Career reinvention – can older workers thrive in the digital era?

Older Workers

Have you noticed that your workmates are getting younger? Wondering if your boss would rehire you if your position became available today?

I don’t think a week goes by when I don’t hear from someone 45+ who suddenly finds themselves being made redundant due to a merger, acquisition, outsourcing, or digital transformation. There has never been more change in the workplace, and with this volatility comes problems, and opportunities.

This is a topic very close to my heart because 12 years ago I lost my role as a Vice President at an Executive Search firm due to a prolonged episode of depression. My reinvention began when I decided to write my first book, Back From The Brink. This led to 3 more books and the opportunity to help start the charity, R U OK?.

In the last 3 years I’ve also taken over 5000 leaders through my Leading Thriving Tribes workshop. Now I am working with a younger business partner, developing our Factorc leadership app and learning portal. This will allow us to measure the mood of teams and the organisations, and provide phone-based training to increase leadership and team resilience. Whist there have been many peaks and valleys along this journey, as a 60-year-old, I have never been more fulfilled or motivated by my work.

We can focus on things we can’t control, or we can decide we are going to do whatever it takes to be future ready and live our life to the fullest. Whilst we can’t control the volatility that is being driven by the Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution, there are many things we can do to prepare ourselves to prepare ourselves for it.

It is critical to seize the day, and not wait for the next acquisition or restructure. This will be relevant no matter what path you take. There are many ways older workers can contribute to the greater good and increase their sense of fulfilment.

I recommend you take action even if you are financially secure, because science tells us that the younger we retire, the younger we die. For many older workers their focus starts to shift from making money to creating a legacy.

I’ve listed my 5 suggestions to reinvent your career:

1.  Accept reality

As sad as this is for me to admit, there is no doubt that ageism exists in the Australian market. This has been confirmed to me by many colleagues I know that still work in outplacement and recruitment businesses. The reality is that older workers have a greater likelihood of being made redundant and take longer to find a new role.

Whilst the AI revolution is increasing the turbulence in the market, it is also leading to extraordinary opportunities that didn’t exist before. This could be in the form coaching, consulting, training, or technology start-ups.

Consider this. According to research from UK trend-forecasting specialists the Future Laboratory, older entrepreneurs are shown to have a better success rate, with 70% of start-ups led by people aged 50 or over lasting at least five years, compared with 28% for younger entrepreneurs.

2. Build your resilience

Whether you wish to remain in the corporate world or seek outside opportunities, building resilience should be your #1 priority. Research shows that resilience has a positive impact on problem solving skills, physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, and innovation. It is a keystone competency that has a positive impact on many other skills and abilities. It can help you to respond better and faster to change. It can help you to be a better leader, family member and friend. Create rituals that have a positive impact on your resilience such as good sleep practices, regular exercise, and nurturing a close group of friends.

Related: 7 Rituals of the Resilient Leader

Adopt a growth mindset to understand and better serve customers. Take moderate risks to create benefits for customers, and other stakeholders.

3. The career Jungle Gym

The career ladder has been replaced by the career Jungle Gym. Traditionally we thought that career progression meant gradually moving up the organisation – and if we are not going up – our career has plateaued. This is no longer the case. We can become highly skilled specialists and be rewarded with healthy income, great flexibility, and more meaningful work. If you can learn a very valuable skill, and it is something that interests you, don’t be afraid to take a “sideways” or “backwards” move. Ask yourself, does this move play to my strengths and passions. This move could yield strong medium and long-term benefits.

4. Seek a younger mentor

Seek out a digital native that you admire and take them to lunch. Ask them what information sources they get their inspiration from. What do they see as the technology changes that will impact your customers and suppliers? What implication does that have for you?

The upside of the AI revolution is that technology is getting easier and easier to use. Many new phones, computers, and digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa have become so intuitive that they don’t even have instruction manuals any more.

You could also consider hiring a technology coach. I’ve also found the Pocket app to be a wonderful resource. It allows you to follow what thought leaders around the globe are reading and watching.

5. Focus on human skills

Ironically as AI begins to replace jobs, human skills have never been more important. I recently saw Dr Lynda Gratton (who is 63) from the London Business School present at the recent HR summit in Singapore. She founded the Future of Work Research Consortium and advises governments and large global companies about how to prepare employees. She and many others have predicted that many jobs will be replaced by AI in the next. Her research shows that if we want to remain relevant at work, we should focus on developing our human skills. Skills such as:

  • Emotional intelligence, teaching others, active learning, creativity, active listening, critical thinking

These skills are also critical success factors for better project management and collaboration. Most organisations are striving to relentlessly innovate. This is leading to more collaboration than ever before (inside and outside the organisation). One estimate from Rob Cross et al. in Harvard Business Review says that the need for collaboration has grown 50% in the last two decades.

Gratton maintains there are only two questions we should be asking ourselves to determine if we are in the right role and company to equip us for the future of work:

  1. Am I learning heaps each day?
  2. Does my role and my company keep me healthy?

Perhaps we should take inspiration from Ray Kroc, who at 52 years of age began a transition from being a milkshake mixer salesman to owning and growing McDonalds, the fast food franchise behemoth. His mantra was:

“When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”

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