From the Comms Cupboard

Can older employees learn new tricks?

Can older employees learn new tricks?
As we get older, is it easy to stay fresh and hungry? John and Shaun believe it’s important to be adaptable more than ever.

And with relatively unforeseen events such as a pandemic, a well as the relentless pace of technological change, there’s never been a better time to stay on top of your game.

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Episode transcript

Shaun: I am enjoying this vibe, this tone we have going in the background, of being in a cafe enjoying coffee and a pastry. And chitchatting about things such as: can older employees learn new tricks? Did I come up with that because you sometimes see a slightly greying version of a barista in Starbucks and you think, are they going to make my coffee as good as that spotty youth over there?

John: I suspect they would make it better, wouldn’t you?

Shaun: Why?

John: Experience.

Shaun: But experience in coffee?

John: Perhaps.

Shaun: They may have been a company director for 40 years of their life and then decided, I’m bored with retirement. I’m going to work for my local Starbucks. They’re massively overqualified ...

John: Don’t they have a will to be there? They actually want to do that job.

Shaun: Does that make the difference in being able to learn a new skill?

John: I don’t think it does, but in wanting to do something, you’re more likely to learn a new skill aren’t you? If you’re just there because you have to be there, that’s different.

Shaun: A willingness to ...

John: A willingness to do something new and be busy. It’s a stereotype that old people can’t learn something new.

Shaun: Well it’s definitely a stereotype. I tend to think stereotypes only exist because there is an element of truth in stereotypes for many things. We just don’t like stereotyping, but there’s always an element of truth there. And there is a sense that you can meet resistance from people who have been longer in your business – longer in the tooth maybe. Perhaps they’re not even old but they’ve been in your business for a long time ...

John: They’re not susceptible to change; they don’t want it to be different.

Shaun: Yeah, so when those new people come in – junior so and so, and junior so and so is promoted the year after, and they start to introduce new tools and things – the 20-year veteran of the company thinks: I don’t want to change. I like the way I’ve done things. So you’re saying the difference is in willingness and that older person will go: “D’ya know what, I’ve been waiting to learn something new!

John: How often have you been in an organisation and everyone is moaning about how something is done. It’s always like this here! Maybe it comes down to people. Maybe it’s individuals and how they react. I like this idea of, if you think about people who have been in a workplace a long time, they’ve probably gone through a huge amount of change that we didn’t think of as bigger, but it was just as big at the time. If you started a job where you used a typewriter and then you used a computer, that was a bigger change.

Shaun: A massive change.

John: Moving to word processing or the internet age is a bigger deal than saving your files online.

Shaun: And those sorts of things will happen more because we’re staying in work longer. And technology is moving much quicker. The shift from the typewriter to the computer and so on, they were long periods. Now you can get change every two years, even at how you do something.

John: Maybe technology is the easy thing for us to look at with change because it feels immediate, fresh and new. Maybe that’s where the misconception of older people not adapting to change ...

Shaun: You mean they’re not tech savvy.

John: Yeah, it might be a tech savvy thing, and what can you do to help them? Maybe they want to learn it. It’s just not second nature to them. You may have one of your Millennials or young people who are just starting work now who have always had technology in their lives – they’ve always had a phone in their hand or a computer at home – is there a way that you can bring the two together and be more inclusive about it?

Shaun: How do you do that? Do you have an idea?

John: You could look at something like reverse mentoring. You can actually bring young and old people to work together, and to help them through it. The older people may want to understand how this newfangled thing happens, but just don’t know where to start. They maybe just need more time and more attention.

Shaun: So sometimes it’s not about being old but more about feeling that they’re going to be left behind so they might as well be left behind 😄

John: Maybe it’s as simple as that it’s just not obvious to them. Maybe as communicators, it’s obvious to us and we don’t challenge what we do enough. It’s actually quite a big difference. Do we actually need to spend more time with these people to help them through. Because actually they want to, they just don’t know how.

Shaun: I like what you said earlier, that it is much more to do with the individual. Let’s talk about our dads, for instance. Your dad is much more willing to learn about his iPad than my dad is. My dad ... you suspect that if you stopped hearing from him, he hasn’t figured out that he just needs to re-login or change his password, whereas your dad would just be on it. And they’re the same age, more or less. It is down to the individual. It should have nothing to do with age, and yet perhaps the statistics say that it generally is the older generation that can’t learn new things or are resistant to them.

John: Maybe think of it in a different way with change, because change actually means doing something in a different way. In a business, you may have been used to talking to a person who did something for you. You may have had a HR person who did all your paperwork for you. Say you wanted to recruit someone, they did everything for you. Even in the interviews, they were probably there telling you who to hire. Now that person doesn’t exist and support has to come through a digital tool or through a team working at distance somewhere else. Is that change more difficult for people? It’s actually the removal of people from their lives. Is that more difficult?

Shaun: I think that could be part of it.

John: Of not having someone to do something for you, and actually as an individual you have a lot more things to do.

Shaun: Well that’s different because that’s a different episode we’re going to tackle, which is change. What you’re saying there is that they’re finding it hard to change rather than learn something new. You’ve got a good point, a valid point. and let’s talk about that in the change one. Where people leave and you suddenly find yourself having to learn a new skill – perhaps the skill of the person who left (and take away the fact that nobody is going to pay you any extra for doing it!) – you suddenly find yourself thinking do I have the capability to learn that new thing or am I a bit frightened of it?

John: So it might not be that you don’t want to, it’s just that you doubt yourself.

Shaun: Yes.

John: Or maybe you know yourself better. You’ve been around a bit longer and you know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at.

Shaun: Maybe that’s the thing that stops you!

John: Yeah! You think, I’ve never been good at this!

Shaun: You talk yourself into not learning the new thing and double-down on it.

John: Sometimes you may have seen some of these things come and go over the years, and not really take. Oh we don’t really do that. We had this and that and no one used that, and we still went back to printing it off. Then a pandemic hits and you need to know how to use cloud computing.

Shaun: Or Zoom.

John: Or Zoom, or whatever it is. So sometimes the best way to change is to have no choice 😆Everyone has to learn at some point.

Shaun: I’m 50, I’m still learning new tricks, I still enjoy learning new tricks, and long may it continue. Next coffee?


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