American society worships youth. Our society devalues age. This is humanly and entrepreneurially wasteful. This is not ROI practical. It is also not demographically realistic.
Betty Friedan, the founder of NOW, wrote a book in 1994 called The Fountain of Age (Reed Business Information). Friedan presents the thesis that life after 55 is by far the most fecund and useful for most people. She produces research studies and considerable anecdotal evidence that the “Third Age” (after growing up and then generating a career and a family) is the age of creativity.
I know my own executive sales outsourcing firm, Corporate Rain International, has vastly profited over the years by resting the core of our practice on the backs of associates between the ages of 35 and 65. (Admittedly this has been made easier by the fact that Corporate Rain is a virtual company. Our executives mostly work out of their home offices all over the country.) In our case we need high-level people who can speak on a basis of equal business stature with top decision-makers at corporations. The authority to do this type of business development effectively is not something that can be taught to a younger employee academically. Subtle instinct and articulate gravitas can only come through the experience and hard knocks of a lived life. Hence the enormous value of older employees.
I’ve heard the business reasons for hiring the young–that the young have more energy, they are more open to the new (not set in their ways), they work for less money, they are healthier, more technologically savvy…and they’re prettier. I’ve found most of these arguments to be specious on balance. In fact, what the older employee offers is an unteachable wisdom, knowledge, perspective and patience. These unquantifiable qualities come mostly from a lived life. From the travails of existence itself come humility, sensitivity and compassion. These are certainly very useful qualities in service-oriented, high-end sales. I anticipate each of my associates will be independent, authoritative points of interaction in support of our clients. They must be constantly making independent, nuanced decisions, in addition to consistently embodying the service ethic and spiritual generosity that I expect out of my representatives.
I have found the older employee to have more loyalty and staying power. And the generational work ethic is better. I know this makes me sound like a creaky curmudgeon, but it is, I believe, a clear-eyed, practical observation. Furthermore, in exchange for certain life-style tradeoffs and flexibility, these employees are more financially practicable than one might think. (I intend to talk about life-style and employment next week.) Also, most of the work of my firm is sedentary, not requiring the vaster physical prowess of the young.
Additionally, it’s just ridiculously wasteful to prematurely abandon the aging employee, like an old Inuit floating off to die on an iceberg.
Social security begins at 62. In practical terms this age must be raised. The average lifespan of a 40 year old male is 77.1 years and the average lifespan of the 40 year old female is 81.9 years. Government retirement support will have to be scaled back to deal with the coming financial tsunami of unfunded entitlements. There is no reason for your employees not to come from this overlooked pool of more seasoned employees, especially if they’re not required to dig ditches.
Financier Bernard Baruch said in 1955, “To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.” Makes sense to me. Thanks, Bernard.