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Older Workers Feel Shut Out

August 26 2008 - A study by Age Lessons, a Chicago-based intergenerational consulting firm, has identified workplace '3 Rs' that are keeping older workers up at night:

  • fear of redundancy - layoffs or firings
  • relevance - keeping skills current, and
  • resentment from younger colleagues

50 in-depth phone interviews were conducted with older workers (age 50+) for the Age Lessons study, Ageism: Managing on the Bias researched by Harris Interactive.

According to Laurel Kennedy, president of Age Lessons:

"Older workers believe that younger associates drop them from critical informal communications networks, turning the office grapevine into a sour grapevine and blocking access to important political and business developments.

"Another key finding was defined as senior shutout, where companies inadvertently close-off career paths and training opportunities to mature workers, assuming that they either are uninterested or unwilling to accept a new challenge."

"Whether it's overt, or unintentional, the net effect is the same," she observed. "Mature workers gradually get foreclosed from water cooler banter on-line and off, and shunted to the sidelines. Without access to emerging news in the workplace, mature workers find it difficult to make good strategic decisions and career moves."

The study also identified some other communication issues included:

  • body language during team meetings when older employees are speaking, such as:
    • yawning
    • lack of eye contact, and
    • doodling
  • sending text messages, or
  • checking messages on iPhones and PDAs under the table

Laurel Kennedy suggested that organizations should implement the following:

  • awareness training during on-boarding about generational differences, office and meeting etiquette
  • adopting age-neutral hiring and educational policies that look at the candidate pool irrespective of age
  • forming intergenerational work teams to ensure cross-pollination across age cohorts, and
  • extending continuing and professional educational opportunities to older workers

Older workers need to use some new approaches to reach out to younger colleagues, such as initiating social outings, and keeping up with modern communication methods such as texting and instant messaging.

According to Laurel Kennedy:

"Most Boomers intend to work into their 70s and want to make a meaningful contribution to their employers, while staying intellectually stimulated and engaged. Age represents yet another rich source of diversity for companies seeking to leverage their investment in human capital."

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