Older Workers Have Purpose and Passion Too

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Employers must invest in older workers to attract and retain the best talent in an ageing society, argues Jane Evans, the founder of The Uninvisibility Project.


By Jane Evans, Founder, The Uninvisibility Project

If you Google ‘millennials’ or ‘generation Z’, the chances are that you will find a blog or article arguing the need to adopt a different management approach with these new generations of workers.

Millennials, it seems, are looking for ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’. Apparently, older generations were (and I quote) “all about getting the job done and getting paid for it”. This concept may have had some validity back in the 1950s, when the paid workforce was predominately men bringing home the bacon, but it’s downright insulting to the first women in the workplace who fought so hard for equality rights.

Passion is the currency of the day

The millennial generation wants to do the right job for the right purpose: meaning, passion even, is the currency of the day. For some of us, it always has been and always will be.

I hate the young/old divide with a particular passion. We all know 25-year- olds who could run the world and 80-year-olds who run the marathon. There always have been, and always will be, fast starters and late bloomers (and, if we’re lucky, we’re all going to live a lot longer than we imagined). Working towards gender neutrality may be topical, but we also need to work towards age-neutral work environments — before it’s too late.

Business leaders and HR teams should listen and take note of the specific cultural needs of younger workers, but they ignore at their peril the experience of those at the opposite end of their careers. A recent report from the UK’s International Longevity Centre shows the share of the workforce aged fifty and over rose from 26% in 2004 to 32% in 2018; it predicts that it could reach 37% by 2040.

Its message for business is that employers need to invest in their mid-and-later-life workers so that they can “attract and retain the best talent in an ageing society”.

In reality, however, there is an epidemic of joblessness for the over fifties, with a third facing long-term unemployment — and it’s a trend that hits women hardest. Women over fifty have 31% of the pensions savings of men, (largely due to not benefiting fully from the maternity benefits they fought so hard for). Even if they are working, they are in jobs that pay 72% of men’s salaries.

Making older women visible

Since I started The Uninvisibility Project I’ve heard heartbreaking stories of brilliant midlife professional women who have become ‘invisible’, some even facing bankruptcy and homelessness or working minimum-wage care jobs to keep the bailiffs at bay.

It seems all too easy to lose sight of these invisible midlife women, their experience and skills — developed both inside and outside formal employment — overlooked or underemployed at a time when we need all the collective knowledge we can muster to tackle the huge economic, social and cultural challenges facing all of us. By all means, let’s harness the passion of this new generation, but let’s temper it with some good old-fashioned wisdom too.