My dog is 12. She doesn’t have the spring in her step she once had. Like the time she bolted out the garage door and bounded snout first into a freezing winter pond. Her bark no longer terrifies some of the neighbors, who never understood that this sweet affectionate shepherd is a cuddly oaf who loves everyone and wouldn’t harm a fly — well, with the exception of another dog. It pains me to watch our once rambunctious pet limp up the stairs, her hindquarters quivering with arthritis.
When I tell people how she’s aged, some ask, so, are you going to put her down? Realizing no malice intended, I swallow what I’m really thinking which is, would you toss aside an aging relative or not provide for a child in need? What about a disabled worker who requires provisions so he or she can continue to do great work for your company?
I realize our Bonnie is not a person, but a dog. But she’s our dog and unless putting her down equals putting her out of pain and suffering, old age is a blessing, not a curse. At an equivalent of 84 people years, her ears still perk up when I walk in the room and her tail wags in adoration. She’s an attentive nonjudgmental listener when I practice presentations and still assists with housecleaning when she spies a pencil or toy ripe for chewing. While my neighbors are thankful that some of her bite has left her bark, she remains an attentive watchdog even if she does snarl at FedEx and UPS from the top of the steps instead flying down them, paws barely touching the carpet in an effort to tear through the front door.
As I look around a workplace packed with four distinct generations of employees and see older workers being put out to pasture, I can’t help but wonder if some of the people who suggest we put our dog down harbor the same attitude toward aging workers who aren’t as spry as they once were. In places where I once worked, some of the best in the business are being forced out with salary cuts and less desirable hours to make room for more ambitious texting, blogging and tweeting young professionals who cost less.
Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) who want to continue working still have much to contribute but should be soaking up fresh new ideas from younger workers just as these 20 and 30 something’s should sponge lessons from experiences of their sage colleagues. Instead of alienating a millennial (1977-1997) by saying this isn’t the way we used to do this; it’s important for older workers to embrace change if they want to develop relationships with their younger counterparts. After all, computers have replaced typewriters and cell phones have replaced pay phones. Accepting change helps you connect and collaborate with your peers. Similarly, Generation X (since 1965) workers, which are typically labeled as self-starters who want quick results, need to seek opinions and keep communication open with older colleagues to build rapport and make them feel valued instead of outdated.
Like that cherished pet, it’s important to appreciate workers of all ages as an empowered workforce is a productive one. Yes, some employees may take the elevator instead of sprinting up the stairs as they once did, but their view is likely even more valuable than it once was.
I don’t know how much longer we’ll enjoy our adorable aging pooch, but her unlimited welcome is treasured regardless of where she chooses to sit.