I left two jobs in the past ten years because of age discrimination. My position had been eliminated from one company but I could not help but notice that many of my fellow ex-employees were over 40 years old. There was a lot of gray hair in that room. I wanted to believe that age had nothing to do with it but there were just too many people in that room who were noticeably older. I had a bad feeling.
It was obvious in the second job too. The supervisor who hired me had moved on and a younger woman took her place. She was uncomfortable with us older employees, and she’d been there less than a year before all the workers over 40 were gone, me included.
She brought in other younger workers like her and they all hung out together during and after work hours — and the rest of us saw the writing on the wall. Her friends came in early, stayed through lunch, went to dinner together and often worked until late in the evening. They were single, lived alone and work was their lives. They were aggressive and pushy and the rest of us were out in the cold.
They were noticeably uncomfortable with us older workers – they didn’t know how to properly address us and because we didn’t share their overwhelming drive, they regarded us as slow-moving losers. It didn’t matter that we knew what we were doing and usually were better at it. We just didn’t fit in. Being with us was like hanging with their parents.
Now that the economy has bottomed out, many of us older workers find it hard to find a job. The unemployment rate for those over 55 has been around 6 percent according to figures obtained by the Government Accountability Office in December 2011. And it takes older workers longer to find new jobs – nearly 35 weeks as opposed to 26 weeks for younger workers.
We have the skills, experience, talent and drive but often, we can’t even get an interview. When we do, we often find we are facing employers who are young enough to be our children and the reality that no matter how good we are, our age will keep us from getting that job. Or we see a job we know we can do but suddenly, there are requirements added to it that we are unfamiliar with. For example, most public relations jobs now want applicants to also be skilled in desktop publishing and graphics. I’ve learned to do some graphics work, but it was never the focus of my training so I don’t even apply for those jobs.
Mature workers are being pushed aside and it’s not even subtle anymore. Many have been without jobs for extended periods of time and what little unemployment they had has run out. Life has suddenly gotten very scary for a lot of people who should be easing into retirement, but are suddenly forced to try to get Social Security or disability benefits way too soon and are often rejected. Everyone is ready to put us on the shelf, but we are not ready to go. We still need to live and pay bills.
Older workers are often excellent workers, are patient, work well with the public and have a strong work ethic. They are willing to learn new skills and can work with much younger supervisors. And yes, we don’t mind teaching younger workers what we know and we can learn a lot from them. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, so why is there so much resistance to hire mature workers?
Some of the reasons given are that older workers
- want a greater salary than some companies are willing to pay. More experience often translates to more money and employers are balking when they can get younger workers for less money;
- drive up the cost of benefits because of higher incidents requiring medical care;
- will accept a job while they are looking for another higher paying position, so there’s a risk to bringing them on;
- are facing looming retirement; and finally
- are unable to work with a younger boss.
There is one serious problem many older workers face — and that is unfamiliarity with the current technology. Many find working with online resumes and applications difficult if they are not familiar with modern methods for job searching. They are at a disadvantage if they have not learned to use the technology available such as computers, tablets, smartphones and social media. But many of us are very technologically savvy and can work with younger people on an equal basis. And many are energetic and want to work past retirement age. Some will have to, as their pensions have vanished in the inclement economic climate.
Employers and employees both will have to forget the assumptions they have about older workers in order to right the wrongs that are keeping qualified workers from having jobs.
This should not be an ‘Us vs.Them’ situation. Finding jobs is hard for all of us and we should be willing to work together. Companies benefit when all the employees work to ensure their success.