We asked older workers about the ups and downs of their careers to date, what they had learned and who had helped them most.
What is the most important thing you have learned from your working life so far? Workingwise.co.uk asked a small group of older workers and the answers were instructive. For many it was to focus more on family, but having more confidence in themselves also ranked high, being open to learning new things and not being afraid of making mistakes or of being themselves at work.
Speaking for the introverts, one person commented: “Too many people sell themselves short. There are also a lot of overpaid extrovert grifters.”
Another said: “You are never too old to learn new things – in my case learning to manage instagram accounts for clients when I was nearly 60.”
Others relished challenge; while some focused more on doing a job they enjoyed. Some wanted to leave a positive legacy. One person said: “We need to look at mentoring and handing down knowledge and skills, to inspire the aspiring younger generation.”
Others who had had more negative experiences, warned against sacrificing home life for work, with one person saying: “You are always just a number who is always replaceable.” Another counselled: “If it’s not working for you leave.”
We asked what has been the best moment of your working life so far. Top of the list was helping people, learning and making friends. Some had won awards or led on interesting projects, taken on new challenges or worked in an effective multigenerational team. The range was broad.
There were more similarities when it came to worst moments, with redundancy and restructures, Covid-related work challenges, not getting paid and working for bad employers figuring high.
Health featured in some replies. One person said they had had to give up a job they loved in order to have a knee replacement on both knees.
People were asked to describe their best boss. Almost everyone mentioned supportive, caring, compassionate inspirational leaders who listened and showed them respect. One person said: “My first boss was a character and he knew exactly how to get the best out of this 16 year old he took on. He nurtured and genuinely cared about his staff and always pushed you as an individual to do better. I ended up knowing him as a friend for 37 years until he passed away suddenly during the pandemic. A true legend and gentleman.”
And it was pretty clear what the characteristics of the worst bosses consisted of – lying, bullying and micro-managing. People who set impossible targets and don’t listen or understand family-related challenges, leaders who focus on numbers over people and don’t recognise individuals’ contributions were also mentioned.
One woman said: “Having brought up four children during a time when there was no support for working mothers, it really has taken its toll on me. I have bad memories of bosses watching me arrive at 8.45am when I had children to drop at school. There was no flexibility and I was made to feel like a slacker or poor time keeper. I never had any understanding.”
We also asked what the best work-related advice they had been given was. The answers were much more varied. For some it was about focusing on what you can do rather than what you think makes others happy. For others it was about taking control of your own development. Flexibility to change was important for many as was being true to your own values. Others talked about treating people with respect and doing your best, but not taking things too personally. One person said: “Work hard and earn not only respect but be yourself at all times.”