Are you hitting workplace ageism for six?

While bludgeoning hapless bowlers over the ropes for massive sixes, Dinesh Karthik was parallelly hitting a stereotype out of the park  — ageism.

While bludgeoning hapless bowlers over the ropes for massive sixes, Dinesh Karthik was parallelly hitting a stereotype out of the park — ageism. | Photo Credit: PTI

At the ripe, old cricketing age of 36, Dinesh Karthik (DK) has thrashed open the door to the Indian national team, on the strength of almost-preternatural exploits as “finisher” for Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL 2022. In sports, where age is measured by reflexes, “senility” and retirement dawn early. Ageism is therefore inevitable, and a form of it, even healthy and acceptable. With a strike rate of 191 and an average of 57.40 and turnaround performances sustained over 14 matches, DK has become a folk-hero in cricketing terms, because these figures do not usually go with ageing muscles in a format as fraught as T20. While bludgeoning hapless bowlers over the ropes for massive sixes, he was parallelly hitting a stereotype out of the park. At least for some time to come, DK (who in fact turns 37 on June 1) will be a reminder that the axe cannot be wielded indiscriminately, certainly not with just the age factor forcing the hand. DK has created new synapses in how the cricketing brain processes age.

The question waiting for an answer: How to create similar synapses in the corporate brain?

Sports performances being played out in the glare of public and media attention, amplification is automatic and immediate. It is just a tweet and a signal away. In organisations, it calls for a strong will from the management to amplify performances of this kind that buck expectations, particularly where the focus is largely on building young professionals, young teams and young leaders.

Now, in the corporate environment, age-related inclusion hardly receives the height of attention it deserves, and generational stereotypes are allowed to smoulder on. The stereotypes are a double-edged sword, hurting all generations, as they may come in the way of teams — and by extension, the organisation — achieving performance-enhancing synergy between experimentation and experience, caution and derring-do, contrasting but essential features in any sphere.

Sonica Aron, managing partner and founder, Marching Sheep, notes that as “the workplace configuration is evolving with the increase in the number of millennials and zillennials in the workforce,” it is time to address dated stereotypes that have long outstayed their welcome.

How the ancients countered it
Moral hand-me-downs, folk tales are a major component in social, political and also professional engineering. Yes, professional engineering.
Among folk tales from different countries classified under Type 981 — on the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index — one theme stands out: How old men got their “jobs” and “lives” back.
Here is the recurrent plot. A young populace bays for the blood of seniors, labelling them a liability, and whispers the damning conclusion in the young king’s ear. The elderly are thrust into social isolation, and some are even put to the sword. Concurrently, the nation is up against a crisis, usually a famine.
The young advisors come up with bush-league solutions, and the king is unimpressed. An old man — usually, in hiding — offers wise counsel, sparing the nation a catastrophe. The king realises his folly in promoting ageism and frees all the seniors.
Does this theme find resonance in corporate corridors?

“Most organisations have started taking cognisance of this phenomenon, and with initiatives such as reverse mentoring, cross-functional and cross-generational project teams and non-work related interactions,” they seem to be countering it, she elaborates.

However, Sonica points out, that structurally, ageism is still stubbornly present and is only growing in intensity, largely fuelled by overarching youth-centric culture in the wider world. However, if unaddressed, it would form a vicious cycle, where the beneficiaries of the bias will become its victims with the passage of time.

Sonica elaborates: “Ageism does raise its ugly head: Where employees above a certain age bracket find themselves against a gender-neutral glass ceiling in organisations; and very often, while looking for a job, at closed doors. This perception of recruiter or hiring managers needs to be questioned and addressed or we will be seeing a growing population of older millennials and Generation X who would be kept out of employment simply because of mindsets.”

Bhavishya Sharma, managing director & founder, Athena Executive Search & Consulting, weighs in: “We today have many firms with multi-billion dollar valuations and the entire management team is still in their twenties. This is acting as a natural barrier for Gen X and Baby Boomer professionals. It is quite interesting as a search professional to see how job descriptions have shifted from ‘not less than X years of experience’ to ‘ideally not more than 45 years’.”

Sangeeta Malkhede, senior vice-president and global head of HR, GAVS Technologies, believes that for generational integration to be sustained and produce best results, it has to be driven by a carefully-honed organisational culture.

Sangeeta elaborates: “At any given time, three generations will form the major part of a workforce. Balanced, sustainable and continuous growth in any organisation is possible only if the three generations are sufficiently represented in every team.

So, age-based inclusion begins at the very beginning: at the hiring stage itself. There should be a conscious effort to hire talent from the three generations, and once on board, these three should be integrated through an organisational culture fostered by the management and the HR.”

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Printable version | May 26, 2022 5:30:04 pm |