Age diversity at work works for everyone

Harvard University-educated Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers sparked a debate this week when a local columnist intimated he was leaving politics because older politicians wouldn’t move out of the way. An older female politician with a lengthy tenure has chosen to run for mayor of the nation’s third-largest city instead of throwing available clout behind him.

The idea older folks must move out of the way is worrisome because the notion there’s not enough room for younger and older voices in our institutions is limiting. We lose creativity when the workforce is made up of one type of age group. How can companies expect to create products or services that appeal to the masses, if they don’t have the input of masses during research and development?

I’ve worked for many types of companies over the years, but the most memorable ones, were places that had ideas come from every kind of employee. At these companies, interns would be allowed to chime in during conference room meetings, as well as the older employee whose input was traditionally discarded at other companies. In addition to being the most memorable work experiences, these companies were the most successful ones I’ve worked at.

Even though the statistics show companies with diverse work environments are more profitable, we still see a large disparity of younger to older workers in the workplace. Do we not still hold the wisdom of our older persons in high regard? If not, then when did this phenomenon happen? Growing up, I listened to my elders because it was a sign of respect and also because I would get a stern stare from my parents if I didn’t. We don’t have to go back that many generations to find younger people listening to older persons with excitement because they knew whatever came out their mouths was wisdom. Somewhere between these points, younger generations in America stopped looking at older persons as the keeper of wisdom and more so as a burden.

Somewhere between these points, younger generations in America stopped looking at older persons as the keeper of wisdom and more so as a burden.

The unemployment rate for older workers was 3.3 percent in December 2017, while the national jobless rate was 4.1 during the sample period. For older workers who still want to participate in the workforce and add their vitality and experience, the rate of joblessness for oolder workers is disturbing, once you factor in all those who are in retirement or semi-retirement..

According to AARP, roughly 10,000 baby boomers retire from the workforce each day. If the average baby boomer started work at about 18 and retired at 65, that means that’s a combined 450,000 years of knowledge exiting the workforce each day. If we took into account the number of older persons who get unfairly pushed out from their roles, this daily tally would be much higher.

There are companies recognizing the benefit of hiring older workers, such as American Airlines, whose older workers total 39 percent of its workforce, and Edison International, whose older workers is made up of 36 percent of the company. The nonprofit Encore.org aim is to place seasoned professionals in high-impact roles within the social sector.

So, there are a handful of companies who get it, but more work is definitely needed on this front. Older workers should be looked at as insurance policies for companies. Mistakes by inexperienced staff members can — and has — cost companies millions of dollars.

Maybe if older persons decided not to vote unless action was taken on this issue, then maybe the needle would get moved. The turnout for persons over 45 years and age has historically outpaced “younger” voters. Each year, politicians from both sides of the aisle spend a large amount of time campaigning to this group, because they understand how crucial their vote is. In the current political climate, you can bet politicians from both sides won’t deter from this strategy.

Brandon Ross is an Encore Public Voices Fellow and Documentary Filmmaker