Misconceptions about older workforce that is not true

Paul Robinson’s Management insights

These days, there is a misconception that younger work force is a better value proposition when it comes to hiring, training and retention. There is no doubt that the tech savvy younger work force can meet the demand of customers during these current economic climate, but that should not stop you from ignoring the old ones.

There are many advantages for having older work force. They bring a wealth of experience, flexibility, institutional memory, work ethic, loyalty and reliability. If companies want to leverage old workforce, they must give up few stereotypical views about them on the first place.

So, let’s look at some of the stereotypes floating around in the corporate boardrooms.

‘Older workforce is less creative’

Well, younger workers are likely to come up with a large number of ideas, “fresh blood thinking” but practically its proven that few of those ideas are actually workable solutions. Also, some have already tried and have failed; others could be incoherent with company’s culture or vision. Measuring the ultimate value of new ideas is more important than measuring the number of ideas generated.

Older workforce can think of adjacent ideas and projects because they know the functionality of an enterprise by experience. There is a value in that which can’t be ignored.

Older workers don’t learn as well as younger workers’

The misconception that you can’t teach new tricks to old dogs is apt for dogs but not entirely for humans. Older workers may be unfamiliar with classroom learning but they do better with on the floor learning. The capacity to absorb ideas by doing is better with the old age rather than learning from a text book or online training session. Therefore you need to change the way you teach and train older workforce, rather than giving up on teaching them new skills. Moreover in these high volatile times, old skills go obsolete too often and so frequently, that updating and upgrading skills is a must for both old and younger work force.

Older workers are’nt worth retraining, because they won’t be around for long’

Today younger workers move from job to job quickly, because they haven’t been raised in an environment in which corporate loyalty is a part of their thinking or tradition. On the other hand older workers remain longer, partly because they are more concerned about finding a new job if there is an economic slow down.

 ‘Older workers have poorer attendance records

 Well that’s not true. According to a research by Beverly Goldberg, author of ‘Age Works’,  ‘Human resource managers report that the older workers are less likely to be late or absent than younger workers.

Here is another popular myth.‘Older workers are resistant to change.’

False. Older workers know that they need to constantly upgrade themselves to stay relevant. If the right rationale is explained to them about any changes, supported by skill building programs on the job, the older workers are quick to comply with changes. They may not bethe early adopters to any technological changes but you can’t underestimate their ability to unlearn, learn and relearn new things.

There is an interesting anecdote about Jack Welch, the late CEO of GE. When Jack Welch was already a celebrated CEO back in the 1990s, he made a surprising move that puzzled the senior executives. He found 25 year old computer whiz kid within the company to serve as his technology mentor. 

He also insisted that his C suite will follow the suit, as GE was on its way to a widespread digitization. Getting mentored by a young executive was unheard in the C suit, but that bold move helped the top executives to understand technology better. 

Usually in mentoring field , its always the old one mentoring the young ones, but in a world that’s rapidly changing, mutual mentoring is a great option, where the young teaches the old new tricks while the old teaches the young the rules of the game.

Older workers have less to contribute’

Here is the thing. Older workers have experience and expertise that has been accumulated over time. They possess deep insights that can guard company’s values and culture. They can also shorter the learning curve, better knowledge transition, and institutional memory that can be applied in due diligence.

The fact is that, there is a rise in aging population in the western countries and there is a rise in younger workforce in countries like India. What companies need to do is to strike a balance between younger work force with the older ones. Complementing each other is the key here. One must not substitute the other. And just focusing only on one is highly detrimental to a company.

Why not adapt a strategy to continuously train people on the job. The world is changing rapidly, gadgets are getting smarter, so why not people.  

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