Older employees have a hard time on the job market. IBM even wanted to “get rid of them.” But companies won’t be able to do without them in the future because young people apparently don’t want to work the way older generations did.
Recently, I had a coffee with one of the trendiest men on the German Internet. He looked rather tired and exhausted and talked about his plans to retire. Not because he needed a break but because when it came to the Internet, he was worried that he would no longer be taken seriously at some point because of his age.
The anecdote fits the bigger picture. Hardly any other industry marginalizes older employees (my conversation partner is considered middle-aged by German standards) as consistently as the tech industry. China and Silicon Valley are particularly notorious for this. A few days ago, IT veteran IBM also made a name for itself in this context. Internal emails from a court case became public showing that the company’s workforce was due to be radically rejuvenated. Older employees were disparagingly referred to as “dinobabies” by managers in the documents.
Continuing education is also the responsibility of employers
Dinobabies are born to stay, especially in a country like Germany, where the 40+ generation makes up almost half of the population and thus the majority of all working people. No company will remain viable without them. So, the question arises: How is it possible that so many older people are considered unfit for the labor market?
For one thing, there are manager prejudices and stereotypes that are in all of us. When youth is in short supply, it seems all the more desirable, even in the workplace. All anyone can do is keep working on themselves, scrutinizing their own prejudices. At the same time, it is indeed the case that some older employees can no longer keep up with the new. But it is also the job of employers to do something about this.
In Germany, in particular, professional development and training has had the charm of forced incarceration for decades. And that is how it is treated in countless organizations. Even before corona, employees were lured into windowless hotel conference rooms, bombarded with bad presentations and refueled with stale filter coffee from a thermos. And later, everyone was surprised that nothing stuck. If your company doesn’t have a better concept for the training and development of its workforce after corona, you’ve already lost. Professional development must finally become cool and desirable, and not be seen as a flaw.
Who is going to do the work that the young are leaving behind?
Apparently, the young are now quite skeptical of the “continuous flow” system of the work world, according to recent studies. Not only are they less motivated than older generations to work harder than they can manage, but they are also even increasingly critical of capitalism. So, who is going to do all the future work that the young are leaving behind?
It’s time to listen to the older employees, understand what they need, and learn from them. The streaming service Netflix, for example, is known for being one of the few companies in the Valley to also recruit older people. This broadens the range of experience and enlivens the culture. After all, it’s not Netflix whose services are endangering democracy worldwide. Moreover, knowledge has an ever-shorter half-life. This applies to members of all age groups. Reverse mentoring, mixed teams make the difference.
At 60-years, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna is no longer the youngest either. At the very top of the management ladder, it seems as if you can’t be old enough. So not all “dinobabies” are the same. Hopefully, my Internet man will soon realize that, too.
Cover Image: Kae Ng/Unsplash