As the first baby boomers hit age 65, even those of us on the trailing edge of the wave have to admit we are middle-aged. We may be one of the fittest, most ambitious, most highly educated generations to swim with the tide, but eventually, age will catch up with us all. Most of us will start to lose our muscle mass, and eventually, our intellectual edge. If we work in positions and industries where our intellect is our capital, at some point, we may offer less value – even if less is still more, compared to the average knowledge worker.
I am thinking about this after reading a January 28 Harvard Business Review blog post titled, Are Your Most Talented People Losing Their Minds? The author suggests that companies or their clients may some day require their (aging) consultants take a test to prove they still have what it takes.
A powerful case could be made that regularly running such tests could be in the organization’s best interest as part of its human capital “quality control” investment. Perhaps submitting to such examinations — not unlike drug testing — will become a condition of employment.
While personal and professional pain around the likely loss of one’s faculties is unavoidable, the legal and ethical implications have only begun to be addressed. Unless and until meaningful therapeutic interventions, or outright cures, for Alzheimer’s and dementia materialize, this diagnostic dilemma will be one of the most contentious and controversial issues confronting tomorrow’s workforce. In America, workplace discrimination around disabilities is forbidden — unless that disability directly impacts job performance. For knowledge workers and service providers whose expertise relies upon their mental acuity, the stress of growing older will be compounded by the specter of measurable cognitive decline. As previously discussed, computational prostheses can certainly play a mitigating role in buying time. But — like it or not — one of executive leadership’s most difficult duties may be to rigorously examine those who appear to cognitively falter.
The post concludes with a provocative question: Are you ready to take your test? My first reaction was sure, why not? After all, in a sense, as professionals, we’re tested every day. And while no one hits a home run every time at bat, a poor batting average eventually gets you fired. But what if your test score suddenly counted more than your actual performance, or caused someone to reinterpret your occasional strikeout as a sign it was time to cut their possible losses? In that sense, shouldn’t we be judged by what we do, instead of our score on test that’s anecdotal evidence at best?