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One For The Ages

Associate Professor Deborah Olson has a new book out that may help younger management students see the post-40 workforce in a whole new light.

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  • October 16, 2013

Deborah Olson, associate professor of management at the University of La Verne, stayed near the podium after her recent noon lecture, “Mid and Late Career Growth: Engagement and Meaning,” to chat with a few audience members. She then exited the Davenport Hall east doors to find several students from the audience still talking about the presentation. She joined in and the discussion continued right there on the sidewalk.

America is aging and business is changing. Myths abound concerning the 40-and-over worker, and the smart manager will develop strategies to tap into the creativity and experience of this often-maligned member of the workforce. That was the thrust of Olson’s lecture, sponsored by The Academy at the University of La Verne, and it is the impetus for Olson’s new textbook, “Mid and Late Career Issues.”


Deborah Olson’s lunchtime lecture in the Presidents Dining Room was sponsored by The Academy at University of La Verne and shared research from Olson’s new book about mid and late career issues.

“Employers used to buy loyalty, with money,” Olson said. “Now, they must create it through engagement.”

Gone are the days when most people stay with the same company for 30 or 40 years. These days, 10 years is an inordinately long time to spend in one job. With a more agile and mobile workforce, Olson says, it benefits companies to re-examine the value of older workers, who, research shows, tend to have more accumulated technology experience, deeper knowledge of customer needs and expectations and a broader network of contacts and supporters.

The eye-opening lecture examined “Myths That Kill The Spirit (And Are Just Wrong)”; “Dynamics in Mid and Late Career”; and “Current Research: Age and Meaning/Engagement.”

Olson lays out the myths in her book, such as those past 40 are less creative. Or, that they are too set in their ways to learn new methods or techniques.

“It’s the, ‘can’t teach a dog new tricks,’ way of thinking,” Olson said. “Quite often, it’s harder to teach young pups.”

Olson raised more than a few eyebrows in the Presidents Dining Room when she revealed that individuals older than 55 are twice as likely to found a new company than those between 20 and 34. But because these companies are often in such obscure fields as biotech, energy and IT software, no one hears about them. In addition, many of these start-up companies sell products to other businesses, she said.

Olson’s book, co-authored by Mo Wang, Ph.D., University of Florida, and Ken Shultz, Ph.D., California State University, San Bernardino, was written for graduate-level career development courses for human resources practitioners looking to retain mid and late career workers.

“Companies realize there is a huge “brain drain” that occurs when talented, long-tenured people leave the organization, with all their wisdom about how to get things done,” Olson said.

Olson’s book reflects feedback of 252 sample subjects, covering a broad spectrum. It not only seeks to identify and dispel myths about the aging worker, but sheds light on attitudes about technology, relationships, engagement and meaningfulness. For example, older workers in her study, rather than being inflexible, actually sought new ways to use their talents. They also welcomed “reverse mentoring” in which a young worker is paired with an older one and an exchange of information and ideas make them both stronger.

The students outside Davenport were generally sympathetic.

“Hopefully, things will be different one day,” one said, the others in the group nodding.

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