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Partner, Fuse Live, Toronto

An article I wrote for The Globe and Mail on ageism in business clearly struck a nerve. At the age of 52, I could feel, hear and witness the discrimination. The response to the article was overwhelming.

Ageism is not a new concept; the term was first coined by Robert Butler in 1969. However, the conversation is gaining momentum because of: 1) longer life spans; 2) decreasing birth rates; 3) longer career spans, given mandatory retirement at 65 is no longer mandatory and; 4) shifting perspectives and policies on the role of age in the workplace. So it is no surprise that studies abound on the impact of the aging population on the workplace. Historical policies, beliefs and norms are being completely debunked. A study by Randstad Workmonitor (Q2 2018) found that age-diverse teams are innovative, resourceful and more preferable to work in:

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  • 86 per cent of the global respondents preferred working in a multigenerational team
  • 85 per cent declared themselves as working in a multigenerational team (i.e. 10-15 years difference in age) and, thanks to an age-diverse team, they were able to come up with innovative ideas and solutions
  • 85 per cent of participants said collaboration between generations was considered mutually beneficial at their company.

Aging is ubiquitous; that’s why leaders must consider longevity strategies in their organizational plans.

Consider age a blessing, not a curse

Western culture fears aging; witness anti-aging products, serums and supplements to make us look and feel younger. Eastern and Indigenous cultures greatly respect and value their elders and look forward to achieving status in their familial tribe. Westerners need a drastic wake-up call. Aging is not a disability and it will happen to all of us. We need to appreciate the gifts and talents of each age. “In youth we learn, in age we understand,” said writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach. The concept of karma should be sufficient to ensure elders are treated with honour and respect.

While many things change constantly, some basic human needs and values remain the same. Constantly changing values and rapid technological advancements are supposed to increase our connectivity, yet, actually decrease our human connections. While these advances often threaten the self-esteem of older adults, younger adults struggle in social settings and are challenged to create healthy live-in-the-moment relationships.

Every generation’s transition into adulthood is uniquely marked by the circumstances of its time; today, it is the insurgence of online reality. Millennials have created their own magic, tragic world online, yet it is the guiding hand of the older population who remind us to pick up the phone or have a conversation, versus using an online method of communication hiding behind a screen. While much has changed, the need for human connection remains the same.

Rewrite retirement policies

Retirement policies became trendy in the 1970s and 80s and were initially intended to create employment opportunities for a younger generation. New evidence suggests an increase in employment of older workers is associated with increasing employment rates of younger cohorts. Times continue to change, and business policies and mindsets need to change with them.

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Grey is the new black. Fifty years ago, turning 50 was considered old. Where once was a threat of insignificance as one aged, today it is a new and exciting chapter that begins with the sentiment, “I don’t care what you think.” Grandma DJs, 80-year-old-plus fitness stars and aging celebrities are stealing the limelight, demonstrating that life in fact gets better because we now live on our own terms.

Write the plan knowing it applies to you

Age is the great equalizer, yet is the new form of discrimination in the workplace. Driven by the leaders and culture of the organization, an age-friendly or age-diverse culture is a choice, so plan accordingly. Organizational policies need to reflect what different age groups bring to the table.

While technology is ever-changing, the ebb and flow of life is consistent. A Girl Scouts poem that says it best resonates: Make new friends, but keep the old/One is silver, the other is gold. We need the new and shiny to keep life interesting, but we also need some sage wisdom to make sense of it all.

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