LinkedIn Catherine Allen - Why older people are essential to culture at work

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Why older people are essential to culture at work

Firstly I admit that I am a little obsessed with generational analysis. I find it fascinating how different people process the world. Today, one of our oldest volunteers, David, is entering his second retirement. David is 81, and came to us around five years ago as a volunteer in one of our cancer support centres. I'm gutted that he is going. Mostly I chat to David in the kitchen at lunchtime, because I love food and he used to be a chef. The joy of having volunteers is that they often come with previous careers that are completely unconnected to what we do, and allow us to learn and explore other industries, as well as them seeing us through different eyes. There's no cultural clash, because it is their history and not their present, but it means we can access a whole range of skills and experience that we wouldn't get in a paid employee. Our other volunteers are anything ranging from ex-policemen; accountants; teachers; nurses; media people; and people from the armed forces. Very few companies can boast that kind of diversity.

Most of our volunteers are older people who join us in retirement, and it isn't just the exciting career and skill mix that enriches our workplace. For me, the most interesting offer is the injection of no-nonsense common sense that comes with the 'Silent Generation'. Our older volunteers never hold back in telling me exactly what they think will work (and won't work) and it is deliciously refreshing. They also are incredibly reliable, never missing a shift, and always giving a little extra time to make sure it all runs smoothly. 'Work' is something they take seriously and we are luckier enough to benefit from that ethic.

Our younger employees (Millennials) value our older people in a completely different sense. They almost see them as a comforting and nurturing presence - like a grandparent. The age gap is so wide, they cannot relate to the values and beliefs so much, but they are respectful of those beliefs and do not challenge them. Well at least not openly. They do not understand the Silent Generations respect for status, their value on dressing smart for work, or their fixed hours ethic. But they do share their passion for the cause, their commitment, and their love of a home-baked cake. The common values and beliefs overcome the differences. This creates a much more interesting culture at work than I believe you would find if everyone was a similar age. Our people range from 24-84 and everything in between. It's like a whole community within one organisation and that is why we have good loyalty, commitment and - most importantly enjoyment - from staff and volunteers at Wessex Cancer Trust.