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Every Sunday this month. starting on page 1A, we've been running installments of our series titled Aging in Iowa. The stories take a look at how the rise in older Iowans is affecting just about everything - from our economy and health care services to housing construction, marketing and life in the workplace.
It's fascinating stuff.
But I have to say I paused when editing our first story that ran Nov. 2, written by reporter Erin Jordan, in which she appeared to use the term 'elderly” to refer, in part, to baby boomers.
Erin technically is correct: If the word 'elderly” refers to people who are beyond, say, middle age, and if most Americans live to be 78.74 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and if the front end of the baby-boom generation - 1946 to 1964 - today is now 68 …
. Well, it's hard to argue with the math.
Still, I could see how for those early baby boomers, born a year or so after the GIs returned from World War II, that realization could be like a rapid spiral through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's famous five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then, finally, acceptance. (Well, maybe not acceptance, at least not for another decade. Or two.)
Jordan noted in her story that baby boomers certainly don't think of themselves elderly or even as middle aged. That's why, I guess, they drink all those smoothies and contemplate knee replacements.
The thing is, though, in the wave of the books and presentations that continue to engulf us about working with millennials - and now about their successors, Generation Z - a misperception seems to have grown up around the value of those baby boomers on the job.
Peter Cappelli, George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton and a National Bureau of Economic Research associate, cautions about what we can miss if we're too quick in sidelining these older employees, or when we don't give them serious consideration in hiring.
In his 2010 book, 'Managing the Older Worker,” he notes that these are the folk with the institutional knowledge as well as the people who, as mentors, can pass along the company's history, culture and mission.
Add to this findings from a survey by the Sloan Center on Aging Work at Boston College that indicate these older employees overall tend to exhibit higher levels of engagement than their younger co-workers. So much for the whispered belief they can't learn new technology or are too burned out to give a darn.
We could toss in they also probably know a trick or two about how to get the actual work done as they've had their shoulders to their wheel for years.
Yet almost 20 percent of older workers - sorry, one last survey, I promise, this one from the AARP from 2013 - said they believe they weren't hired for a position because of their age. Further, 12 percent contended they were passed over for promotion, and one percent claimed they were canned or denied training - again, because of a few real or perceived gray hairs.
I'm not saying that all baby boomers forever remain the forces of nature they once were. All of them, of course, weren't stellar workers. With employees of any generation, some are great, some aren't and some land in the middle of that bell curve.
The thing to watch out for, though, is the assumption that all employees who can recall 'Bonanza,” Jerry Rubin or when Woody Allen was funny should be getting ready for the exit.
Not just yet, anyway.