Thursday, 3 February 2011

CSR & the Elderly: Grayson on Greydom

David Grayson has a knack for spotting what others miss. Back when Thatcher was busy privatising, he was bothering about the jobless in England’s industrial north. When the generation were forever job-hoping, he was worrying about opportunities for those with disabilities. And when the corporate juggernaut was trumpeting global “CSR”, he was pondering the role of small business in the whole shebang.

In a timely essay in the latest issue of Ethical Corporation, Grayson turns his eye to another issue our youth-obsessed culture regularly overlooks: older people. Over one in ten (11%) of the world’s population are over 60. Better nutrition and better medical care will see that percentage double in the next four decades.

So what? So a lot actually. Businesses can’t afford to ignore the elderly, either on moral or commercial grounds. Take pensions. Who should pay for them and how? It’s just one of a range of issues relating to “intergenerational equity”. If you’ve not heard the term, get used to it. You’ll be hearing a good deal more of it in the future.

Here’s another phrase: ‘age friendly’. From a human resources perspective, management needs to think long and hard about how it treats its elderly employees. With retirement ages slipping, workforces are set to become older. As a minimum, that will require new, more flexible working patterns. It may also require some physical adjustments to workplace conditions, much as companies now accommodate the needs of the disabled. A multi-generational workforce also promises its own set of challenges; conflicting expectations, difficulties in communication, differential use of technology, diverse approaches to problem solving and innovation. Think Christmas dinner with the family - only on the factory floor.

As Grayson warns, expect ‘age friendly’ to soon enter the marketplace lexicon too. Advertisers, especially, need to wake up. Old people aren’t just for anti-smoking ads. Not only is airbrushing out the elderly discriminatory. It’s also short sighted. Remember the ‘pink pound’? Well the 'grey pound' will make it look like pocket money. The supermarket that structures his aisles for the less mobile; the mobile phone company that builds a device for the hard of hearing; the bank that introduces a tailored equity release scheme to finance long-term elderly care - all are sitting on mines of silver.

Moral responsibility towards the elderly presents business with a number of important management imperatives, both in the shopfront and in the back office. So too with commercial logic. Changing market demographics oblige companies to sit up and take note of the world’s senior citizens. “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty”, automobile pioneer Henry Ford liked to say. Companies, take heed and innovate. The elderly are here to stay. 

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