Mental acuity changes as people age, but not always for the worse, he said. On the contrary, some of the changes are for the better.
“There’s a difference between what’s called ‘fluid’ and ‘crystallized’ intelligence,” he said. Fluid intelligence is mental nimbleness, and that can decrease with age. Crystallized intelligence “deals with taking skills and concepts and applying them. If anything, that improves with age.”
More important than age is the perceived usefulness of the subject matter, he said.
“Grandparents who don’t even know what a [computer] mouse is learn how to Skype when they discover they can use it to keep in touch with their grandchildren,” he said. “On the other hand, people don’t intrinsically want to learn a new skill set that doesn’t seem to be of any utility. Why complicate life when the old system is working?”
Know how to share know-how
Experience still has a place in the workplace.
“The greatest gift an employee can bring to the table is experience and knowledge,” Love said. “I’d much rather hire someone who is self-sufficient than someone who needs a lot of training.”
But lording that experience over others is a quick way to be pegged as an old-timer. A common error made by older workers is chastising younger workers for suggesting things that were tried and rejected long before the younger workers were on the scene, said Marj Bergstrom, a training supervisor and senior career counselor for Trusight.
Sharing information about past experiences is good because it shortens the learning curve for younger workers. But the tone and words used to do so are critical, she said.
“Don’t say, ‘We did that before and it didn’t work,’ ” she said. “I’ve coached my clients to say, ‘In the past it has been my experience that this has been the case. I’m certainly open to hearing what you have to say, and certainly times change, but this is what has been my experience.’ ”
There also are little things one can do to stave off the appearance of being an office dinosaur, Love said.
“This might be controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway: If you’re still carrying around a flip phone, that’s part of the problem,” she said. “If you’re carrying a smartphone or tablet or both, that’s a visible demonstration that you want to remain relevant.”
She’s not arguing that it’s all you have to do. “It’s way beyond just getting a smartphone, but that’s one of the basic things,” she said. “Get a smartphone and make sure you know how to operate a tablet — that’s how business operates today. And don’t tell people that you’re not connected. That’s the kiss of death right there.”
DiCicco has spent her life around technology, including 31 years as an air traffic controller, most of it at Los Angeles International Airport. Facing mandatory retirement, she moved back to her native Bloomington, but not to rest on her laurels.
“Yes, I learned a lot of this before, but I’m still learning because technology is changing every day,” she said.
As for getting along with her young co-workers, she acknowledges the age difference but doesn’t kowtow to it.
“I don’t try to act their age,” she said. “Sometimes I have to play the mom role, and I’m OK with that.”