• Christine Stewart

Entering a New Workplace as an "Older" Worker

Why having age diversity in the workforce is an incredible thing




In early 2022, we knew as a family that we would return to our home province of Alberta from Ontario later that year. With aging parents and growing grandchildren, we wanted to be closer to the family and friends we had left six years prior.


As an IT Delivery Manager, COVID sent me to a home office in March 2020. In early 2022, the company was signaling a desire for employees to return to the workplace in person. My goal was to return to Alberta, so I began my job search.



 

I sat down at my computer and brought up the resume I had used six years ago for my present job. I thought it looked dated and did not represent me as I wanted it to, but I wasn't sure where to start. Luckily I had a contact who provided resume and interview coaching, and I decided to hire her. She interviewed me, helped highlight skills on my resume, and coached me for interviews. I was ready! Except… physically, my appearance had changed too (I had stopped coloring my hair and gone completely grey over the past year). My father's voice rang in my head: "Fake it 'till you make it." Would I need to fake anything or just get over myself and my own perceptions?


It turns out that age is an attitude, not the number of years you have been on the planet. People get "old" when they stop learning new things or embracing new challenges. So, armed with my new resume and a "can do" attitude, I started applying for a new positions.


I came across an Engagement Manager position at Accelerated Focus (AF). AF is an OutSystems certified Sales & Delivery partner that supports organizations to grow and transform their business. An Engagement Manager works with clients and the development team to create a product that delivers value to the business. They use their communication skills, manage timelines and budgets, and build great relationships. AF aligned with many of my professional and personal values. Their values of Customer Experience, Continuous Improvement, Ownership, Ask Why, and Have Fun are easily aligned with mine. I was intrigued and decided to embrace the opportunity and throw my hat in the ring. I was asked for an interview and successfully landed the job.


As one of the older employees in the company (I am in my mid 50's), I wasn't sure how I would fit in. Ageism could have been an issue, but it wasn't from either side. I was not regarded as less capable, less willing to adapt, or less willing to roll up my sleeves as some older workers have been in other organizations or countries. Also, I wasn't concerned about working with and for someone younger than me and did not see them as less capable or experienced than I was.

 

According to Statistics Canada: "Retirement is changing, and more than half of workers aged 55 and older return to the workforce. Of Canadians that actually exited a long-term job between the age of 55 and 59, 60% of them were re-employed within the next 10 years, while those age 60-64 had 42% re-employment in the same year."



Also, according to the Labor Force Survey (LFS): "Workers in 2017 were retiring on average at 64 years, or almost three years later than in the late 1990s. Coinciding with an increase in retirement age, the last 20 years have witnessed a near doubling of the labor force participation rate for those aged 60 years and over, from 14% in 1997 to 26% in 2017." So, our workforce is aging, either due to people not retiring as early or coming back out of retirement for various reasons.

Some of the things I have learned since researching what companies can gain from diversifying the age of their workforce are:

  • The best way to maximize team output is to increase cognitive diversity, which is significantly more likely to occur if you get people of different ages (and experiences) working together.

  • Age-diverse teams feel more psychologically safe and innovative than age-biased teams. Age brings a sense of security and wisdom to groups, so use it to your advantage.

  • Mentoring can work in reverse. Older workers can learn from the younger ones. Skills are not age-based but experience based.

  • Older workers have a plethora of wisdom, experience, professional networks, and institutional knowledge, all of which can bolster an organization's bottom line.

  • The years we've lived so far are not accurate indicators or predictors of performance, capabilities, or skills.

AF has the following statement on its website: "Our small but passionate and growing team is highly collaborative, deeply driven, and filled with a diverse range of backgrounds and skill sets." I am so happy to be part of this team and look forward to growing (even) older with them.

And as Jane Fonda at 84 said: "Trying to be intentional about how we live, staying interested, staying curious, paying attention to young people, cultivating young friends—these kinds of things are, I think, important to staying youthful."

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