Post-COVID-19, Seniors Must Chart a New Path in the Workplace

Those most vulnerable to the pandemic will face challenges in the return to work, even as the recession means they may need their paychecks more than ever. But we’ve done it before, and we'll do it again.

We know what the world looks like now: You are fearful to go out; you are hoarding toilet paper and flour; you are Zoom-calling in pajamas; you are trying to figure out how to avoid making your glasses fog up without letting your mask slip, and your kitchen has become a destination vacation spot. Hand sanitizer is way more valuable than those Gucci loafers, which have been replaced by your bunny bedroom slippers.

The bottom line is that things have changed, and anyone who doesn’t want to be left behind will have to change as well.

New World of Work

Deloitte published a report, Global Human Capital Trends, that revealed some insights into the new workplace after COVID. The big takeaway is that it is not about getting back to the way things were. It’s about business leaders doing “three things at once: stage the return to work, understand and leverage the advancements they enacted during the crisis, and chart a new path forward.”

That especially includes seniors. Remember when silver-haired mavens were considered the elders filled with strength and resilience and wisdom? When we Baby Boomers were helping and advising the next generations at home and in the workplace? Well, now we have been reduced to the fragile, the weak and those most vulnerable to the pandemic.

We need to be left at home when the world reopens. Ouch. But there are things many of us can do to help ourselves out in the workplace.

Ways We’ll Need to Adapt in the Workplace to Stay Relevant

These new times call for new behaviors. Seniors have been resilient and adaptable, and when we don’t have the leadership from the top, corporations, states, families and individuals will fill in the gaps, and we will design our way forward. Some practical tips to keep in mind as you make your way:

  • Make sure that you are up to date with the digital tools you will need at home. That may mean learning how to conduct Zoom meetings, or Webinars, or buying better cameras for your computer or audio equipment. “I can’t hear or see you” will not cut it in this new world of communication.
  • Send out pre-meeting agendas for each meeting. You want to be as organized and indispensable as possible and show that your physical presence is not what is most important; it’s your presence.
  • Make sure that you really work out a plan with your boss. Discuss things like when they/you will feel comfortable coming back to work or coming in for special meetings. You want to be included in as many meetings as possible. That may just be dialing in on audio and not making a big deal about setting up a Zoom call. If you don’t stay connected, you will be left out.
  • Follow up after every meeting. Send your notes to your team and to your boss. Again, you want to create living documents of your “presence.”

The pressure is on, because as we’ve seen before, recessions carry heavy burdens for those aiming to retire. CNBC reported that the Great Recession in 2008 made it tough for Americans to retire. It became normal to see older people remaining as corporate executives or flipping burgers or greeting shoppers at Walmart. But, hold on to your hats for this time around. Teresa Ghilarducci, a labor economist, told CNBC that as bad as it was then, today’s recession will make will be even tougher on those in their 50s, 60s and 70s. CNBC reports she has calculated that “the pandemic will force another 3.1 million older workers into poverty in their retirement, with many forced to choose between their health and their need for a paycheck.”

How Do You Choose Between Health and Wealth?

Staying present and brushing up on your tech skills are great ideas for seniors hoping to keep their jobs through these difficult times, but they will only take you so far … especially if you’re in a job that really can’t be done remotely. It’s going to be tough for older workers. They are the most vulnerable population, and will be the least likely ones permitted back to physical work.

How do you hold down an in-office corporate or retail job and try to practice safe distancing? You either risk your health or wealth. It’s a tough choice. Those nearing retirement who must go to work can look to guidance from the CDC for information on how to stay safe. In answering the question “How can I help protect employees who may be at higher risk for severe illness?” the CDC has some clear advice for businesses:

Have conversations with employees if they express concerns. Some people may be at higher risk of severe illness. This includes older adults (65 years and older) and people of any age with serious underlying medical conditions. By using strategies that help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, you will help protect all employees, including those at higher risk. These strategies include:

  • Implementing telework and other social distancing practices
  • Actively encouraging employees to stay home when sick
  • Promoting handwashing
  • Providing supplies and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for cleaning and disinfecting workspaces
  • In workplaces where it’s not possible to eliminate face-to-face contact (such as retail), consider assigning higher risk employees work tasks that allow them to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, if feasible.

Hopefully, your employer is on board with this advice from the CDC. For more on your legal rights as an employee, please see The Coronavirus at Work: Your Legal Questions Answered.

In Closing, a Look at the Bright Side

Deloitte found that although technology was a wonderful thing, “It does not replace what is needed from humans.” In this pandemic, we saw how only humans can give the front-line care in hospitals, with rescue workers, restaurants immediately switching to take-out, delivery workers, grocery workers, letter carriers and so many more.

One part of the Deloitte study that warmed my heart deals with the compensation of lower-paid workers. We now hopefully appreciate how much we need these workers, with some “proving to be essential in a time of crisis.” Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate those jobs and their salary levels, and consider the well-being of the workers. Is it right that many hourly workers have to hold down three jobs just to make sure their families are taken care of?

These are tough times, but we will get through them. We have seen courage and sadness and hope. Maya Angelou said it best, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

About the Author

Neale Godfrey, Financial Literacy Expert

President & CEO, Children's Financial Network Inc.

Neale Godfrey is a New York Times #1 best-selling author of 27 books, which empower families (and their kids and grandkids) to take charge of their financial lives. Godfrey started her journey with The Chase Manhattan Bank, joining as one of the first female executives, and later became president of The First Women's Bank and founder of The First Children's Bank. Neale pioneered the topic of "kids and money," which took off after her 13 appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

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