German companies are denying reality. It is common knowledge that demographic change is in full swing, company employees are ageing rapidly, and there is a shortage of specialists in all fields. Yet most bosses and HR managers see employees over 50 as an outdated model.
Too slow, no longer willing to learn, too prone to illness are some of the common prejudices. With fatal consequences: training for older employees is considered a waste of money. Employee programmes – for example health services – only focus on deficits (e.g. programmes offering back exercises). Senior employees are systematically demotivated so that they soon believe in their own apparent poor performance.
For some time now, the Demografie Netzwerk (ddn, English: Demographic Network), a network of about 300 companies and institutions with HR responsibility for over two million employees, has been looking at ways in which companies overlook – or more correctly waste – the potential of their older employees. Employees who have the most experience, the longer standing relationships with clients, and who are most farsighted are the people who are being pushed to the margins of the company. Yet all of the research shows that older employees may well be more prone to illness, but their ability to learn does not change, and socially, they are even more sensitive and strategically farsighted then younger employees.
Companies must finally change the way they think. We need systematic and strategic intergenerational management. Considering the lack of young people entering the workforce and the increasing complexity of digital work 4.0, experience in the company in particular should be maintained and promoted. We are well aware of what is needed to achieve this and even smaller companies can apply this knowledge: collaboration between the young and the old in which all age groups can play out their strengths to advantage, the continued transfer of knowledge, customised training, and a culture of appreciation at work.
To achieve this, new forms of work must be established. The employee of the future will no longer have rigid work hours, but will instead switch flexibly between phases of work and free time – according to their age: younger colleagues take parental leave, older colleagues are given more time to care for family members.
This can make employers attractive. Young people are asking today how employers will treat them when they are old. An opportunity for companies that are dwarfed by large corporations and therefore have a difficult time finding suitable young talents.Anyone interested in supporting the potential of their employees does not need to look outside the company. Their own employees are capable of a whole lot – especially the older employees.
Dr Frank Zis is the Head of Human Resources Germany and Austria for Johnson & Johnson, which has its headquarters in Neuss. With a doctorate in theology and philosophy, he started his career in the HR department of the German Lufthansa AG in 1997. He later took over HR development at CS&P Bildungsmanagement and at Saarbrücker Zeitung Verlag. Since 2005, he has been working for Johnson & Johnson where he was initially responsible for the HR department of the Lifescan business unit, and later that of Janssen-Cilag Pharma.