Seniors are among the most under-utilized resources of our world and they often feel undermined, unappreciated and unwanted.
A week ago, I witnessed the retirement of a good friend, a 50-year old Navy Senior Lieutenant-Colonel, a commander of a squadron of ships.
We were treated to a history of her accomplishments and heard stories of her incredible people management skills and belief in people. She was also trained in underwater mine detection and a host of other Navy operations.
I lamented:“What a waste to retire at such a young age! Your domain knowledge and experience are all gone!”
She replied nonchalantly:“The Navy doesn’t need me. It has well-trained younger blood.”
I understand the need for rejuvenation of fresh young blood into the organization. But I wondered how to leverage the experiences of the seniors for the greater good of the organization.
- Globally, there are about 962 million people aged 60 and older today, which is more than double the 382 million in 1980. This size of this group is expected to double again to almost 2.1 billion by 2050.1
- By 2030, 28% —about 1 out of 4 (or 1.8 million) — of Singapore’s population will be 65 years and older, out of a population of 6.38 million
- By 2050, 47% — almost half our population (3.08 million) — will be 65 years and above out of a projected population of 6.58 million.2
We all know the 60s are the new 40s.
In Singapore, the official retirement age is 62 and the oldest age that we can work to is 67. After you turn 62, your employment is based on yearly contracts, renewable base on your performance.
I am speaking on behalf of the seniors.
I was born in 1954, and am 65 years old this year.
In Singapore, our Government calls us the Merdeka Generation (those born between 1950 and 1959).
How can we leverage on our experiences?
Many younger people, especially millennials, have difficulty relating with seniors and motivating them.
After many conversations with seniors and millennials, these are the principles that work.
Interact with the seniors
Nothing cheers seniors more than when younger folks spend time chatting with them and patiently hearing their ‘corporate war stories’, boring though they may seem.
But seniors have a sense of pride with what they have achieved. Unfortunately, time is a precious commodity and many younger managers/leaders do not have enough time or are unwilling to spend time with seniors to appreciate their wisdom and experience.
Spending time with seniors and understanding their needs and limitations can be very motivating for them as they are often considered to be the forgotten generation.
Affirm the seniors sincerely
Most seniors are very conscious of their frailties and weaknesses. They know their limitations. Their self-worth has taken a beating because every day their weakened bodies and slower skills remind them of their mortality.
Unfortunately for many of us, our self-worth is tied intrinsically to our work. When we do not perform as fast or as efficient as previously, we feel worthless. We need lots of affirmation.
Seniors recognize that they
- think less clearly,
- remember less precisely,
- forget more frequently,
- work more slowly,
- struggle to string their thoughts together more analytically,
- are more susceptible to falls and illnesses and need more time to recover
One of the seniors’ greatest fears is that they may succumb to some incurable diseases and become incapacitated as a result.
These make them very vulnerable. And it can be very demoralizing to hear from the management that they are over-paid and under-worked.
Hence, they really need affirmation.
Focus on their strengths
“You can’t help getting older but you don’t have to get old.”
Don’t keep telling the seniors what they cannot do. Tell them what they can do instead.
Focus on their strengths instead of their weaknesses. They need you to believe in them, and that they can still contribute meaningfully to the organization.
The seniors do not want to be just token-contributors or tolerated-beneficiaries but want to be part of a growing organization.
The seniors must be willing to unlearn, learn and relearn. They must not rest on their past laurels or gloat on past successes. They must be prepared to do away with the obsolete and obsolescent.
The seniors must be prepared to earn less so that the company can survive and thrive.
In other words, they must be willing to transform themselves.
Help them overcome their fear of technology
Whether it is designing an Excel spreadsheet, using smartphones for mobile connections, taking advantage of mobile learning, leveraging on data analytics, mining information for better Customer Relation Management, or using technology for their work, the seniors do it fearfully. They feel like dinosaurs in the technology age.
Younger managers and millennials must empathize with their fears and help the seniors overcome them. The younger ones can coach the seniors, help them and continue patiently to train them until they attain some form of job competency and mastery.
The fear of being made redundant and being replaced by robots/machines is very real. This potential loss of income, respect and power can make seniors feel insecure.
Ask them for help
“You get old and you realize here are no answers but just stories.”
The seniors have many corporate perspectives and domain experiences to share with the younger generations and newbies. They can provide a historical context of why they do what they do.
Don’t undermine or ‘pooh-pooh’ their perspectives and suggestions. Try to incorporate their perspectives into your work. If you disagree, help the seniors to understand your perspectives and do not write them off. Convince them. Persuade them.
Asking the seniors for help makes them feel that they can still contribute in this fast-paced, ultra-competitive, less-forgiving and technology-crazed economy.
In return, the seniors will try to embrace your new ideas, experiment with new technologies and accept new challenges. Their future is inextricably tied to yours.
Share your vision with them and excite them again
Finally, help the seniors to see a bigger vision for what they do. They do not want to be on the sidelines but want to be in the action! Excite them! Make them feel proud again!
Remember one day, you will grow old as well. You want to grow old well. You will want the younger generations to treat you the way the seniors want you to treat them now!
We have a survey on the factors that make the seniors feel respected. Kindly log in to this link http://bit.ly/respect4seniors and complete the survey, Respect Factors for Seniors.
Choose the top three factors that make you respect the seniors.
The results will be compiled and revealed in my other articles.
I sincerely thank you in advance for doing this survey.
1) Siau Ming En. Elderly to make up almost half of Singapore population by 2050: United Nations.
2 )Today , https:// www.todayonline.com/singapore/elderly-make-almost-half-spore-population-2050-united-nations