(Editor’s note: This is part one of two columns.)
Will older workers ever feel they’ve maximized their potential, achieving self-knowledge and finding fulfillment on the job? The emerging group of older workers, clustered around the half-century mark, longs for the positive state of mind and personal development known as self-realization.
Nobel Prize recipient Robert Fogel, author of “The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism” (University of Chicago Press, May, $25), characterizes the current (fourth) era, which began about 1960, as fueled by the need for meaning, a need not yet satisfied, even among workers 50 and above. He is a professor in the university’s Graduate School of Business.
Many of today’s older workers, Fogel states, grew up with limited education and did not receive the physiological and spiritual resources that they could access on their own to achieve self-realization. Only half of today’s 65- and 66-year-olds, for example, completed high school. Approximately 80 percent didn’t attend college.
“The capacity for self-improvement continues into old age,” he maintains. Developing post-retirement educational opportunities tailored to individuals at various stages of literacy, he believes, may make fulfillment possible for the first time.
It is well-established that, armed with higher levels of education, emerging “younger” older workers believe they can come into their own through their work. In addition, an increasingly receptive market is extending their employment choices.
Courtney Day, senior vice president at The Senior Network Inc. in Stamford, Conn., a marketing organization for mature consumers, reports that for men and women 45 to 54 years old, last year’s median unemployment was 8.5 weeks, down from 8.7 weeks the previous year. People 55 to 64 had no work for 8.9 weeks, down 0.9 from 1998.
“The ‘forever young’ mentality of this group of workers (baby boom) causes them to shiver at the idea of sitting at home, twiddling their thumbs,” Day remarks. “They’re also recognition-conscious, realizing that working gives them the social dynamics they need.”
But these “younger” older workers aren’t completely responsible for the shift. Individuals inside companies are also changing, as managers in their late 40s, with gray hair and pictures of grandchildren on their desks, recognize they must eliminate their own bias toward older workers, because they, too, are aging, Day points out.
“This attitude shift trickles down from the workplace environment,” she explains. When a manager’s comfort level toward older workers increases, the propensity to hire in this age group begins.
While company and individual employee attitudes about age may be shifting, many mature workers and those up to a decade behind them continue the mantra, “Work promises fulfillment.” To this group, failure to work signifies loss of connectedness and inability to meet lifestyle goals.
Ann Clurman, partner at Yankelovich Partners, a marketing research and consulting company based in Norwalk, Conn., says her firm’s research over 28 years found “no amount of money or material possessions satisfy their need for something else, such as inner peace. Combined with that, work has always been a critical part of baby boom identity, from the beginning.”
She predicts continued employment, perhaps in teaching, community service or a return to their roots, motivated less by financial gain and more by the attempt to find meaning.
“The concept of retirement is a flawed concept,” Day comments incisively, projecting that as many as 80 percent of mature workers will keep working.
“It will mean that someone will leave a long-term career job where they climbed 9 to 5, take benefits and do something else, perhaps even full time.”
Where does this attitude leave today’s newly matured workers? Striving, yes. But in a far better position than many of their predecessors in the 20th century to achieve satisfaction.
Next week: How individuals can overcome bias against older workers.
Culp sponsors the annual WorkWise Award. For information, visit (www.work-wise.com).
& #352;2000, Universal Press Syndicate