Move over fat cats, a younger generation is waiting
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.