THE BLOG

Don't Judge A Book By Its Ageing Cover

18/08/2016 16:04 | Updated 18 August 2016

Working with someone 25 or more years your senior can sometimes be daunting. You may well fear you have little or nothing in common. But, if truth be told, older colleagues have much to offer their younger counterparts, what with their years of experience, great store of knowledge and those all-important and increasingly valued soft interpersonal skills. They can be great mentors too to those who are wise and brave enough to ask.

One thing is certain - this becoming more and more common and there are plenty of Baby Boomers adding an enormous amount to the UK's workforce today. According to a November 2015 Department for Work and Pensions report,* the employment rate of workers aged 50 to 64 has grown from 55 per cent to 70 per cent over the past 30 years, while the rate for those aged 65+ has doubled from 5 per cent to 10 per cent. Moreover, the trend could well continue if the Office for Budget Responsibility's July 2014 prediction** (based on the principle that people should expect to spend on average a third of their adult life in receipt of the state pension) should come to pass that the state pension age is increased to 75 years by the year 2064.

In addition to know-how and experience, employees aged 55+ can have a calming effect on the workplace. Indeed, according to a Health and Safety Executive study,*** work-related stress and burnout appear to decrease with age after peaking at 50 to 55 years. And, accustomed as older workers are to dealing with the vagaries and set-backs of everyday working life, their sanguine, can-do approach can be both reassuring and inspiring when you're feeling under pressure. So using your elder colleagues for advice and guidance may be a really smart move. Learn from their successes - and from their failures. It may save you the time and trouble of reinventing the wheel - or the flat tyre. And, if you're having a bad day, there's nothing quite like the reassuring words of a colleague who's been there and done it all before.

While Millennials may be digital savvy, they might be weaker at the softer people skills so key to today's working environment. They may, for example, be unattuned to the best practice necessary for effective teamwork. It could be that they are more comfortable being online or flicking through social media than they are talking to their work colleagues. Older workers, on the other hand, who remember the pre-social media age, and whose working life and knowledge were developed in this period, will have far more experience and will often excel at the sensitivities of personal (that is, in person) communication - a skill well suited to diplomacy and to great customer service. So instead of constantly sitting in a separate section of the office, it could be well worth your while to watch, listen and learn from those who have gone before - and it could bring that special something extra you've been looking for to propel your career to another level.

*Ignatius de Bidegain (2015). Employment statistics for workers aged 50 and over, by 5-year age bands and gender from 1984 to 2015. Department for Work & Pensions:
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/473821/employment-stats-workers-aged-50-and-over-1984-2015.pdf

**Fiscal sustainability report (2014). Office for Budget Responsibility:
http://cdn.budgetresponsibility.org.uk/41298-OBR-accessible.pdf

***Health and Safety Laboratory (2011). An update of the literature on age and employment. Health and Safety Executive:
http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr832.pdf

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