Ageing happens to all of us. In most Western countries, the population is getting older. How will leaders and organisations deal with an ageing population?
Many employers are waking up to a situation with a shortage of employees, while at the same time, older employees are moving into retirement. Therefore organisations must take action to retain and attract personnel of all ages. Retaining older employees has obstacles that relate to what we generally believe about the abilities and capabilities of more senior employees.
The myths of the older employee include a lack of interest in learning and developing the work. Although several research studies claim that these myths are unfounded, it seems that organisations have not yet fully realised the potential of older workers.
The myths about learning
Life and work experience, education, and age affect how we learn. However, it is a myth that older employees do not learn – they just learn in different ways than younger employees. Current research argues for the importance of workplace training and education. For example, having the opportunity to take part in training will improve the work environment for the entire team, even if only part of the team would be offered the training. Being able to do one’s work and having the capabilities to do it is vital for all employees, not only older employees.
Is it about generations or life stages?
What about generational differences? Research has shown that the differences within generations are more significant than those between generations. Context, technology, culture, education, and religion are factors that define us more than our birth year. Moreover, my research has found tendencies showing that the stage of life influences us as well. We can be of the same age but be in very different life stages.
Nevertheless, the young people now entering working life have lived a digitalised life. They have not learned about digitalisation during their careers as more seasoned employees. Will the shift towards a more digital world with a multigenerational workforce change the working life of tomorrow? If leaders look at employees as representatives of a particular generation, they will probably fail in their leadership to meet the individual employee.
It’s about people management, not age management
A socially responsible working life includes age diversity and age awareness. We will have to forget the presumptions about older employees and take a more life-stage-related approach to work life. The harmful myths about older employees are just stereotypes. All employees, regardless of age, are individuals. We are not managing age but are creating long-lasting and engaging working life careers for people of all ages.
Christina Söderberg is a PhD candidate at Hanken School of Economics with a long working background in strategic management, leadership, and HR. Her dissertation research relates to socially sustainable working lives with a focus on late career stages. Contact her on LinkedIn!
In Researcher Blogs KAUTE’s grant recipients tell about their research in their own words.