Older workers have a unique gift – experience

An age-diverse workplace allows those just starting out to be exposed to more experienced workers

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When we read about older adults in a news story, it is often in the context of the burden they will place on government programs when retiring or – to flip the script – how they remain vital and active despite their advancing years. Look, Herbert and Martha still go skating! Wow!

What image is evoked when we say “older adult?” Are they using a cane? Are they grey-haired and stereotypically stooped octogenarians playing Bingo in the retirement home? Does someone in their 50s count?

Well, that’s the thing. The idea of who is old and who is young is very relative. This season, 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr will suit up for the Calgary Flames. In the NHL, that qualifies him as a veritable dinosaur.

Then, consider that Jagr is actually a few weeks younger than our very own prime minister. Certainly no one speaks of l’enfant Trudeau as anything but a shining beacon of youth and vitality.

So, two men born only a scant seven weeks apart are perceived very differently because of their chosen professions. The tired cliché is that ‘age is just a number’ but that’s not entirely true. How we treat and pigeon-hole those who are euphemistically “mature” says a lot about one of the hidden biases of our society – one that sometimes relegates individuals with a lot left to contribute to sitting on the bench.

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Jagr commented on what older people can bring to his workplace in a recent interview with the Hockey Night in Canada crew. “I think it’s great that teams give opportunities to young guys but they need to learn from somebody.”

How true. An age-diverse workplace brings positive results for all concerned. It allows for those just starting out to be exposed to more experienced workers – ones who have lived long enough to face, and overcome, myriad challenges, setbacks and complexities along the way.

“It’s like if you go to the school and there’s no teachers,” said Jagr. “I always believe that the older guys can tell you something, they can show you something. I’m not saying they’re not going to figure [it] out but you just save a lot of time if I tell them or some older guys who’ve been through that tell them. I learned a lot from my elder teammates in Pittsburgh.”

He is, in essence, old enough to be the father of many of the young men in the NHL he will play with, and against, in what may be his final season – and that’s fantastic. Despite the admittedly unique circumstances of professional sports, it also can serve as a reminder that bringing or keeping a diversity of age to the workplace has value whatever the industry or business.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easily achieved or accepted. Even Jagr himself had to wait until the eve of this NHL season to be signed and has had to be a hockey gypsy moving from team to team to keep doing what he loves. The Flames sweater will be the 9th he has donned.

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Older workers are sometimes pushed out of positions in favour of younger and cheaper replacements. If they attempt to make lateral moves and mid-career changes, they are often viewed as being less desirable than that Godzilla group of millennials that seem to have taken over the world – probably while older adults like myself were napping or eating tapioca.

The Brookings Institution recently completed a study focused on older adults. It states: “The 50-plus population is one of the fastest growing demographics in the United States. This group totalled nearly 110 million in 2015 … By 2050, those 50 and older will number over 150 million, representing nearly 39 per cent of all Americans.”

At a time in my life when I am usually closer in age to a new pope than I am to an NHL player, it will be very refreshing and heartening to see Jaromir Jagr step on the ice for the Flames this season.

And, no, something tells me he won’t be needing a cane.

Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.

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