A couple of HR Review posts last week discussed the ageing workforce and a pair of studies indicating that we are rather dismissive of our older colleagues – although  as someone just shy of a rather big age milestone, I should probably be a bit careful at how I use the term “older worker”.

The first article Survey says over 60’s are least important in workplace  discusses a survey carried out by Dr Lynda Shaw.  This identified that 66% of people believed that age alone could be a barrier to getting a job and 46% of respondents felt the over 60s are the least important age group in the work environment.  Those in their 40s were voted by 27% as the most important.

The second article titled Employers urged to focus on well-being of staff discussed the 2013 Wellness at Work Survey.  The main thrust of this research said the UK workforce is under pressure and is not being given sufficient support by their employers. No surprises there then but older workers again take a bashing as the age group of 55+ are the ones who are identified as lacking the most support. According to the article, this could be down to a few reasons, such as they are of a generation who isn’t comfortable with the modern world and may feel like they are being left behind.

I don’t buy this and nor should you. In the past, at the tender age of 36, I set up a new national team of Occupational Health Advisers for a large government agency in partnership with one of the growing OH providers.  We had all sorts of applicants, good and bad, some hilarious answers to interview questions and eventually recruited a team of eight which included two seasoned campaigners who had retired once from senior posts already. The providers Contract Manager was no spring chicken herself either.  These were no easy jobs for those wishing to wind down in the twilight of their careers. They had large areas to cover, loads of equipment to cart about and HR teams and business managers wanting quick responses to difficult issues.  It was a great team and it was the older members who really shone.  They had seen it all before, were keen to learn from the younger members but just as quick to use their vast experience to point out where the rest of us were occasionally going wrong and were about to make pillocks of ourselves.

The younger members of today’s workforce also need to take note of the demographics as they don’t add up in their favour.  If the above research is to be believed, the younger generation is increasingly focused on itself and keen to recruit in its own image.  Yet the younger generation is shrinking.  It’s the older generation that is growing as health improves and retirement ages are pushed back.  Are we really heading for a time when the inexperienced minority are calling the shots for the experienced majority?

Okay, I hear you say, the world has never seen as much technological change as it has in the last 10 years and I would probably agree.  But those all important 40 year olds 10 – 15 years ago are now in the 55 + category and you can’t tell me that most of them haven’t kept pace.  They might not be so keen on change for changes sake as they have seen much of it before and seen the mistakes that were made.   T.hey might not belong to 12 different networking sites, live their life online and walk around permanently plugged into their smart phones.  That’s probably because they have learnt to look a bit further ahead, listen to what is really going on around them and can see a rather bigger picture than many younger colleagues.  That experience and wisdom has a very important part to play in society and employment and we ignore it at our peril.  Apparently, it was a lot of young hot shots who tried to design a pen that could be used in space until someone with a few more years experience suggested a pencil might be the answer.