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Are You Too Old for the Workplace? Are You Sure?

Senior men in corporate americaSince when did “old” become a dirty word? Come to think of it, since when did 50+ become old?

I am more than a little ticked off with what is going on in today’s workplace.

I have 5 very dear friends, all over 55, who have been looking for work for over a year and can’t find it. These people are the real deal, the big guns, and the ones that carried the heavy load. I’m talking about the CEO’s, V.P.’s, Regional Marketing Director’s, and COO’s of major companies.

These people have spent a better part of a lifetime working over 70 hours a week for years, spending more time in hotel rooms than they did their own beds. They’ve missed recitals, birthdays, little league games and a lot of back-to-school nights, all for the good of the company. A loyalty that was left unrewarded.

Each and every one of these people has never been unemployed. Ever. Until now.

They are wicked smart, have energizer bunny stamina, Pollyanna attitudes, amazing foresight, buckets of hard to come by experience, and the ability to manage the corporate rough spots with precision, and clear attention to the bottom line. Yet, their companies laid them off. Going in a “different direction”, they were told. A year later, those companies are following the same direction, but with a younger man at the helm.

If it looks like a rat, walks like a rat, smells like a rat … it’s probably a rat. A corporate rat.

The number of people 55 and older who are being relieved of their jobs is escalating at an alarming rate. About 55 percent of jobless seniors, or 1.1 million, have been unemployed for more than six months, up from 23 percent, or less than 200,000 four years earlier, according to a copy of the Government Accountability Office report obtained by Reuters.      

In what should be their prime earning years, these older workers are relying on their savings, missing out on potential wages and are having to prematurely tap into Social Security – all at a time when Americans are living longer and their health care, and other living expenses, are rising.

The number of long-term unemployed workers aged 55 and older has more than doubled since the recession began in late 2007, and getting back to work is increasingly difficult, according to a recent government report.

I am sick to death watching these fabulous business minds struggle upstream for months as they apply for positions with organizations that should be thrilled to have them knocking on their door. Instead they are often greeted with disrespect, disregard and an inconceivable superior attitude from the twenty-something year old HR rep that they are forced to filter through.  

Job hunting isn’t what it used to be. Neither are manners, appropriate business conduct, and kind consideration. All have been replaced by voice mail, computer log-ins, phone interviews, and inexperienced HR reps who are far more concerned with their lunch hour than they are filling an important position with a candidate best suited for the job.

Unfortunately, HR people are the gate keepers of the job availabilities in any given corporation. We would all be better off if they had more common sense than a radish and possessed a vague idea of business decorum. Alas, many do not. And yet, it is these people who hold the golden key. Many of them barely out of college themselves, have pity little knowledge (or interest) in what it takes to determine a good fit for their company.

If you happen to be an HR representative, let’s have a chat, shall we? First off, I would highly recommend that you have the courtesy to call back the people who have responded to your employment posting and who have left numerous voice mails for you. It is, after all, YOUR job. I also would recommend that you be respectful, speak kindly, and practice honesty. Your applicants most likely could buy and sell you in their former occupation. It would also be immensely valuable for you to learn how to construct an email with the proper English, spelling and punctuation. And lastly, as in life, be thoughtfully aware that rudeness is not an attribute. Neither is incompetence.  

Don’t send me hate mail. I am well aware that there are excellent HR people out there. They are, however, few and far between, hugely outnumbered by the inexperienced, inattentive, and ineffective stand-ins whose recent out-of-college wage requirement conveniently placed them at the head of the line for a job that should be occupied by a seasoned professional who understands the industry standard and needed qualifications.

And to those top companies that employ these people of record level low acumen; do you really want someone so incompetent, so uncaring, representing your company needs, and your future? It would say a lot about you.

Corporate America needs to wake up. Those of us who have been in the workforce for many years, often work harder, willingly give more hours, and are frequently more committed than many half our age. And let’s not forget the tremendous wealth they bring to the table with their vast years of experience. All this should count for a lot. But more often than not, it doesn’t even move the needle on the Richter scale.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of corporate America, progressive thinking and out of the box ingenuity. There is nothing in the logic that says out with the old, and in with the young.

Aging wine is a delicacy, antiques are uniquely valuable, and classic cars go for thousands more than their youthful value. But people, well, clearly people lose value in the business world once they pass that invisible marked age of 55. I call bullshit.

These talented people are just the tip of the iceberg. There are millions of us out there that will suffer the same judgment. Seniors are living longer, healthier lives and wish to maintain an active business participation, earn income and support their families. With the recent economy woes, working past our retirement years is not so much an option as it is a necessity.

