The Value of Age
“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”
~ Sophia Loren
No, you do not want to sit around, check for receipts, do nothing, or retire. Fifty is not old anywhere else but in the military. There was a time in many world cultures (and still is in some) when the older you were, the more coveted your knowledge was. The wise old sages and village elders were the sources of knowledge honed by experience. Then, we hit a period where companies seemed allergic to having anyone over the age of 39 in the building.
Part of the reason older workers were not getting the nod was the fact that companies were more technologically driven than personality- driven. Even the organization’s “personality” is largely communicated with its customer base over the Internet. Since the internet is fairly new, generationally speaking, and wasn’t around when most 50-year-olds were working in the corporate ranks, the assumption for years was that companies needed to have young blood who knew the technology like second nature.
Another concern employers referred to was the chemistry between millennials (for example) and people old enough to be their parents. They thought millennials wouldn’t want to work with anyone who reminded them of their mom or dad.
Then there was the question of building a culture. When a group is homogenous, finding common interests that will connect them is far easier. But when a company spans three decades, there is the question of how to build teams outside the office in ways that would encourage everyone to participate.
A study commissioned by Deloitte polled 10,000 employers, asking if they thought aging was an advantage or disadvantage. Sixty-six percent of companies cited hiring older workers as a competitive disadvantage.
The problem companies immediately ran into with this policy of favoring younger workers was that many of the young people they were hiring, though they had knowledge, lacked wisdom, judgment, patience, and experience—all the qualities that take years to acquire.
Furthermore, the number of people over the age of 55 in the UK and the US is expected to reach about a quarter of the job market in the mid- to late-2020s. The fastest-growing sector of internet, technology, and smartphone use is among older people. Even people in their 60s are getting connected. Forty percent of people aged 65 and older own a smartphone, and 80 percent have a cellphone. Eighty-three percent report using the internet regularly.
Look at a chart of the ages of American presidents when they were inaugurated, and you will see a trend. Many of the nation’s most recent leaders were older. Joe Biden was 78, Donald Trump was 70, Ronald Reagan was 69, and George H. W. Bush was 64. Even Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were past 45 when they took office for the first time and were in their fifties when they started their second terms.
The business sector is similar. Many CEOs of highly successful organizations are going strong with no sign of slowing down. Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is in his eighties and laughs when people ask the retirement question. Gone are the days when workers were put out to pasture in forced retirement. People aged 50 and above are starting businesses, taking on important roles in corporations, and learning complex technology.
You may have heard the stat that over half of new businesses fail in the first one to three years. It’s true. However, the age of the business owner seems to impact the failure rate.
All this suggests that age does correspond with workplace wisdom, and research proves it. Contrary to popular belief, older, more tenured people are more successful entrepreneurs. Those over the age of 40 are three times more likely to create successful companies as a result of their patient, collaborative natures, and their lack of a “need to prove myself” attitude that tends to accompany youth.
~ Josh Bersin and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Harvard Business Review
Companies are shedding the idea that young upstarts and seasoned professionals can’t work together. Instead, they are finding that they work together quite well. Many are insisting that their advisory boards reflect the market they target, placing more women, minorities, and people over 50 at the seat of many of the decisions companies make.
In the final analysis, it is critical that you release any apprehension about your age as it relates to your second career. You may be over 40, but you have value. Much of that value cannot be taught in a classroom, and no degree or certificate is represented on a wall. But your company will know that they have been the recipients of that value as you give your best to the team.