The other day my January 16 issue of Fortune Magazine arrived in the mail. I was intrigued because instead of the usual business leader on the cover; it boasted a kind silvery version of Ryan Seacrest and called itself, “The Future Issue”. I devour Fortune like other people read People or US Weekly—which already gives you too much insight into my geeky obsession with business and the workforce. Who doesn’t want to know about the future? So I dive right into their article on work.
Guess who is in the office of tomorrow in 2022? Their writer says there are going to be old, bald people with “salt-and-pepper eyebrows” and women in “orthopedic shoes” making their way into office buildings. She goes on to predict, “...new drugs...will enable many people in their sixties and seventies to make the daily trek to an office or factory." When I read this in Fortune (one my favorite business magazines) I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, scream or cry. (Or maybe write a snarky letter to the editor like the one they published from me October 16, 1995—I’ve been reading for a long time). But, it is 2012—so I can put it in a blog post and send it 2,000 of my close friends.
Would it be old and mean of me to think the young lady who authored the article is a student? Because surely if she were in the workforce of TODAY—not the future, she would realize workers in their 50s, 60s and 70s peering at their smartphones through bifocals and bumping up the font on the screen for easier reading (hey, she said it, not me) is here. Maybe they don’t work at Fortune’s editorial offices, so she’s never seen us in action. Or, and I hear this often—maybe we (older workers) are invisible to her.
Our writer blames the market crash of 2008 for the reason Baby Boomers are going to stay in the workforce and increase from 7.3 million today to 13.2 million workers over 65 in ten years. While there are plenty of people working for financial reasons, some of us choose to work longer. My Mom is 74 and works ten hours a week because she loves her profession. It is an opportunity to stimulate her brain, be around professional people, learn new things (yes, she has a smartphone, can text and use apps) and the money comes in handy too.
I don’t blame the writer for this prediction of “the workforce of future.” Anything that makes it to print in Fortune has been scrutinized by an editor or two and I think that is what worries me more. This type of characterization of older workers is not helpful. At a time when subtle bias against mature workers in some workplaces seeps into the corporate culture before the company has recognized their multigenerational workforce demands attention, Fortune missed an opportunity.
The writer could have easily talked to someone from the
Sloan Center on Aging and Work at (http://www.bc.edu/research/agingandwork/about.html) or AARP (aarp.org) and I can guarantee her article would have taken a different tone. So I am going to offer some predictions about “what happens to the workplace when seniors don’t leave” which is the question her piece supposedly answers. Visionary companies that integrate age issues into their strategic HR plan are going to have a sustainable competitive advantage. I agree with the Fortune writer that “companies will have to be creative about how they manage a workplace with staffs whose ages could span 60 years.” They do that by addressing the diversity issues a multigenerational workplace presents and it affects all areas of the company: talent management, learning and development, benefits, rewards/recognition and knowledge transfer. Some mature workers are at the “top of their game” considering skill, experience, emotional intelligence and confidence. Companies that minimize or ignore the impact a multigenerational workforce has on today and tomorrow’s corporate culture threatens morale, productivity and business results. Share your comments and let us know what you think. Boston College