Prejudice is an ugly word. But when businesses throw away such a lucrative resource as our senior population, it’s beyond prejudicial, it’s downright stupid.

Seeing this happen day in and day out reminds me why I am self-employed. Why I take a chance on myself rather than lean on anyone else.

It’s not always an easy road, but at least I’m doing the driving.

 

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Joan Cooper - I always knew I had to work until I moved to another world because I am not rich. I have always worked for a living. And I still am. However, even though I am and have been self employed for 20 years, while I could always get a job, I reached a point where employment agencies stepped back in horror when they looked at my age. At first I was disturbed, but then it was really funny. One started to pull out an application and then stopped and said they were all out, please come back another time. Yeh right.

I don’t know what or why the prejudice. I once told a plastic surgeon that I was a working woman and employers want someone who looks 20 but has 100 years experience.

I have no answer.

Joan Cooper

Tana Bevan - “I take a chance on myself rather than lean on anyone else.
It’s not always an easy road, but at least I’m doing the driving.” Amen!

Once upon a time people were encouraged to be independent & pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Later they were encouraged to become a cog in the great industrial complex. In the information age, they are encouraged to be a “team player.” The only problem with the later is, the team is rarely defined, the rules poorly articulated (if at all), and they constantly change.

The upside of the free-for-all is there’s a good chance any idea has the potential for success. The downside is there’s more uncertainty. However, since the uncertainty is there regardless, here’s hoping all these great minds with fabulous work ethics find a way to reinvent themselves. I for one am rooting for them, each and every one!

Sandy - Right on. I have a friend who has quite literally given her youth to Chase Bank. She is a VP of a pretty important department and she is burned out and burned up. She is now on leave and may not return. HOWEVER, being an older woman she knows she will struggle hard upstream to get a decent job that meets her credentials and capabilities. For now, she is taking time to think about things, but feels she will be forced back to a lesser job with the company just to make it. Otherwise, she may become a business owner and entrepreneur. What’s ironic is that we took two vastly different paths in our careers. I have for the most part been self-employed. I’ve held “suit” jobs in corporate and I hated them. I didn’t fit in with the 20-something cliques (that reminded me of high school) and I wasn’t a yes-person. I headed teams and did my job. It was less than satisfying. I have been told I am highly unemployable in the corporate world now because I’ve been running my own ship for a long, long time. Corporate doesn’t like free-thinkers. That’s WHY they hire the young things who chat about their upcoming party weekends and their boyfriends.

I worked under a very young manager ONCE. It was hard. She was good at her job, but also had something to prove to her elder workers. That she was the boss. It was uncomfortable. We talked it out though, and she loosened up. She ended up quitting to move to another position. I was up for her position. Another young woman was handed the job. That was fine. In truth, it was not a fun position. That’s when I decided to go freelance once and for all. I haven’t looked back. I took that company as a freelance client and worked for them at a much higher rate of pay for the same writing work I was doing for terrible pay in-house. It was a good lesson. That was 15 years ago.

I worked at one other corporate job for a year and once I had learned how things worked and that I’d make far more money freelance than what I did showing up every day 9 – 5 I went freelance with them. Yep. Took them as a long-term client, too. Again, a lesson.

Yes, I have to pay my own insurance. We all will soon enough. And, yes, I have to make sure to do my taxes right and take every little deduction I can. But, guess what? Totally worth it.

Like you say, being a 1099 worker can be a challenge in between jobs, but because we are resourceful and bright, we can do just fine. I’m a ghostwriter. I’ve worked my way up the ghost ladder and now I earn good pay for what I do. I run Full Circle Media & Author Promotions, too. We take book projects. We are new to the market but have a lot of experience. We are beginning to do okay there, too. And being entrepreneurially minded, I’m developing an app specifically for authors at a good price point. AND I’m developing an app just for fun that I hope will be embraced by the world. Can’t disclose much about it now, but let’s just say it is VERY fun.

Would I wander into these woods of creativity if I worked 9 – 5 somewhere or would I be then dedicated to the company’s goals? The latter, I assume.

As a free spirit, I get up when I want, start my work day at maybe 10 and work however long it takes to get a job done. Then I’m on to the next and the next. I have to double task, I multi-task, I juggle and balance and manage MY OWN LIFE. No one is to blame for my missteps or failings. The buck actually stops with me. I like that.

I work in teams, too, but as the leader, the buck stops with me, too.

