Is age just a number? Or do the societal roles attributed to specific age groups still hold? These questions keep arising time and again. Although, there cannot be a clear-cut answer, an effort can be made to analyse the question itself, and maybe some sort of an answer can be reached.
The entertainment industry is packed with artists; singers, musicians, music directors, actors, directors, etc who are barely out of their teenage. As compared to even a few decades back, the age of professional artists has dropped continuously.
This trend is not restricted to the entertainment industry alone. The technological industry too has a larger number of youngsters and teenagers than ever before. A microcosmic view of this very trend can be noticed in normal households, where the children are more often than not the party that introduces new gadgets, applications and technology to the elder members of the home.
So does this mean that as newer crop of youngsters emerge, the older ones will become obsolete? If we apply this trend to the career and job space, does this mean that the younger will be overtaking the older generation at a much faster pace than was expected?
With the life expectancy on a record high and only expected to rise, would age become a nightmare?
Recognizing the Strengths
If the younger population can perform both the creative and practical functions better than the older generation, then where does the older generation stand?
Perhaps we can start by looking at the strengths and abilities that each one of the group has.
On the one hand where the younger group is quick to learn and has a much wider knowledge of the newer technology, the older group has something that the other group doesn’t. The younger crop are more tech savvy and not surprisingly, the most efficient developers, hackers, gamers are all smart young kids. Even in the creative industry, young kids have the same kind of fame and talent which their predecessors took years to achieve.
In spite of all these advantages, what is the one thing that keeps the elder generation still relevant? The answer is experience. Experience, not particularly in respect to the technical aspect of things, but more on the practical and social side. The experience of dealing with the most important cog in the machinery of any industry, the people.
The older generation has an extensive experience of having dealt with a wide range of people over their lifetime. Apart from people, the experience of having faced a number of situations in their life and having survived all of those, provides a brand of wisdom to the older crop that is almost unattainable without having gone through that circle of time.
Going back to the example of a household. Just like the young ones are responsible for introducing technology, the parents and grandparents are the beacons of brewed wisdom which guide the family at times where all else fails.
What makes the knowledge attained through years of experience unique and indispensable is the fact that the power to take the right decisions has been achieved through a process of trial and error and thus fine tuned. Business judgements are a classical example. In business families, for example, while the young are given the room to bring their fresh ideas and take risks, the older ones contribute with their judgment on what could and what may not pay off.
Age in an Organization
From organization perspective, we need to debate this question of age more minutely. With manpower reduction being the goal of almost every industry and organization, the current scenario puts middle managers at a great risk.
Before these elder people are made to face the axe, organizations and individuals need to be asking and addressing the question of where and how these aging people add value and how to steer their abilities accordingly.
An elder employee can always transfer information to a younger employee, but the knowledge remains non transferrable. There are some things that can only be gained through investing time. Taking the example of a business process in a particular industry, it can be seen where the elder employees are at an advantage over the younger ones.
Understanding the nuances of a business process takes a long time and is not something that can be learned. In such a scenario, an older person who has served in a particular domain is valuable in recognizing the nitty-gritty of the products and services of a particular company.
As the complexity of a project increases, in terms of scale and/or diversity, more often than not the more experienced employees prove to be better equipped at handling the situation. Apart from having a wider knowledge of products, they are more directly acquainted with the people and technology and many a times have dealt with similar situations. Thus, the capability to organize, manage and of decision-making is higher in the older employees.
As life-long employment quickly becomes a thing of the past and hiring and firing becomes a norm; Periodic cost cutting exercises and increasingly limited safety in the workspace, keeping up with the changing times can be a daunting task. Today’s world scenario asks for a through debate and discussion on the issue of age, where and when it matters and how to employ age to get the best results.