The great age debate

Apr 10 2006 by Janet Howd Print This Article

London's Tate Modern is old. Topped out in 1947, the state-of-the-art Bankside power station was designed to provide energy well into the 21st Century. Less than forty years later it was powered down. Redundant, the structure stood neglected and aging until - at the dawn of the Millennium - it transmogrified into a state-of-the-art visual arts venue.

The wildly novel, life-enhancing changes wrought inside its walls were not, of course, powered by magic but by the efforts of the millions of brain cells and tons of muscle required before any such product of human innovation can be brought into being.

Externally, were it not for its shiny new hat and fashionable outer garments of plantings and pathways that entice people into the building, no one would know that anything had changed. The structure, - though re-named - is still that of an aging power station. Tate Modern is a paradox.

Paradoxical too is the fact that when buildings, paintings, sculptures, books, toys, vehicles, wines, trees, turtles - you name it - take on the patina of age, we venerate them, yet when human beings age we dismiss them. Why do we do this to ourselves?

It seems increasingly likely that most people now alive in the UK are going to live long and remain able for upwards of thirty years beyond the age of sixty. Are you prepared to be ignored for that length of time? Isn't it time we set our minds to devising a model of old age so innovative and energising that - as happened with Tate Modern - everyone will want to get into it?

How do we set about such a mammoth task?

Well … current pension fiascos are forcing lots of us to have to rethink retirement plans anyway. Instead of becoming members of a universal moaning brigade, we should use our energies to intervene in our own destiny (certainly Government is not going to do the innovative thinking for us) and devise satisfying, sustainable ways of creating work for life.

Once the honeymoon period of two to three years is over, retiring becomes toxic
After all, there's only so much retirement a person can take. Once the honeymoon period of two to three years is over, retiring becomes toxic. It saps the brain and weakens the brawn.

Clearly, if people of all ages are to be successfully engaged in the process of wealth creation there is much to be done and those of us in the vanguard of change will inevitably have to contend with more than our fair share of the pain associated with its consequences.

But if we get the model right and balance qualitative and quantitative measures effectively, our efforts will definitely benefit those who come after us: for many of us that means our own offspring.

We could – for example - negotiate with Government for employees to take sabbatical leave at relevant intervals throughout their working lives in lieu of final-slab State pensions and get it to create legislation -with teeth – re: shorter working hours.

There will be time - and it will make economic sense as working till seventy- five becomes the norm - for people to retrain in their late thirties and early forties to do completely different jobs from the ones they first set out on. Boredom thresholds down. Economic performance up!

Late flowering careers (a number of women have already experienced these when going back to work after seeing children through school) will become the norm. And because the time left before retirement will be longer, the prospects of promotion will be greater: an added incentive for employees to knuckle down and deliver their best.

Fears that - in a world of work which includes great grandparents - young people are likely to lose out, should be calmed by the fact that they will not have the current economic burden of support for an older population to contend with.

To assume that employers or governments will map the best way forward for us is delusory. We must get involved in the Great Age debate and work out for ourselves how best to fix things for ourselves. Who better to invite than readers of Management Issues to set their minds to the ground breaking, change-management task of adding value to longevity, and bring ideas to the table? … Please do!

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.