Given my love of sports and my regular communication with our prospects and customers, our marketing team asked if I could write a blog series to define the Industrial Athlete.
Industrial Athletes. Hard-working folks with physically demanding jobs are pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, climbing and performing other feats that require repetitive and strenuous body movements. Movements that if performed incorrectly can lead to injuries. Movements that if done correctly, can lead to stronger bodies.
As it turns out, this term was defined about 20 years ago. In that time, there have been many programs and initiatives to turn front line workers into working athletes. And while we embrace this concept at Worklete, I’m certainly in no position to redefine it. The definition is already spot on in my opinion:
The term industrial athlete refers to anyone who makes a living using mental and physical talents to perform jobs that require skill, strength, flexibility, coordination, and endurance—just like an athlete. ... Athletes and employees use their musculoskeletal system to perform their sport or job.
So, instead of rehashing the tried and true definition, I’ll offer a more specific focus - working athletes at the age of 55 or greater. Why? I’m 55, pushing 56. As I continue to work with our customers, I find myself empathizing with people in my age group. The job doesn’t change with age, however, the body and mind do.
I remember playing basketball in my 40’s. I was on the court with younger players. No big deal, I’ve been playing with and against younger players for some time. However, the player I was guarding “crossed me over” (a move a player with the ball uses as misdirection against the person guarding him). As he switched directions, I found my brain reacting as fast as it ever had. However, for the first time, my body didn’t keep up. I stood there almost flat-footed watching him blow by me. That would not have happened just a year before. It was a wake-up call. At least he didn’t leave me lying on the floor.
So what are some challenges to becoming and staying an industrial athlete at my age? Like many things in life, they can be categorized as mental, physical and motivational.
I’ll start with motivation. I’ve been doing sales for a long time now. I can be set in my ways. I don’t need much guidance at this point. In fact, I have found myself guiding many other people more often than receiving guidance for the past decade.
Apply that to someone who has been driving a truck for the same amount of time. They’ve been getting in and out of the cab the same way for years. They sit in the cab the same way. If they’re moving products, they’re using the same body movements. Habits are called habits for a reason. And we all know how hard they can be to break.
Getting someone to learn how to position and move their body to reduce injury is a change management exercise in the least. Getting potentially stubborn folks like myself to learn is an even bigger challenge.
Here are 5 suggestions that may help, and I put these together from the perspective of the 55+-year-old (“I” refers to your employee):
If I can go through a program and reduce injuries and become stronger, I will likely enjoy my job more. Perhaps even more important to me, I can live a better life at home - sleeping better, enjoying family and friends, and continuing to enjoy my hobbies (fly fishing please!). Inform me with facts that the older I get, the more prone I am to injury. In fact, give me an example or two to motivate me!
I’ve learned a lot over the years. I can offer considerable advice and even mentorship with those that are still learning in their careers. Put me in a position to show “before and after” and I’ll feel great about my contribution to individuals and the company.
While initially reluctant at times, I can learn from other perspectives. In the process, I can appreciate that they have different ways of thinking and approaching the job than when I was ‘growing up’ and learning. Their energy and focus might spark some motivation for me!
I might be willing to take on additional efforts, such as a health-related program, to improve my health in general. More specifically, I could learn how to keep my body from being injured, getting stronger in the process. Support those efforts when possible with company benefits and investments.
I may be stuck in my ways. However, when you present a challenge that is productive, fun and stimulating, I’ll likely step up to the challenge!
I’ve learned over the years that as my profession changes, I need to change with it. I’m motivated by that realization. Your employees can learn the same. You can help them with that realization.
What challenges are you facing with an aging workforce? How have you addressed them?