Anyway, my heart goes out to your friends, but perhaps it’s time they start thinking about what they might do on their own. What type of business could they start that would make them happy? At this age, that is most important. To get them through the mindshift that would have to take place first, suggest they read Greg S. Reid’s INITIATIVE. Actually, they can get a cool signed copy if they ask J. Massey, a contributor to the book, for a copy from his site at http://www.cashflowdiary.com. J. is one of my clients and he’s cool. Motivationally speaking, he changed his life from corporate to business owner quickly. I am helping with his upcoming book, and this guy MOTIVATES others in a very real way.

Anyway, once again… excellent blog post. Sorry for writing a book here in my response, but it was necessary. Your friends might do better shifting into a new way of thinking!! Then they will be one of us.

Sandy

Frankie - I am going to just be 50 next year, and have little retirement set aside yet. I am beginning to worry. I have been a loyal employee, marketing manager, for a small firm for over 8 years. I am a working mom so the job offers me flexible hours, decent pay and medical insurance. I consider myself lucky. But lately I’ve been thinking about what happens in the next 10-15 years before I have to retire? Now you post this gripping tale of those at age 55 losing their jobs. Great. Makes me even more worried. Basically I feel for you and your dear friends. I agree, ageism sucks! THANKS for bringing out the elephant in the room!

Mel Glenn - Tammy, don’t blame HR reps; they are worried about their OWN jobs, fearful that they, too, will be judged too old.
It is a failing of our American society that we worship youth and disrespect age, (unlike other countries,) and ageism is the result when advertisements are geared to the under 30 generation. They are seen with the power to buy, buy, buy. Best to work for yourself, or retire. Good column.

Christine Lang - Bravo Tammy!!! I have heard so many stories of inept, unprofessional HR people who don’t return phone calls or possess even the most basic sense of business decorum.

Unfortunately most businesses give only a tiny portion of their budget to the HR department, since it is a department that doesn’t generate income, and so they are frequently understaffed, underpaid, etc. A sad state of affairs to be sure.

Good for you for pointing this out – hopefully some company execs will take notice.

Ande Lyons - Given I’m unemployable… at any age… I’m not the best person to seek out for advice or comments on this topic. (LOVE your quote Tana Bevan!)

That said, I will jump on your soapbox Goddess Tammy… because it’s not just Corporate America who paints folks 50+ with the “out to pasture” brush stroke.

You see it everywhere. Advertising, the news, and especially in social media. As if anyone over 50 doesn’t understand technology… puleeze… who was creating the original programming back in the 70s?!

My dear friend, Little John, has a movement called Gratitude Growing. He and his organization are working hard to reframe the 50+ picture and our society’s attitude toward “aging.” They honor the journey and the amazing continued VALUE of folks in their Third Stage of Life.

Yup, cCorporate America is shifting their direction… to lower salaried executives versus paying for the “seasoned” executive’s higher salary… even thought he/she will probably save them money by making better decisions – internally and externally (with all due respect to the X/Y/Millennials!).

OK… jumping off the soapbox… for now… gotta get back to talking about OTHER things we can still do after 50… 😀

LOVE YOU!

Suerae Stein - I share your frustration Tammy, as my husband is one of those men that you speak of, although he is 2 years shy of 55, but has been struggling the same fate as your friends. He’s managed to keep afloat by being creative and starting his own consulting business, but would prefer to be part of a company rather than work from project to project. It’s tough out there!

Tammy - Tana, you have hit the nail on the head with your observation that uncertainty exists in the corporate world as well as in the life of the entrepreneur. We never know what is around the bend. To think thank we are safely employed would be foolish at best. I confess, I’m not a fan of insecurity, but once you realize that security is a bit like vapor, you are able to maneuver around the prospect of failure with much more ease. I too, am rooting for each and every one of them. Thank you for that!

Tammy - Hi Joan, the story you shared had me aghast. Did she think you were stupid? Do these people never consider that they, themselves, will be “old” one day too? I mean, seriously, it’s not a disease, it’s a privilege. I’ve come to the conclusion that our corporate world is filled with A-holes. I have an answer: hire someone for what they bring to the table, not for the number of years they have lived. Come on, people, get a clue. We have tremendous value. And to you, my friend, I say, keep on keeping on!

Tammy - Hi Frankie, oh dear, I didn’t want to make you crazy worried (sad face). But, you’re right, the elephant is in the room, whether we want to talk about it or not. Let us both hope that you will continue to enjoy good steady and appreciated employment until the day you no longer need to work. I hear that it happens. I think smaller companies are more apt to value the individual. Here’s hoping! I think I will take your cue and make up signs that say “Ageism Sucks!”. *giggling* Thanks, Frankie, for the read and the wonderful sharing.

