. Workers over the age of 55 are usually stable and loyal to an employer. Companies that employ them generally experience lower turnover, which not only saves costs but allows organizations to focus on goals, knowing they have reliable, skilled, experienced people in place to execute their roles.
Working with an experienced coworker who’s been a part of the workforce for longer than you’ve been alive? Set the age difference aside and spend some time getting to know them. We promise you’ll both benefit.