This week’s On Management column in the FT saw Stefan Stern draw attention to the growth and plight of our ageing workforce (‘Don’t get fooled again – you’re not too old for the job’). He encourages us all to address this issue, saying: “It’s not just Actuaries and pensions advisers who have had their expectations confounded by increased longevity. All of us are having to reassess our views on age.”
“Businesses need to get much smarter about age, and fast. The demographics insist on it. And it is no use expecting government to sort out these problems for you. In any case legislation has, so far, not proved terribly effective in bringing about what you call cultural re-education in this area.”
Stern cites me and an argument I made at a recent public debate on these issues, where I said that in failing to make better connections between generations whether at work or in the wider community, we risk polarising young and old, almost setting them up in opposition to each other, just at a time when we need to think harder about the financial implications of our ageing society.
Indeed, unless the combination of innovation, energy, skills and experience is maximised one can’t help but see this potential conflict. This conflict is between the ‘golden generation’ who have been investing in their homes and benefiting from good final-salary pensions, the ‘baby boomers’ who are buying property instead of saving and the younger generation who are getting into serious debt. Current elders have had the attitude of saving to benefit their children but now these savings are increasingly needed for their parent’s living expenses, leisure time and, more urgently, paying for long term care. Recognising a potential for conflict between the generations, the sooner there can be intergenerational approaches to these problems in communities and the workplace, the better society will be. We need a more positive attitude to increased longevity, more effort to grasp ageing as an opportunity, and to challenge the prejudices that exist, so as to avoid wasting the experience and talents of both young and old working together.