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Top 10 Reasons to Ditch Ageist Thinking

By Mary Lloyd, CEO, Mining Silver

As a culture, we are doing an amazingly stupid thing.So with a nod of appreciation to David Letterman here are the Top 10 Reasons to Stop Thinking “Old” is a Problem.His “top ten” lists go from the last to the first so here, in ascending order, are ten reasons to ditch the idea that advancing age means inevitable decline.

10.IT’S NOT FAIR TO ASSUME PEOPLE WHO ARE “OLD” ARE WORN OUT AND USELESS.Or, to put it more bluntly, it’s not legal—at least if you live a developed country.Inthe United States, denying someone over 40 fair treatment on “any aspect of employment” because of the year he was born might put you on the losing side of a federal lawsuit that involves both compensatory AND punitive damages.

9.AGE = DECLINE IS A LIE.There are no scientific studies that confirm people automatically lose their ability to think and learn as they age.Studies reporting such findings were done on compromised groups who do not represent the general population of this age range.

8.ASSUMING OLDER WORKERS NEED TO “GET OUT OF THE WAY” SO THAT YOUNGER WORKERS CAN HAVE THOSE JOBS IS SHORT-SIGHTED.Isn’t that a bit like expecting Dad to throw the checkers game when you were 10?Asking competent people to step aside so someone else who can’t do the job as well can step up is like throwing away the candy and eating the wrapper.

7.WE NEED THESE WORKERS.Yes, we are currently dealing with the mother of all recessions, but when it ends, this need will be glaring.There are 78 million baby boomers.Gen X, which follows them, only has 40 million.We are going to need some of those 78 million to stick around longer than “average retirement age” to get the same work done, even with the 70 million Gen Y’ers moving into the workforce.

6.WE NEED OLDER WORKERS’ EXPERIENCE.To compete in a global economy, developed nations need to do more than put bodies at machines.We need people with well-developed problem solving skills.Book knowledge helps, but practical knowledge trumps it.Employees who have “been there and done that” knowhow to avoid the pitfalls and get the job done right—the first time.

5.WE NEED THEIR WISDOM.Come on, folks. There is no way the wunderkind grad from the most prestigious tech mecca is going to get the people parts and contextual stuff right from the get-go.We need both tech savvy and experienced leadership, leading-edge conceptualizing and seasoned veteran decision-making prowess to get this right.When we choose only “new,” we have nothing to anchor it to.

4.THINKING OLD PEOPLE ARE INEPT IS SOOOONINETEENTH CENTURY.Yes.Nineteenth century.This nonsense of refusing to marry innovation WITH wisdom began in the 1790’s.Employers from then until the 1950’s used the philosophy as justification for requiring workers to retire at a specific age.Brawn was more of an issue then.Thinking that way was wrongheaded in the Industrial Age.But now we’re in the Information Age, where KNOWLEDGE is critical. It’s corporate suicide.In a knowledge-intensive economy, it makes zero sense to send 40 years’ worth of it out the door so you can bring in someone with none.

3.THEY CAN LEAD THE WAY TO WHAT WE ALL WANT. When people old enough to retire choose not to, they pursue work arrangements the rest of us would love to have as well.Let them craft the new shapes for work that would give us all much needed flexibility so we can live the rest of our lives and work, too.

2.AGEIST THINKING IS EXPENSIVE.We want to pretend that if we don’t see them, those millions of older people we’ve marginalized aren’t there.But they ARE there…tapping the healthcare system far more than they would be with meaningful challenges in their lives, collecting Social Security,and relying on society and the government for things they could be doing for themselves given the chance and the encouragement.

1.WE ARE ALL GOING THERE.The weirdest thing about this form of discrimination is that we are all going to live it—short of dying young.But we think of OTHER people getting old and are blind to what we’re setting up for ourselves.Life expectancy right now is about 80.As knowledge workers, we are very likely to beat that.Do we really want to be invisible and irrelevant for twenty or more years of our lives just because some preacher back in 1790 decided youth and progress was better than age and wisdom?

It’s time to git rid of ageism.  It’s wrong, costs money, and sets us all up for a hard time when we get that far.

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