It’s that time of year!
For our followers who celebrate Christmas, if you’re like me, you’re probably getting out your decorations and decking the halls.
One of my favorite traditions is finding special spots on my tree for my vintage ornaments. These treasures have been handed down to me, often from my grandma or great-grandma. A delicate glass blown ballerina dating from around the 1940s or 50s brings back memories of admiring her on my grandmother’s tree. Or a set of white plastic icicles stored in an old candy box from the 1950s always makes me smile at the inventive choice of storage.
Recently, the New York Timesand the Today Show ran stories on the ever-popular mid-century decoration – the ceramic tree. Current shoppers are paying premiums for these pieces of nostalgia – as the Today piece noted sometimes between $400-$600 on eBay.
The New York Times interviewed retail experts on the phenomenon – “Through our research, we identified ‘retro’ — a nostalgic nod to classic ornaments and treasured decorations handed down from generations past — as a key trend this season”, said Susanne Overson, a senior buyer at Target.
Nostalgia and retro clearly sell
People want and will pay for that connection to older generations. But why aren’t those same connections embraced in our workforce?
Older workers have experiences and expertise with far more value than a ceramic tree. Why aren’t the younger workers lining up to hear it? Why aren’t HR reps tapping in to this desire to connect and finding ways to harness the value of multigenerational workforces?
Sometimes it comes down to the approach. Older workers are often encouraged to hide their age and experience since it may make them seem like a “dinosaur.” They’re told to model themselves after the younger generation – invest in tech and the next big thing. Or older workers feel like they just don’t understand the next wave of workers and focus on the negative traits they bring to a workforce. This strange new aspect of the generational divide is evident in this missed chance of connections. Millennials often identify as the most disconnected emotionally, even though they have a wealth of connections at their literal fingertips. They are willing to pay a premium on items like vintage ornaments and trees to fill that longing for a connection.
This high digital intelligence (DQ) versus emotional intelligence (EQ) is a touchstone topic in Chip Conley’s new book Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder. As Conley writes “In an era of machine intelligence, emotional intelligence and empathy – something older people have in spades – are more valuable than ever. The more high-tech we become, the more high touch we desire.”
Conley also references the old saying “Knowledge Speaks, Wisdom Listens” throughout his book. If you look at headlines, the Millennial generation is constantly being told they’re disrupting the culture in a negative way, and that does take a toll on a generations psyche.
While the older generations may have the knowledge and the “been there, done that” advice, if it’s always given as a lecture and not done with the wisdom to listen (and learn something valuable themselves), the divide only grows.
This concept of mutual mentorship is so vital for those who wish to stay relevant in today’s fast paced workforce. Conley describes this role as a “mentern” – a mix of an intern who is learning from those that are younger and a mentor who can pass along his wisdom and expertise.
Do older workers have a branding problem?
Part of changing the dialogue around older workers is marketing their value.
When you look at our ceramic tree example, a “vintage” piece often commands more money than a new piece.
So how do we harness that same vintage mentality to describe people value? What words do we use to brand these elder workers? Do we stick with the generational moniker of Boomer? Keep in mind, Gen X is now moving into the age 50+ zone.
I think we can all agree that the senior citizen label doesn’t accurately describe today’s more vibrant 50- and 60-somethings.
At several recent Retirepreneur workshops, we tested out Chip Conley’s “Modern Elder” label, but we were surprised to see major push back on this one. Many attendees did not want to carry the mantle of an “elder” – it sounded “too old.”
Clearly, this “what shall we call the age 50+ segment?” is one we’ll continue to study. In the meantime, we’ll stick with the the term Retirepreneur. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments on how we might approach this branding problem.
This holiday, as you’re enjoying your retro décor and vintage pieces, remember the real value these items bring – the connections to others. That’s something I will be celebrating all year long.