The Globe and Mail (March 5th, 2008) ran an article by Simon Avery in the business section titled “Canada faces challenge to keep aging economic engine in tune.” According to recent census data the median age of workers in Canada is gradually climbing and now sits at 41.2 years. I, at the soon-to-be age of 44, would qualify perfectly for a job in, say, transportation (44.6). And if I were a farmer I’d also be amongst my peers. In the software, computer programming and occupational therapist circles I might stand out as a more seasoned member of the tribe. The article is a warning of sorts for Industry Canada to wake up – again – to the aging baby boomers and the retirees who have little desire (or perhaps financial ability) to retire and to examine how all of us forty-plus year olds are going to influence and sustain ongoing economic growth.
What the article doesn’t address are the potential advantages that such maturity can bring. By the time we reach our forties many of us would be hard pressed to trade our seasoned perspective for another lap through our twenties and thirties (despite hoping to avoid the effects of gravity on our once firm physiques). Most of us would agree that age brings wisdom and experience. We are probably more self aware. We know our strengths. We are more settled in our skin and less obsessed with what other people think of us. We communicate better. We are more emotionally intelligent. Our priorities and values are clear or at least clearer. These riches, in a world that views aging as pathology, should not be overlooked as they represent a tremendous business asset. Just as companies catering to the young, smart and sexy put more emphasis on meeting the recreation, health and spontaneity/creativity/learning needs of their employees, companies with a predominantly salt and pepper headcount need to be asking themselves how they can best serve their people and inspire ongoing loyalty, productivity and competitive insights.
“Aging is seen as an ongoing process of managing the challenges associated with life transitions and with changing levels of personal resources such as health, wealth and social connections. Those who age well are able to find a balance or fit between their activities and these resources and to remain satisfied with their lives.” Stats Canada
The increased median age is expected to keep going up. The challenge then, is for companies – in fact our whole culture – to turn this into an asset rather than a liability. It is time to tap the deep resources of the 40-up folk. Quite likely they’ll have something worthwhile to say and the experience to back it up.