Ageism and the Workplace in Canada

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I guess as a KPI developer, I shouldn’t be questioning this famous quote by Peter Drucker, “If it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed”. The tendency to reduce everything to numbers and charts has been central to the principle of management. But I think the real challenge isn’t even a humanistic standpoint. It is crucial to our very survival.

There is a Nigerian story about a village of animals facing a deadly food shortage. In a bid to surmount the immediate threat to their survival, the animals came up with metrics that qualified their parents as food. One of the animals decided to hide its parents up in a tree.

The village overcame this imminent challenge, became prosperous, and expanded economically. Their speed of growth became a threat, resulting in flooding. They were able to waver this storm because of the wisdom of the living parent (who remained in hiding), communicating through its child.

There are elements of what is important that cannot be quantified. How do we quantify patience, good manners, or an upbeat attitude? A crucial indicator for these elements is experience. ‘Experience’ exposes the individual to the cycle of life. Individuals with that understanding are more likely to be cautious in their actions and appreciate its multifacet implications because they have lived through similar cycles.

I feel as #ageism in the workplace in Canada only makes us less competitive, especially as we deal with a rapidly changing landscape and future. It cuts off the modern economy from potential insights that can be garnered from #olderworkers. Maybe the role of KPI developers should be how experience and potential insight can be captured on decision dashboards used in the hiring process. It should go beyond the ability to do specific tasks (which are usually tools that change with time) but explore how to measure adaptability, patience, and other characters that experience builds.

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On the policy front, could we spearhead ways to retain #olderworkers in the workforce? The average Canadian lives to 83 years but retires at 60 years. Why not reduce the stigma associated with getting closer to 60 and having (on average) another 23 years to live by increasing the retirement age? To prevent organizations from getting top-heavy, explore rotation programs and training that can transfer older workers to parts of an organization outside the traditional management team. Here, they can act as the valve to ideas bubbling with youth and energy, but lacking a firm grip on how dynamic reality is.

But I think most crucial to this would be the role of the media. Just as the media attempts to normalize ethnic minorities, what about doing the same for older people? #OlderWorkers shouldn’t be only for advertising age-related treatments, life insurance, and pension plans, but also for doing work. Maybe entertainment should go beyond the wonderful movie “The intern” (where an exec who retires to work as an intern in a startup; this brings food for thought on this topic). We should have TV shows about older workers having affairs and playing office politics.

If we intend to build a truly inclusive and progressive society, we must decide if we are only interested in building a profit-seeking environment where growth is the sole definition of success,, but one that optimizes on our collective human potentials and deploys for a greater and sustainable future.

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