Move over fat cats, a younger gen­er­a­tion is wait­ing

The Gananoque Reporter - - COMMENT -

hav­ing feasted atop a food chain of any kind, I have no idea how tempt­ing it is to want to just hang out there for a while: to drink and dine well past clos­ing time, play­ing the sump­tu­ous role of a Fat Cat with a Big Credit Card, lin­ger­ing in­def­i­nitely.

In­deed “linger” was the cu­ri­ously ane­mic— some might ar­gue ag­ist— verb cho­sen byTheCana­dian Press this week in a re­port on Sta­tis­tics Canada’s cen­sus num­bers show­ing work­force par­tic­i­pa­tion rates among se­niors have dou­bled be­tween 1995 and 2015: “... some be­cause they can, oth­ers be­cause they­must.”

Some­where on the spec­trum be­tween FatCat Syn­drome— for the record that’s the “can” group — and those old­erCana­di­ans who are in dan­ger of hav­ing to eat cat food— that’s the“must” con­tin­gent we should right­fully be very con­cerned about— are hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­di­vid­ual sto­ries ofCana­di­ans who have, for worse and for bet­ter, the po­ten­tial to re­shape work cul­ture in this coun­try and to defy stereo­types about older work­ers and their phys­i­cal, cre­ative and in­tel­lec­tual ca­pac­ity.

Grad­ual di­min­ish­ment need not be a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy, par­tic­u­larly for those who, as JohnMcLeish writes inThe Chal­lenge of Ag­ing: Ulyssean Paths to Cre­ative Liv­ing, can “tran­scend their fear of ex­tinc­tion ... by in­vest­ing their emo­tions and their en­er­gies ... in peo­ple around them.” I have no doubt baby boomers will of­fer no short­age of ex­em­plars for this kind of grey power through their ro­bust pres­ence in pol­i­tics, the work­place, and the vol­un­tary sec­tor.

Un­for­tu­nately, though, there’s a gnaw­ing sub­set of this de­mo­graphic whose re­luc­tance to­move on has noth­ing to dowith tran­si­tion­ing to the vi­sion­ary, grand per­spec­tive shar­ing phase of life, and ev­ery­thing to dowith hang­ing on so they can con­tinue to keep up.

I don’t know if you no­ticed it or not, but the Fat Cat inmy open­ing para­graph has a credit card for a rea­son: it is meant to sym­bol­ize ris­ing con­sumer debt— an­other sta­tis­ti­cal trend in which peo­ple over the age of 65 are deeply im­pli­cated— among se­niors who say they must con­tinue to work for fi­nan­cial rea­sons.

There was a time when tak­ing on non-mort­gage debt at or near re­tire­ment age would have been un­think­able. The role debt and self-in­flicted fi­nan­cial des­per­a­tion play in com­pelling peo­ple to cling to the work­force past a fair and rea­son­able point will be­come more ap­par­ent in the com­ing years. Clouded judg­ment is bound to be a note­wor­thy out­come.

Speak­ing fromper­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, noth­ing can con­vince a re­tire­ment-age adult earn­ing six fig­ures of her own price­less­ness in the work­place bet­ter than a puffy en­ve­lope fromMasterCard clogging up the­mail­box at home. And noth­ing­makes a re­tire­men­t­age­m­an­ager deaf to the call to men­tor younger em­ploy­ees quite like a sec­ond mort­gage.

Self-preser­va­tion and se­ces­sion plan­ning are a ter­ri­ble com­bi­na­tion. It’s too easy to shine a light down the el­e­va­tor shaft and be a fault­finder: judg­ing the younger tal­ent lin­ger­ing there un­wor­thy.

I have a lot of sympathy for se­niors who­must con­tinue to work while they have no choice but to shop in the dead-and-dy­ing food brands aisle at Dol­larama. I have less sympathy— none, to be pre­cise— for work­place hang­ers on who are con­vinced of their own in­dis­pens­abil­ity even as they stand in line at a big box store buy­ing stuff they don’t re­ally need, hav­ing failed, af­ter five decades of bring­ing home the ba­con, to learn that keep­ing up with the Jone­ses is the un­winnable con­test.

To the boomers who want to con­tinue to work in or­der to pre­serve a life­style, while younger gen­er­a­tions re­main stalled, wait­ing to get a life, I of­fer this cau­tion­ary note: pre­pare to be re­sented. To the em­ploy­ers who will have to nav­i­gate this in­ter­gen­er­a­tional ten­sion, I’d start work­ing on an “ag­ism in the work­place” hand­book right away, if you don’t al­ready have one.

The­good news for those of us who feel as if our progress has been hin­dered by a greedy, more-is-more gen­er­a­tion— in whose shadow we’ve of­ten felt a bit­ter chill— the op­ti­mist in me says there is still hope for a view from the top, some­day, and that our pa­tience will be re­warded. These sta­tis­tics have given us the gift of time: the labour force race is longer now, and we might ac­tu­ally per­form well in it if we stay healthy and pace our­selves.

WhenI think about all the lost sleep I and­some­ofmy peers have suf­fered over back-to-school course cor­rec­tions, sec­ond­ca­reer ex­plo­rations, or­work­place time­outs to care for chil­dren or fam­i­ly­mem­bers, all that high­stakes anx­i­ety seem­s­like such awaste of time. The al­leged re­sume-wreck­ers that were go­ing to be the ruin of uswill barely regis­ter as blip­son­the screen whenit’s all said and done.

The­bad news, of course, is that the days of sleep­ing in and flak­ing out are go­ing to have to wait. By then, though, it’ll be our turn to hold court in the bar, or­der­ing an­other round just to ex­pe­ri­ence the sheer joy and lux­ury of a lit­tle boozy benev­o­lence.

If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to pay cash.

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