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With age comes the wisdom to roll with the punches at work

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Just the other day I came across a report on work by another Boston College center on the other side of campus. The study by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work, evaluated the effects of the recession on employee engagement and it hit home here at the Center for Corporate Citizenship – and specifically here at the desk of a baby boomer.

Employee engagement is a hot topic these days as corporate citizenship professionals struggle to keep their programs and initiatives alive in a tight economy. More than ever employees are seen as key stakeholders who are vital to successful corporate citizenship.

The Sloan Center report, “The Difference a Downturn Can Make”, explores how economic concerns have affected employees’ workplace experiences and how changes differ by employee age and perception of job security. What the researchers found that really piqued my interest: Members of Generation Y – workers ages 26 and younger – reported the greatest decrease in engagement, while engagement remained virtually unchanged for baby boomers and older (workers older than 43 – otherwise known as my contemporaries). And while employee engagement decreased across all groups and was most significant in the younger age groups, the decrease was almost nonexistent among employees over 53 (my fellow 50-plus boomers who remember watching Apollo 11 land).

So what gives with those millennials who we’re counting on to carry the corporate citizenship banner into the future? And what happened to the stereotype of jaded curmudgeons just punching the clock?

“Some older workers have seen it all, and that gives them experiential resilience,” Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center, told Diversity Inc. “Younger workers just don’t have the depth of experience, which leaves them feeling less engaged in their jobs.”

I guess there’s a silver-lining to keeping gray-haired heads on the payroll when the budget for staffing gets tight.

But Pitt-Catsouphes is quick to point out that employers shouldn’t rush to make AARP membership a required qualification at hiring time. She notes that “younger workers bring energy, enthusiasm and idealism. In a workplace where older and younger employees work side by side, the give and take between young and old is a valuable resource employers should leverage to survive the downturn.”

Well, it looks like I can still count on having colleagues who will be amazed by my stories of rotary dial telephones and vinyl records.

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3 comments on “With age comes the wisdom to roll with the punches at work

  1. You’re right that the stereotype of disaffected and disagreeable ageing employees is rapidly disappearing. I’m currently doing PhD research at Cranfield University into motivation for career progression in older managers and those I’m interviewing are totally underlining how much energy, enthusiasm and creativity are seen (by themselves and others) as key attributes for most in late career. The consensus seems to be that there will always be attitude problems leading to disengagement – but that’s do with with circumstance and indvidual personalities and issues, and nothing to do with age per se.

  2. As a member of Generation Y myself, I actually find this post encouraging; it’s good to know that skin grows thicker, in a sense, and better long-term perspective is gained through experience in the workplace. While I agree with Dianne that generally attitude problems leading to disengagement may have more to do with individual personalities and issues than with age, I would argue that- in this case- it has to do with age in that Gen Y-ers simply have less experience. This is the first economic hardship that has faced us since we entered the workforce. I’m not sure that Gen Y-ers know how to respond and (hopefully temporary) disengagement seems to make sense as young employees take a moment to turn their attentions inward.

    Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I suspect Gen Y will bounce back and soon acquire the thicker skin of the baby boomers. A similar article in The Nonprofit Times draws a connection to Gen Yers engaged in social media, stating that those folks are more likely than social network non-users to volunteer time and help out in the community. If this trend continues (and if the social media trend continues), then hopefully the younger generation will bounce back sooner rather than later. Here’s the article: http://www.nptimes.com/09Aug/bnews-090827-1.html

    Great post! It was an interesting Monday morning read to get me thinking and motivated. Thanks!

  3. As a member of Generation Y myself, I actually find this post encouraging; it’s good to know that skin grows thicker, in a sense, and better long-term perspective is gained through experience in the workplace. While I agree with Dianne that generally attitude problems leading to disengagement may have more to do with individual personalities and issues than with age, I would argue that- in this case- it has to do with age in that Gen Y-ers simply have less experience. This is the first economic hardship that has faced us since we entered the workforce. I’m not sure that Gen Y-ers know how to respond and (hopefully temporary) disengagement seems to make sense as young employees take a moment to turn their attentions inward.

    Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I suspect Gen Y will bounce back and soon acquire the thicker skin of the baby boomers. A similar article in The Nonprofit Times draws a connection to Gen Yers engaged in social media, stating that those folks are more likely than social network non-users to volunteer time and help out in the community. If this trend continues (and if the social media trend continues), then hopefully the younger generation will bounce back sooner rather than later. Here’s the article: http://www.nptimes.com/09Aug/bnews-090827-1.html

    Great post! It was an interesting Monday morning read to get me thinking and motivated. Thanks!

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