Poet Mya Angelou once said, “The Fifties are everything you’ve been meaning to be.”
American society worships youth. Our society devalues age. This is humanly and entrepreneurially wasteful. It is not ROI practicable. It is also not demographically realistic.
It has become a clichéd joke, but 60 really is the new 40 and 70 really is the new 50. We all are simply living longer and healthier lives.
There is unquestionably an HR bias against hiring the older worker. This attitude is nuts. It’s old-fashioned, antediluvian cant that has not caught up with the times. Mature workers are more knowledgeable, experienced, disciplined, flexible and reliable than the young employee.
But more than all this they are wise in life. They have had time to be knocked down hard several times. This brings a practical humility-the humility of all of us who have failed a time or two. Humility is a useful entrepreneurial skill that is only learned from living life itself.
Betty Friedan, the founder of NOW, wrote a book in 1994 called The Fountain of Age. Friedan presents the thesis that life after 55 is by far the most fecund and useful for most people. She produced 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 the entrepreneurial firm I founded, Corporate Rain International, vastly profited over the years by resting the core of its practice on the backs of associates between the ages of 35 and 65. (Admittedly this was made easier by the fact that Corporate Rain is a virtual company. Our executives mostly working out of their home offices all over the country.) In our case we needed high-level people who could speak about money 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.
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 wanted each of my associates to be independent, authoritative points of interaction in support of clients, constantly making independent, nuanced decisions, in addition to consistently embodying a service ethic, empathy, and spiritual generosity.
I find, too, that older employees have more loyalty and staying power. They stick around. And the generational work ethic is better. I know this makes me sound a bit curmudgeonly, 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. Most executive sales work is increasingly sedentary, not requiring the vaster physical prowess of the young.
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 or we will go bankrupt as a nation. The average lifespan of a US male is 78.7 years and the average lifespan of a US female is 81.1 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 new sales hires not to come from this overlooked pool of more seasoned employees, especially if they’re not required to dig ditches.
The singer Cher once said, “Some guy said to me: Don’t you think you’re too old to sing Rock n’ Roll? I said: You’d better check with Mick Jagger.” Indeed.