he modern workplace is intertwined with technology that is posing challenges and opportunities to the aging workforce. In the office, most tasks are automated leaving little room for manual activities. At the factory floor physical effort has been replaced which automatic machines that only require pressing the button.
The aging working population in Kenya is composed of people with aged between 50 to 65 years. They are baby boomers born from the late 50s to the early 70s. They were in school and later in universities when computers were accommodated in a one big room; long distance calls took at least three hours to be connected; the only long distance means of transport was British-Made Leyland buses and public examinations at Ordinary “O” Level and Advanced “A” Level were marked in the UK.
The “graying” population is finding the workplace a fast moving target surrounded with desktops, laptops, mobile telephony, internet and, most recently, social media. Before the advent of these facets and tools, senior managers had secretaries to whom they dictated letters for typing. The managers proof read the letters and appended their signatures ready for dispatch.
Now, these managers are required to email their correspondence to employees and the outside world. The sudden technological workplace changes have necessitated the managers to learn secretarial and related skills.
When organizations introduce some of the office technologies they ignore the training needs of older people. Even where relevant training is offered the old employees prefer to have separate training sessions to avoid mixing with their juniors. The young and youthful generation of employees acquire computing skills either in school or at commercial colleges.
Technology constantly threatens to shorten the working life of old employees whose resistance to change is short-lived. Coupled with the effects of structural adjustment policies, organizations target these employees for retrenchment. Indeed, some retire early to pursue other interests outside the workplace.
For lack of technical knowhow for executing some computing tasks, the aged employees waste employers’ time in seeking assistance from young employees. The young employee who should spend their time doing assigned work ended up being one-on-one informal trainer.
Although no figures on loss of productivity have been quantified, a casual observation hints at loss of employment time. Progressive organizations organize formal in-house and external training for staff in the old age bracket.
Stereotyping of elderly employees unable to keep up with technological changes at the workplace is rampant but not openly expressed. Such biases dent the image of affected employees leading to loss of self-confidence. The young employees quietly wish that they could hop into their senior positions.
However, organizations have a soft spot for old workers whose experience, expertise and corporate memory is not easily replicable. The HR manuals do not have specific provisions to handle the cold inter-generational war.
Loss of memory is factor that affects the productivity of aging employees. They may spend considerable time trying to recall information that could be required for immediate decision making. Employing organizations which are concerned with “maturing” employees have resorted to providing with them technical devices that capture memorable information.
Smart organizations integrate old employees within knowledge management programmes
As employees grow old their eye sight may not be as sharp as when they entered into employment. The amount of time spent on computer screens has negatively affected the sight of employees. Employers have gone an extra mile to provide such employees with paid for optical care services. Access to the services has given a sight life for some employees to continue contributing towards organizational productivity.
In the current knowledge economy, organizations should not discriminate old employees on age grounds. These employees are an inexhaustible resource ready to be tapped for continuous corporate growth. Smart organizations have integrated them within knowledge management programmes.
Samson Osero is a human resource development consultant. Email: [email protected]