The ‘Wisdom Capital’ of Older Workers

olderworkersAn article by a Brazilian scholar argues hat older workers (age 55+) possess “wisdom capital” that is an extremely valuable asset to any organization.

Anselmo Ferreira Vasconcelos writes in Older Workers  as a Source of Wisdom Capital: Broadening Perspectives that older workers know the organizational culture better than any other group inside the company.

“They tend to keep in their minds those failures and successful ideas, projects, initiatives, and leaderships, which added or not value throughout their trajectories, as well as things that worked out or not. and are informed by the organization’s past successes and failures. Fundamentally, they are able to provide answers to vital questions,” he writes.

In an era of uncertainty and disruptions, older workers display wisdom and qualities that are “absolutely necessary” to improving organizations.

While there is “scant research” on the potentialities, capabilities and skill of older workers, Vasconcelos writes that evidence from international studies indicates that older workers are more engaged and perform their jobs as effectively as their younger counterparts, especially when they have a relatively high degree of experience and expertise, receive management and coworker support, and get job training that meets their special needs. Moreover, he writes, older workers tend to be more reliable and show lower rates of absenteeism.

Vasconcelos contends there is little evidence that productivity declines with age and “some important work-related capabilities improve or endure throughout life, i.e., crystallized intelligence, experience, expertise, practical and tacit knowledge, and other job-related abilities.”

The article, published by Emerald Publishing, Ltd., discusses how employers can retain the “wisdom capital” possessed by older workers. Vasconcelos cites findings from various international studies showing:

  • “It is of major importance that employers demonstrate to their older employees that they are valued and respected … “
  • “It is imperative that organizations train their supervisors and managers to carry out fairly and accurately performance appraisals that reflect the performance of older employees (free from age bias), as well as providing older employees with useful feedback.”
  • Provide flexible work schedules or alternative work arrangements (e.g. working from home).
  • Informal development or training opportunities through the job may be the best way to prevent skill obsolescence among older workers.
  • Older workers who perform jobs requiring physical stamina can be helped by providing “ergonomic adaptations, changes in work schedules, and in the number of hours worked per week.”
  • To prevent older workers from becoming disengaged and retiring, organizations should adopt supervisory practices and incentive systems to enhance older workers’ perceptions of control and well-being.
  • Organizations should emphasize a sense of importance to mission or a social purpose that transcends generating profits to shareholders.
  • Research shows there are five dimensions related to successful aging in the workplace –  continued focus and achievement of personal goals, adaptability and health, personal security, occupational growth and positive relationships (in that order).

Vasconcelos argues that all employees, regardless of age, should be viewed as “renewable assets’ that yield a high rate of return if they are adequately educated, trained and managed.

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