Does MOW Need to be a Thing?

AgeVersity is now on Twitter. As of this writing, the account has about five followers–one of which seems to be a spammer. Followers are a great thing, but I will continue to tweet even if AgeVersity’s following stays at five. I am enjoying learning from those I am following on Twitter that much.

One interesting discussion is about age discrimination on the job–chiefly how older employees are thought not to be as tech-savvy or simply not as “cutting edge” as younger hires. I just hit 60, so I have joined the ranks of the older workforce. I am also a committed member of the part of that workforce that does not want to retire ever. I really, really like working.

This does not mean that I do not relate to MOW (Midlife [and beyond] Overwork) issues. I have taught at the college-level for many years. The modern teacher knows that our field has its tensions and morale problems. So, I understand why someone would shy away from additional employment upon retirement after years of working in education. I have also heard about the lack of respect given to middle-age and older workers as newer workers compete for better jobs, offices, schedules, and favor. I think that the emotional battering these older workers take on the job is often as bad as the battering the passage of time does to their bodies! In addition, I know how intimidating it can be to be faced with changes in technology and other work-related factors. Older workers often doubt that they can keep up with the pace of change. After years of this kind of stress, the older worker stands the chance of retiring with something that resembles Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)!

However, I have often witnessed older (middle-aged and beyond) workers–in my case, faculty–who point-blank refuse to use computers or to attend training in new innovations. These same faculty also refuse to mentor younger employees. I have little patience for these older faculty. Seniority doesn’t give anyone permission to sit-out workplace modernization. To do so, is to place their jobs, their standing, and their students at risk. In addition, when these older faculty complain that they are not respected for their knowledge and achievements, I have to wonder if they ever shared those things with the younger faculty. Mentoring others is a good way to ensure that the senior faculty member can also get the assistance of the younger faculty member when help is needed with technology or other such things. Finally, I have noticed that many of the older faculty with whom I have worked rest on their laurels. They simply refuse to take advanced training, classes, or degrees. This puts these faculty behind-the-times, a dangerous thing to do as one ages. Instead, these faculty need to stay current and competitive.

I do think that some employers–specifically some Human Resources (HR) Departments–do an incredibly poor job of candidly discussing these issues with both managers and senior employees. Instead, some HR departments seem to write these employees off as “too old to change.” I find this demeaning. I also think this is unfair to the younger employees, who are required to keep up-to-date. HR Departments need to:

  • Devise ways of making sure that all employees, regardless of age, are treated equally and with equal expectations.
  • Acknowledge different employee learning needs and styles. (This, in turn, could result in training that take into consideration the older employee’s lack of assurance about his/her skills in the particular training subject.)
  • Provide older employees with formal mentoring opportunities and with opportunities to make presentations on subjects in which they feel expert.
  • Do a better job of preparing people early-on for the financial and emotional realities of retirement. Far too many people seize the opportunity to retire to escape a bad work situation and then realize that retirement just allows them more time to mull-over their resentment toward their former employer. Retirement (in my opinion) should be enjoyed and should be productive. Stress and anger that goes unhandled simply prevents a good, active retirement. 

In sum, I think that we should begin preparing for retirement our first day on the job. Preparing does not just mean deciding on a pension plan. Instead, preparing for retirement should mean (but too often doesn’t mean) working with management and HR on a plan of professional development that will allow the employee to feel active and relevant throughout his/her career. In this way, the employee feels more appreciated and far more in control of his/her professional life. The employee should not be given the opportunity to sit-by while others evolve. The institution/company should under gird the employee’s sense of self-worth by reiterating its belief in all of its employees’ capabilities and worth, regardless of age. In this way, when the senior employee moves toward retirement, he/she does so with a sense of goodwill, self-worth, and closure.

 

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