Challenges for Older Employees
In this section:
- Challenges for Older Employees
- Multiple Generations
- Workplace Through the Ages
- Handling Generational Diversity
Challenges for Older Employees
Many mature employees, age 50 or older, approach the job search with a defeated attitude and a bundle of resentment because of the potential for age discrimination. While age discrimination certainly isn’t fair, a pessimistic or cynical attitude won’t help it get better. Don’t build your own barriers to success. Here are some common misconceptions that keep older workers from approaching a job search with the positive attitude they need to succeed:
Older workers are unwelcome in the workplace. Focus on what you have to offer. If you focus on your age and consider it a barrier, your interviewers certainly will too.
To get a job, you don’t have to look younger. Just be yourself. If you try to dress or act a younger age, you may come across looking awkward or contrived.
I know more than my younger boss. A condescending attitude will be a turnoff to employers. As an older worker you might have a great deal of experience and insight to offer: but instead of taking on a know it all attitude, show that you are flexible and willing to learn new ideas. You want age to be irrelevant when it comes to being hired, so make age irrelevant when it comes to respecting the boss.
Older workers often face many obstacles when it comes to finding a new position. Different employers will have different hang-ups when it comes to hiring an older worker, so know how to circumvent the most common. It’s essential to make age irrelevant in the interview process, and there’s a lot you can do to achieve this goal.
- Delete any dates on your résumé that reveal your age – such as when you graduated from college – and make a point of displaying your knowledge of current industry ideas and skills. Show a high level of enthusiasm and energy, and focus on what you can bring to the position.
- Market yourself correctly. Listing all your qualifications and experience can seem intimidating; share only the most relevant ones. Explain why you think the job you’re applying for will be a challenging and fulfilling position. Tell employers that your vast experience is an indicator of how you’ll hit the ground running and inspire others.
- Don’t accept a position that doesn’t pay you what you’re worth. Like sex or race, age should never be a determining factor when it comes to salary.
- Show how the position will help you begin the next phase in your career. Explain how you would like to develop professionally and how that relates to the position. Discuss your long-term goals.
Americans are staying in the workforce longer than ever before – postponing retirement or doing away with it altogether. At the same time, Generation Y – those workers born between 1977 and 1991 – are now the largest segment of the workforce at 80 million strong. So at some point all of us will work for or with people who aren’t our age and who bring different work styles and work ethics to their jobs.
As a workforce, we’ve made great strides with tackling issues of diversity surrounding sex, race, ethnicity and even sexual orientation. But age is the new frontier; generational diversity is something that all of us – workers and employers alike – must pay attention to.
Workplace Through the Ages
Much like sex, race, ethnicity and sexuality, a generational identity distinguishes each of us. Because four generations are now working together in the U.S., companies are starting to amend their diversity training practices to include generational differences. The hope is to create a more inclusive, tolerant workplace for people of all generations.
Here’s an overview of the generations, and their workplace values and attitudes.
Matures came of age when loyalty between employer and employee reigned supreme, and when many jobs took you from “cradle to grave,” so to speak. They thought that long service to a company would always be rewarded with raises and promotions, and that the company would take care of them even after retirement. They’re respectful of company hierarchy, but resistant to “new ways” of doing things.
Boomers saw the collapse of loyalty and longevity at the workplace when recession hit, and they were faced with layoffs and downsizing. In addition, with many of those 78 million boomers hitting the job market at the same time, competition was fierce. They became workaholics who believed that the number of hours worked was most important, even more important than productivity. Later, that “work ’til you drop” attitude made boomers question whether it was all worth it.
There are approximately 48 million Gen-Xers in the workplace who saw their parents burn out. Gen-Xers consequently try to strike a balance between work and life. They value their own lives and respect productivity over the long haul. They’ve seen companies go under so they are loyal to people rather than companies. They even approach work thinking of themselves as independent contractors, whether they are on staff or really consulting. Plus, they demand open communication at all levels.
Millennials/Generation Y/Generation Next
No matter what they are called, this generation is a workforce to be reckoned with. They have surpassed the boomers in sheer numbers at 80 million. These are the babies of the group in more ways than one. They were doted on as children, and expect the same from their employer – meaning lots of feedback and recognition. They value individual relationships and want personal fulfillment from their work.
