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.

Older Comments

I have just completed a questionaire to further the objectives of providing for the disabled in employment. Frequently we see provisions for ethnic minorities safeguarding their right to live and earn. I can carry on and name several categories of the 'disadvantaged' being assertively accommodated to protect their interests, to the extreme point where the 'disadvantaged' person have a legal sanction, that he can exercise authoritively, to be considered and taken seriously. Ageism is by far the largest 'disadvantage' sector in society and also the most conspicuous; just look at the date of birth. BUT we are snubbed unceremoniously. First remove the over 55 applications them we can start looking for a short list. AND you can not win by negating the birth date, your employment and qualification record will give you away. The country as a whole can not afford a non earning and non contributing ageing population; WHY such a low keyed approach to tackle the problem. I have submitted more than 150 applications over 4 years, were short listed 3 times and turned down throughout. I hold a masters degree and in total spent 12 successful years at university studies PLUS 22 years local government experience to the level of Director of Protective Services PLUS 10 years in the private sector. I am a 'young' 63 healthy fit and able to compete with coleagues 20 years my junior but the general perception is 'Passed his sell by date' = unemployable. WHEN wil society without exception realise they are just a decede or more away from the self same problem; a problem that no society can afford to foster and nurture. People are going to grow older and older and mor capable at an older age. The bill to the nations coffers can not afford the ageism bill and the deficiency is growing and will get out of hand if something is not done soon. DO NOT tell me that with my carreer and qualification record I can be a cashier or trolley collector at ASDA or Tesco's = THAT is an insult. It is bad enough that I have to succumb to supply teaching and sessional lecturing for employment; this is already entry level employment!

Jan Cronje Derbyshire UK