Work on a positive company culture: value people over 50 more.

Greta works at Arteel. She is 74 years old and highly motivated. In addition to the young team members, seven people over 50 are active at Arteel. It is inspiring how they come to work every day with gusto and commitment. These more experienced employees make a difference in our company and beyond. How do you ensure good mental health, high energy levels and strong engagement among those over 50? Discover Nathalie Arteel’s tips on how appreciation of Greta and the other less junior employees contributes to a positive company culture.

Robert De Niro as inspiration

Recently, I watched with fascination the film “The Intern,” which tells the story of a 70-year-old retiree named Ben Whittaker (played by Robert De Niro, now 78) who is bored to death at home, but eventually finds a sense of purpose in life again when he gets to work as a senior intern at a fashion website. It’s nice to see how his commitment, dedication and experience quickly set him apart, even if he has to start at the bottom of the ladder.

Wherever he can, he makes time to listen to people, he gives them tips and, in his way, tries to take small initiatives to improve things. His positive attitude creates goodwill and he quickly becomes involved in important projects. In the process, he receives the necessary recognition and appreciation which further increases his motivation. And of course, after all it’s still a movie, something beautiful begins to blossom between him and his lady boss, Jules Ostin (played by Anne Hathaway).

Too little focus on the well-being at work for people over 50

The story appealed to me mainly because it stands in such stark contrast to all the ominous reports which you read these days about people over 50, as if they were completely outmoded.

Of course: ageing is a fact of life. That everyone will have to work until a minimum of 67 in a few years is also a fact. The fact that people over 50 are often out of touch with the latest technological developments is – unfortunately – also a fact. And that can pose a real threat to those people, especially if they have to deal with companies which see their people only as a work tool which needs to produce as much money as possible.

As the ageing population increases, more and more people over 50 are also struggling with their physical and mental health. The numbers don’t lie. Absenteeism among those over 50 has increased tremendously over the past decade.

From selfie to service society

Our society has evolved into a very individualistic society. I would just call it the age of “selfies”. A lot of people feel lonely and isolated. They try to portray an ideal – often fake – life through all sorts of social media channels, but in the end that is nothing more than an illusion. Why do people do that? Because it’s in our nature to want to feel a little important anyway. And people sometimes do really crazy things to be able to experience that sense of importance.

What people really need is “social connection”, connecting from heart to heart. “The human touch” is what it is sometimes called, something which is lacking in many companies. And that is a real shame, because a lot of people find that human warmth is important for getting out of isolation.

Indeed, people who feel that they can contribute, that they can participate in something which gives more meaning to their lives, are far less likely to be sick or experience pain. Bart Morlion, a leading pain physician, made a fine case for this in De Tijd.

It is often the frustrations or unfulfilled desires, the social distresses which make us sick. To address this social challenge, we should be able to evolve from a “selfie” society into a “service” society. As such, we can ask ourselves how we can do more for our fellow human beings, for our colleagues, for our families.

The potential of people over 50

What if we as a society started to appreciate the group of people over 50 a little more for the potential which they possess? What if we started encouraging them more to use the insights and experience which they have to help young people? It would be a win-win for everyone. On the one hand, this gives the people over 50 more incentive to continue investing in themselves, gives them a boost mentally as they perform meaningful mental work, and has a positive impact on their health. On the other hand, this helps young people grow into happy, balanced and successful individuals more quickly. The condition, of course, is that the person over 50 is willing to step into this story with an open mind.

Isn’t it time to look at people over 50 in a different way? Of course, they earn a lot and payroll is often an issue. But have we thought about how much it now costs our society when they mentally drop out? Not to mention the cost of physical symptoms. Because often one is related to the other. The reverse is also true: the healthier we feel mentally, the more energy we generate, the happier we are and the more we can mean to others.

The hidden cost of people who have dropped out mentally is still growing, even among young people. People often need no more than some “attention and recognition”. They need a listening ear. What if we used people over 50 to do that? I know a number of people over 50 who are eager to take on such a role, people with gusto and work ethic, but who are not held back because they are too expensive.

I think it’s a good idea for the policy to encourage the hiring of people over 50. And yes, also with financial resources. In an ideal scenario, there should even be virtually no tax on the cost of their labour. Another aspect which should be reconsidered is the number of holidays linked to the number of years worked, as this is now sometimes disproportionate, causing employers in certain sectors to have no motivation to hire people over 50.

But such a hire is guaranteed to have a positive impact on the budget. Everyone gains: the people over 50 themselves, because they feel useful, the young employees, because they can learn something additional, the employer, because they gain experience in an affordable way, and finally society as a whole, because the cost of burnout, depression and long-term absenteeism is reduced.

Need for role models for a positive image of those over 50

I will give you a great quote from William James, a famous psychologist from the 19th century: “If any organism fails to fulfill its potentialities, it becomes sick.” This is what we see happening in our society. People are not stimulated sufficiently to continue growing, especially once they reach a certain age. Then they are often labelled as “outmoded”. This social image unwittingly creates a negative impact upon a large segment of the population and fosters this mindset. Ultimately, humans are social beings and need meaning and connection.

Our society needs more role models like Ben Whittaker from the film “The Intern”. People who continue to dedicate themselves to other people in our society and who are also rewarded for this. We need to show that people over 50 are not old and outmoded, quite the contrary. And people over 50 need to demonstrate this more themselves! But we must motivate these people to stay active by valuing them and by continuing to challenge them. It really can be done differently too …

Isn’t it high time for a paradigm shift to do what is right?

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