Why Older Workers Should Expect Age Discrimination
How to fight back against age discrimination
I got this from an AOL reader:
My first thought upon reading this was...
I am 57 years old. I work in a large company. I am in IT and have had the responsibility of supporting our field staff. I have headed up various projects. I was "key" in the roll out of all mobile devices to personnel. I have had college interns assigned to me to mentor and have done a great job with them. They contact me to this day and tell me how I helped groom them for their current jobs.
All of this being said, we now have new, young management who have realigned our company. I was literally kicked to the curb. My manager was laid-off after 41 years of service. Another long-time executive of 58 years of age was pushed to the side, but eventually retired and went to another company. I was given a "token" position as a business analyst. Since this time, I've literally been twiddling my thumbs. I'd love to jump ship, but at my age, it's difficult. I am high energy. I have always gotten excellent reviews. I have always made myself available to my field personnel. The folks I have supported have only good things to say about my performance and support. I am sick about this turn of events. It's on my mind constantly. Is this the way our careers are supposed to end? I went from being over productive to this? I've heard our president say...think younger. His secretary retired and was replaced with some 25-year-old...speaks volumes. Young is good. We need younger folks to take over. But, like this? This is brutal.
I really cannot retire. I have a small pension, but still have a couple of things to pay off. My home is almost paid off, but I need a few years. I could go on, but it's so darn painful. I'm rambling. I am usually a lot more coherent and professional. If you could offer me any advice, I would appreciate it. I'm reaching out blindly looking for some answers and some guidance.
You Should Have Seen It Coming
It's so hard to point this out to someone who is clearly in a lot of pain, but this is not a new workplace phenomenon. Companies have been restructuring as a way to get rid of older employees they feel are under-performing for decades now. The "retire and get a gold watch" mentality has been gone for a long time now. Anyone who has been at a company more than 20 years these days should be paying close attention to their strategy for keeping themselves employable against younger candidates. The phrase, "out with the old, in with the new," comes to mind. In these situations, "younger" means less expensive and easier to handle. So, if you aren't positioning yourself as irreplaceable (priced right for the value) - then you're at risk of being let go to make room for a younger employee.
NOTE: There are laws against age discrimination that you can research and pursue. However, the process can be costly and take time. So, while you may want to consult with a lawyer, most older workers find it's better to find a way to deal with the discrimination instead.
Tips for Being "Ageless" at Work
If you want to avoid being affected by age discrimination, you need to focus on appearing as "ageless" as possible. Your goal has to be to avoid falling into the "older worker" category. The easiest way to do this is to make it clear you don't act like the traditional older worker they associate negatively with. Here are some tips to help you:
1) Remember, "people hear what they see." That's a famous quote by Doris Day and it applies here. Consider giving your entire look an overhaul. Get some younger family members to help you update your work attire, haircut, make-up, shoes, and anything else about your visual appearance that can make you look dated. You don't have to dress like a 20 year-old, but you do have to dress like a 50- year-old who is committed-looking and feeling young for their age.
2) Spend more time with the young people at work. Strike up conversations with them. Find common interests. (I wrote this article on AOL that maps out a technique to help you succeed at this.) Focus on their hobbies and activities outside of work. In short, show a sincere interest in their lives. Most older workers tend to go to work and leave. They don't want to be bothered by making new friends at the office. Especially with young people who they feel can't possibly understand their lives. Yet, these younger workers could be powerful allies to you. If they like spending time with you, they'll tell management you are great to have around.
3) Stop acting like tenure matters. Whether you realize it or not, you've most likely been giving the impression that the established way of doing things is the right way. A new management team is brought in specifically to get rid of outdated systems and ways of thinking. The moment you start touting the praises of processes and procedures that pre-date them, you're seen as the enemy. Instead, you should assume the first day of the new management team was your first day on the job too. Start looking for ways to improve things and show enthusiasm for the new management team's mission. Otherwise, you will find yourself on the "not one of us" list. (Here's how you could be labeled as "overqualified" by management for acting this way.)
4) Find a problem they need solved ASAP - and then solve it. The new management team wasn't here for all your past successes. It means nothing to them. You need to have new successes as quickly as possible. Preferably, solving a problem or alleviating a pain for the current management team that will show them your value. Try to find out what their main concerns are and then work to identify and fix something that will show your support for their business agenda. That kind of proactive behavior will score a lot of points. It's the exact reason they want young people on board - for their desire to be a hero to management.
5) Start looking for a job while you have a job. All of the above won't guarantee you'll keep your job, but it can help. If you don't feel you can do the above, then you need to start looking for a job immediately. Finding a job while still employed is much easier than finding one after being laid-off. Especially, if you are over 50 years old. Age discrimination is even worse for the unemployed.
Career Accomplishments Aren't Like Retirement Savings
Here's one last thing to consider: as we age, we often assume as we succeed on the job we're putting professional "credits" into our career account. We think that older means wiser - and with that should come some return on our investment. Far too often, I see older workers who feel they should be paid a higher wage and be able to do what they've done for years without having to learn new skills, increase their value, or even push themselves to new levels of career success. They assume if they just do their job and people like them, they'll make the same money and be able to do the same thing for as long as they want. But, that's not the case. Your career isn't like a retirement account where you can live off the interest of earlier investments. You must always be adding to your career account in the form of new accomplishments if you want to stay employable.
What other suggestions do readers have? How have you dealt with age discrimination?
J.T. O'Donnell is a career and workplace expert who founded the top-ranked career advice site, CAREEREALISM.com. In 2009, she launched CareerHMO, the first on-line career care membership site which specializes in curing chronic career pain.
Add J.T. to your Google+ Circles.