Older Workers - 8 June 2010
Imagine living to be 100. This photograph is of a young Eugénie Blanchard, and today she’s the oldest living person in the world. Eugénie is 114 years old. One day, this won’t be so unusual. In 1900, there were only 50 centenarians in Australia. By 2020, it’s estimated there’ll be more than 12,000. It’s the fastest growing age group in the country.
An Australian study has revealed what it takes to become a centenarian and it has little to do with genetics. Researchers at the University of NSW discovered that what gets someone to the age of 100 comes down to one word: personality. In particular, the following are the most common characteristics found in centenarians. Each one can be linked to the engagement of older employees at work.
Positive outlook: The researchers noticed a low level of neuroticism in the centenarians. When they recalled historical behaviours, there was very little fear and anger. So, if you resort to fear and anger as forms of negative motivation at work, your tactics might be effective in the short term, but they’re not sustainable in the long run.
Open to change: The centenarians were found to easily adapt to changes and were unlikely to harbour resentment. Likewise, it’s a myth that older workers are less likely to embrace change than their Gen Y counterparts. So long as you genuinely consult them before it happens and involve them during its implementation, older employees won’t resist change.
Being resilient: The centenarians reported low levels of stress and anxiety and did not internalise stressful events. This manifests itself at work, too. Older employees joined the workforce at a time when jobs were few and bosses were dictatorial. Don’t assume that the energy of younger workers is greater than the toughness of older ones.
Health-conscious: 60 per cent of the centenarians remained physically active, with most of them doing exercises every day. Increasingly, managers are realising the benefits of helping their employees to be fit. Have healthy snacks available in the tearoom and initiate onsite fitness classes that would appeal to older workers, such as Pilates and walking groups.
Good relationships: Almost all the centenarians got together with their family at least once a week, and 70 per cent of them were convinced their social connectedness contributed to their longevity. There are few elements at work more powerful than the strength of employee relationships. Maximise the level of meaningful interaction colleagues have with each other.
Keeping busy: 7 in 10 centenarians are members of routine group activities where their schedules are kept full and exciting. At work, this relates directly to their job. Give older employees interesting work to do; harness their experience by getting them to mentor others; and delegate tasks especially when workdays are slow.
One thing’s for sure: older workers aren’t engaged by old-school methods. Not anymore.
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