I was thinking today about age and how it factors into workplace mechanics. After have a couple of years of professional work force experience under my belt, I’ve come to question this whole idea of age equals experience. That sort of is true, but not in the way the classic work model plays it out to be. I mean, think about it. It’s the whole idea that the older you are, and the longer you’ve been working at something, the better equipped and wiser you tend to be. How long you’ve been working in a field or at a specific job earns you the honorary title of being experienced. Yet, isn’t it the older workers that tend to become obsolete these days due to the onward march of technology?

For example, in the graphic design field (since I have experience in that area), it’s not so much the older graphic designers that seem to be the high-in-demand. The older you are as a graphic designer, the farther away you tend to be from the latest technology and trends. Someone who’s just graduated from college, or someone who’s technologically savvy can step in and be almost as experienced as you are and look, they did it in less of the time it took for you to be deemed the ‘experienced’ worker! The same goes for a lot of fields and industries: entertainment (look at Lady GaGa’s pop career as compared to that of say Britney Spears or Madonna), or politics (McCain vs. Obama, anyone?).

It’s rather interesting and sadly amusing to watch this battle continue to rage on in many workplaces. If you’re a younger professional, you may be more experienced than the guy hiring you but because of your age, you’re often times given the grunt work, or the low salary, because you aren’t ‘experienced’ enough and have to pay your dues. If you’re the older professional, you may have once been on the cutting edge of your field or area of expertise but because you aren’t keep up with the latest trends, technology and ‘what’s in’ you’re suddenly an artifact, even if you’re just 2-3 years out of having received your degree. On top of that, the older you get the more you’re looked over by many employers who want to keep costs down by hiring someone younger who they can low-ball salary wise. Your ‘experience’ may not be so sharp in the technology or professional department but you’ve probably become a pro at things like demanding a competitive salary, stock options, negotiating personal leave and other necessary perks.

I’m not sure where I fall in this debate of age over youth when it comes to experience. I think both groups probably get the shaft in many ways. Being younger, I can say this: there are certain things in the workplace that I think younger people don’t get enough credit for. We’re often seen as the ones who need continuous supervision. There’s the fear or belief that younger workers are slackers; they’ll spend all of their time on their iPhones, they rely on E-mail over picking up a real phone and making human contact, they whine and complain about their responsibilities. I’ve seen this and have heard stories from others my age and here’s the truth – yeah, younger professionals do all of those things but they also are the ones who’ll use all of their tech-savvy skills to get things done quicker. Why waste the time on an hour-long (if not longer) meeting when most of what’s said could be summed up in a short E-mail? With so many people hooked into technology like text messages, E-mail and all, why spend all day trying to track someone down via landline or cold calling when you could reach out to people through social media like Tweeting, Facebook messages or even old-school Instant Messaging?

I think younger people may be seen as lazy because instead of spending their time on big time wasters, they’re aware of how people like them act and behave: they know how irked they’d be having someone randomly calling them on the phone if they aren’t family/friend; they live in the 140-characters or less world where long, drawn out conversations and messages just seem ridiculously unnecessary; they’re in the real world now and not in college so would rather spend more time relaxing, having a real life with friends and enjoyable activities so (in most cases) would rather get something done and set aside than to procrastinate and have to rush and cram to meet a deadline. Older workers, give your younger co-workers a little credit and you may be surprised to find that they aren’t as inept and lazy as you think!

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2 COMMENTS

  1. A significant part of the problem here is that different people bring different levels of talent and effort to the table—and that others fail to recognize this to the degree they should. For 25 and 45 y.o people alike, there is an enormous range of ability, yet they are often grouped together as “that wet-behind-his-ears guy” or “the stuffy old geezer”.

    Notably, any individual is likely to become more competent over time, but not everyone will do so at the same rate—nor will twenty years of experience turn a nit-wit into a genius.

    (I elaborate on a few of these ideas in
    an article on my website.)

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