Tammy - Hi Mel, well, it isn’t often that we disagree, but this time we run the risk. I think that many HR reps are absolutely to blame for their shoddy business practices, inability to look past a birth date number and lack of decorum when dealing with applicants. And, many are very young, which might explain a lot. I simply don’t understand the ageism in advertising. Boomers are the largest market in existence, yet we are less catered to than the 30 year olds. I get riled up just thinking about it. *sigh* And it does no good. You’re right, Europeans know what American’s have yet to learn, respect your elders and all that they offer. You, sir, have mine.

Tammy - Hi Christine, thanks for the supportive comment. I kind of doubt that if company execs see this post that they will be inclined to rectify any deficiencies their HR department might have. They would much more likely put a picture of me in their HR offices and use it as a dart board. I would consider it a privilege! Just as it is to have you on the other end of my blog!

Tammy - Hi Ande, haaa! You are so right….WE were the ones creating the technology back in the 70’s! I would be very interested in more information on your friends movement, Gratitude Growing. You, my dear, can share my soap box any day of the week! The times, they are a changin’ and best we make the most of who we are and what we’ve got. And I’m happy I’ve got you in my corner. No lie! LOVE YOU TOO! (but not in a lesbian way … not there’s anything wrong with that) *giggle*

Tammy - Hi Suerae,it IS tough out there. My heart goes out to your hubby as well as my admiration. It takes a brave soul to make something out of nothing and earn a living doing it. Kudos to him, and hugs to you!

Melanie Kissell - Can’t thank you enough for writing this piece, Tammy.

I pounded the pavement for well over five years looking for a full time job — filled out hundreds of job applications and only heard back from a few employers. I was willing to do almost any kind of work and then I finally gave up the fight. Why? In all that time, I only secured four interviews which, by the way, went really well. The polite rejection emails said so. “Your interview went great and we really enjoyed meeting you. However, we’ve selected another candidate for this position.” A younger candidate, no doubt. 🙁

I back you up 100% on your comments about HR personnel — mainly those who work in hospitals. The majority of them can’t even define “follow up and follow through” let alone act on those skills. It’s pathetic. Most of my calls and emails were NEVER answered.

I’m certain I’ve been discriminated against because of my age. No one will ever be able to convince me otherwise.

My heart goes out to any midlife man or woman who’s trying to land a job in corporate America. You’d be better off to open a daycare center in your home and care for the children of all the young adults who seem to go straight to the front of the line in the job market.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize it’s difficult for anyone to land a job these days. But I can tell you, firsthand and without a doubt, the year you were born is a BIG factor in whether you’ll be considered for a position.

I wish some employers had the balls to say, “Those over 50 need not apply. Don’t waste your time. We have no intention of hiring you.”

Pam Weston - Unfortunately, it’s all about money, not age (per se). Young, less-experienced people can be hired for a much lower salary than older people who have worked for years. And the bottom line (profits) is the most important thing to many companies, I’m sorry to say. Give me a seasoned 60-yr-old any day over a 20-something kid!

Laurie Braddy - Amen! This had to be said. Thank you for saying it so well.

Tammy - Hi Melanie, I would be a hundred bucks that your story has been lived by thousands. Or more. I’ve never encountered an HR person or a headhunter that was worth their weight in salt. Epic fails, ALL of them. It would be good if honest were more prevalent. I get it that it’s against the law to discriminate based on age, but the truth is, employers do it all the time. Just tell them up front and they won’t waste hours of time submitting grueling resume forms and enduring lengthy questions. Ridiculous. You want quality, experience, know how, down and dirty results ridden logic? Hire someone over 50 and sit back and learn. Yeah, I’m pissed all over again. Thank YOU, Melanie, for your insight, sharing and support of my little blog!

Tammy - Hi Pam, I agree it’s about the money. What I don’t understand is that in the long run companies make more money with employees they don’t have to re-train, re-hire or watch over like little mother hens. Corporate decisions should be made by those in the know. Look who I’m talking to … preaching to the choir. I’m with you, I’ll take a seasoned employee any day of the week over a green horn, well intended kid. Experience matters. Damn it! So happy to see you here! Thanks for that.

Tammy - hi Laurie, Thanks for the kind review and unwavering support. YOU are awesome!