How to Handle Age Differences
Since we’re now seeing all these diverse ages and approaches in the same office, both employers and workers must handle these fundamental differences by adhering to these tips:
Speak everyone’s language. Just as you’d speak French in France, adapt your communication styles to the person or group you’re addressing in a manner that suits them, not you. Communication is one of the biggest problems in an intergenerational workplace. Older workers have a longer attention span and are often more patient, which strikes younger workers as being slow. Younger people speak differently and use slang like “Hey, she looks phat.” Even though she means P-H-A-T, as in cool and hip, not F-A-T, this will likely be overheard by an older worker as an insult. Be sensitive about slang and try using universally understood adjectives such as “great” or “wonderful” instead of lingo that’s exclusive to your age group.
Remember that age is just a number. Both workers and employers must look beyond age. Competence and ability no longer correlate to how old you are or your years of experience. No more “she’s just a kid” or “she’s past her prime” prejudices allowed. Respect for other people’s ideas and input – no matter what their age – is critical.
Encourage candid conversation. If you’re having difficulties with a younger boss who belittles you, face the problem head on and encourage candid conversations. Generational issues should not be a taboo subject. If you feel you’re being undermined or ignored because of your age, talk directly to the person and let him or her know that you value their opinions and you aim to have a strong working relationship – and that you’d appreciate their respect for the skills you bring to your position. You can say: “I don’t appreciate when you belittle me because I take great pride in my work. If you have constructive feedback, I’d welcome it.” Keep the dialogues going because many broken relationships can be repaired through candid conversations.
Handling Generational Diversity
None of us can completely disavow the work styles we bring to our jobs every day. But we can resist our emotional and resist the natural urge to judge people based on age – and open up the lines of communication.
It starts with the willingness to talk about our differences and not allow the issues of age and generations to be the cause of silence or friction. Even though it’s easy to let emotions get the best of you when you’re taking orders from someone who could be your kids’ age, you remember that age and wisdom do not always go hand in hand. Believe that you can learn something valuable from an individual of any age. This is business: it’s not personal.
One way of keeping your sanity is to resist the urge to classify people based on stereotypes. The most common: older workers believe that their young colleagues are inexperienced, impatient and immature, simply because of their youth. On the flip side, younger workers are apt to see older colleagues as rigid, inflexible, slow and resistant to change and new technology.
Agree to banish that thinking. Remind yourself that we all know people who meet those descriptions, but we also know plenty who don’t. Give the people you work with the benefit of the doubt and don’t ascribe these traits to them based solely on age.
Authority and hierarchy. This is perhaps where age differences and bias are most prominent. Older workers believe that authority is earned over time. You put in your years as a manager and leader – and after time has passed and experience has been acquired, you earn authority. Younger workers often reject that line of thinking. Instead, they believe that talent, skill and performance drive authority and hierarchy. It doesn’t matter how old you are: if you can prove your value – even in a very short period of time – then you deserve to run the department and make the decisions. You don’t have to wait for the calendar to tell you it’s time for a promotion to a leadership position.
The war for talent has forced employers to take the perspective of the younger generation or risk losing their star performers to the competition.
Money and advancement. Boomers as a whole believe that time drives raises and promotions. After each year or two of service, they feel that are entitled to a raise. And as they put in their time, they expect their career to advance along a track from A to B to C and so on. Logical, right?
Not according to Gen X and Gen Y, who just don’t see it that way. They believe performance and results should drive compensation and promotion. They’re more apt to ask for a raise after doing a great job on a big project after only six months of employment. They have no qualms about asking to leap frog titles and positions without regard to protocol that was historically based on tenure.
This issue matters most when considering how to approach your boss. If you work for a younger person, you should know the sensibilities that he or she brings to the position. The boss’s perspective – not yours – will likely determine raises and promotions. You should ask your boss outright: what’s your philosophy on awarding raises and promotions? What must I do to earn more money or be promoted? Asking directly helps to avoid any misunderstandings.
Technology. Another concern is that older workers aren’t comfortable with technology. A prospective employer shouldn’t assume; instead they should ask. Tell me about your comfort level with technology? How would you define your skill level and daily use of technology? An older person might have superior computer skills, despite their age. You never know!
Similarly, if your younger boss is a computer whiz, don’t allow it to intimidate you. Instead, be proactive about it. Try saying, “You’ve no doubt grown up with all things technology and I can see you’re strong in this area. I’d welcome the chance to work with you to improve my skills and I hope I can count on your support.”
Communication styles. Many of the differences here are driven by technology. Younger workers have grown up communicating personally via text messages, instant messaging and email, and they bring those methods to work. Older people, on the other hand, have long favored face to face communication, and when they’re delivered orders or news via email it’s often seen as rude or inconsiderate.
The solution must focus on compromise. That younger worker needs to get up from behind his or her desk and invest time talking face to face with coworkers. And the older worker must realize that email is often preferred: it is fast and efficient. Don’t assume you must always see the boss directly when communicating.