Our society has an unhealthy obsession with youth. Turn on the TV or look at social media and you’ll be bombarded with a whole range of ads telling you that you can’t be happy or successful unless you to look, feel and act younger.
When did ageing become such a bad thing? No one can escape it after all. Our infatuation with youth blinds us to the positive aspects of growing older. The key part of that phrase is “growing”. Age brings wisdom, knowledge and awareness that only a lifetime of experience can deliver.
Nowhere is ageism more pervasive than in the workplace. We seem to have developed a mindset that when people reach a certain age - past 55 or so - that they have reached their used by date. We assume that youth and vitality will always trump age and experience, but that just simply isn’t the case.
Excluding older people from the workplace means that your organisation is unable to benefit from their perspective and judgement. In the right circumstances older staff can bring a well rounded skill set to the table and many have already developed high levels of mental fitness.
Not only is this premature dismissal of older people detrimental to individual organisations, it’s also holding the entire economy back. A new PwC global report has found that if Australia was able to increase employment rates for workers aged 55 and over to the same level currently found in Sweden it would deliver an economic benefit of $78 billion to the Australian economy.
Just think of it! A massive 4.7% boost in GDP! It’s not like this is some impossible theoretical utopia - the Swedes have already proven that it’s perfectly attainable.
Looking towards the future like this isn’t just blue sky thinking either - it’s going to be vital to our economy in the coming years. According to PwC Economics and Policy Partner Jeremy Thorpe:
"There is considerable economic gain to Australia in encouraging more older Australians into the workforce. We have a rapidly ageing population and this puts pressure on the health and social care systems and also threatens the financial sustainability of some public and private pensions.
What we’re seeing in other parts of the world is that later retirement and more flexible working policies is good for the economy, businesses and individuals."
It’s clear that we’re going to have to shake things up. Not only will an employed and stimulated older population be a healthier and more productive one, they can play a vital economic role in the future.
We’re currently in the throes of what economists are calling “the third industrial revolution”. Big data, AI and computer learning are in the process of transforming the world’s economy. Despite technology generally being thought of as the domain of the young, it’s actually going to open up lots of exciting possibilities for older people in the workforce as well.
According to Jon Williams, PwC Global Partner, People and Organisation, the first wave of technology advancement in the next decade or so may well be driven by the younger generations, but work and life experience will be more highly valued in the subsequent wave.
"We will also see a shift to a less traditional employment models where people work for multiple organisations or in less rigid structures than established ‘9 to 5’ arrangements meaning more flexible opportunities for older Australians."
The outlook is bright for companies that embrace diversity and a multigenerational workforce. The technological skills of younger employees will be complemented by the experience and soft skills of an older workforce that’s also willing and able to embrace less traditional employment models.
Organisations that start nurturing this culture now will have a definite advantage. Both organisations and society can’t afford to exclude older Australians as a valuable part of a strong and prosperous future.