Tammy - Hi Sandy, I LOVE that you shared those stories with me. All excellent examples of why corporate isn’t for everyone….even those who think they belong may not. I am so VERY happy and proud FOR you and OF you for your achievements. Believe you me, I KNOW the price that is paid when you are self employed. When you’re up, it’s awesome. When your not, it’s panic. You are super versatile with your writing, we are twin-sies that way. My writing works for me on so many levels. I am grateful everyday I don’t report to a boss who would one day see me and my skills as overpaid and dispensable. Thanks, but NO thanks. Like you, I’m okay with the buck stopping with me. A buck is a buck! Thanks for your marvelous sharing, Sandy. Love you for that!

Melanie Kissell - I think another factor worth noting, Tammy, is something prospective employers don’t consider when interviewing applicants over 50. Beside dependability, a wealth of knowledge/creativity/experience/mature thinking/problem-solving skills, etc., that midlifers possess …

We don’t have small children at home. That fact, alone, means employers will have less absenteeism to deal with for all the obvious reasons. I’m not implying our younger counterparts are slacking in this respect but let’s face the music. Children get sick, their school schedules are sometimes wonky, and daycare issues are oftentimes a problem.

Also, one of your loyal readers remarked “money” is the real issue here — that baby boomers demand a higher salary because of years of experience in the work force. I mean no disrespect but I fervently disagree. I was more than willing to accept whatever salary (or salary range) came along with the positions I applied for and yet I was still turned down.

Tammy - Melanie, I hear you loud and clear. Such is/was the case for many 50+ peeps out there. Still, there is some credibility that some companies would rather not pay the higher insurance premiums, and wages that an older employee would incur. Which in the “long run” makes pity little sense because seniors generate more profit because of their years of know-how, a much lower absentee ratio, and a stronger work ethic. I remember a friend being discriminated against because she had small children at home and the employer worried that it would cause her to be unable to work more often. Now she gets discriminated against because all her kids are grown and gone and she is 56. Something’s gotta give here, don’t you think?

cheryl - AMEN————I could make a comment about discrimination as it is and has been around forever on many many levels. I do not know where to begin, and if I do I won’t know when to stop. I do remember once being told I might be too SHORT to get a certain job in which height would make no logical difference——never understood that as my feet touch the floor the same as anyone else. It seems this age thing is a new “wrinkle”, or should I say “huge fold” in the discrimination game. Aging is not for sissies!!!!!!!!!!———–but I guess it’s better than the alternative.

Ernie Tamayo - Tammy,

While I agree that there are those who work in HR who probably shouldn’t be, I think you’re directing your post at the wrong crowd.

HR is an integral part of any business and as such, it shares the responsibility of keeping its organization profitable through the strategic management of its human resources. Even then, HR is still not responsible for the current “cost of labor,” that cost is determined by the actual labor market itself.

The labor market functions as any other market, supply and demand play a huge role in determining the cost of labor. The more workers there are (as is the case now after the most recent recession) the cheaper labor becomes and vice versa.

So in essence, maybe HR aren’t the ones to blame…like you said…we’re just the gatekeepers.

Ernie

Tammy - Cheryl, too short for a job? Hmm, if you were stacking inventory on high shelves maybe. That’s a new one. Yup, ageism (how disturbing that we even have a name for it) is here to stay. I imagine it will get worse before it gets better. But you’re right, it IS better than the alternative. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if they not only allowed us to work until we were ready to retire AND valued our hard earned experience. In a perfect world! So great to hear from you. Thanks for that!

Tammy - Ernie, first off, thank you for posting your valued opinion in an atmosphere that is less than agreeable with your point of view. I respect that, and am very happy to have you here. I understand your point of view and understand that there are HR personnel out there who do their job and do it well. Unfortunately, from where I stand, they are few and far between. I agree completely with your assessment of the economy driven supply and demand. You are right on there. It does not, however, excuse those gatekeepers who operate with pity little integrity, sloppy business ethics and little regard for the follow up and follow through. When you are on this side of the fence, you see it all too often. I am pleased for anyone who is fortunate enough to have you as their HR liaison. I hope they know how lucky they are. Many, many others are forced to deal with HR people who do not return calls, keep phone interview appointments, are not forthcoming about job opportunities or descriptions, and rely heavily on the perfected run-around. It’s tough out there, and if you are in a field of professionals, it helps greatly if you behave like one. Kudos to you for being one of the good guys. Thanks again for contributing your two cents. It was worth far more!

Julie DeNeen - This was awesome!!!

Tammy - Thanks, Julie. YOU’RE awesome!

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