The news has been filled recently with the cries of equal pay for women – close the gender pay gap and quite right too!
Meanwhile the next big debate in the work place is bubbling under and it will be bigger than the equal pay debate. This is because Ageism affects both genders. And let’s hope we all grow old as the alternative is unthinkable.
Here is how ageism works…..
You work hard all your life. You are constantly learning, having great work triumphs and disasters, learning from the disasters and never making the same mistakes again. You seek new skills and opportunities and then, and you can never pinpoint ’then’, you stop getting offered any additional training, you get a little too comfortable doing the job you know well and you don’t pursue any additional training, as it is more than likely you will get turned down, because the new hires can do the new stuff anyway.
Why should the company pay to invest in your training, when you are already doing a great job and they can buy in talent (pay them less than you). The new talent is great to have around, full of youth and ambition. They remind you of… well you in your youth. You learn from them and you can impart your wisdom on them. It is really a symbiotic relationship.
As time goes on, your life outside work continues and can start to distract. Your children are growing up, you deal with their needs. Off to university, their angst at school exams, their teenage years. It is more than likely if you are lucky enough to still have your parents, they too will need you more. In their dotage, you need to spend more time looking after them and their failing health. This demands your time, and more importantly your emotional energy. You’re still more than capable to do your job, but you are so distracted by your ‘real life’ you fail to notice the subtle changes going on around you at work.
These subtle changes. New hires at your level or above. Any new business that comes in, you ask to work on it, share your idea, but the new and sexy work goes to others. You no longer get appraisals or pay reviews. You don’t mention it as you ‘don’t want to rock the boat’ or draw attention to yourself, but inwardly you feel a little put out and resentful, but you carry on. Occasionally you go through the motions of asking for training, appraisals, pay reviews, knowing full well these won’t happen, but you carry on.
Then the bomb is dropped!
You are over 50 and then you are told: (and these words were actually said to me)
“You are no longer relevant”. It is a kick in the guts…. You negotiate the settlement agreement and you go on your way. Heartbroken, relieved it is all over, angry, optimistic, full of self-doubt, full of vigour – it is the emotional roller-coaster.
So what do you do to avoid ageism and stay ‘relevant’?
Difficult one this, because you really need to have lived through and come out the other end. But having lived through it myself, here are my tips.
Don’t stay in one job too long. Have the guts to move, even if you have to take a pay cut initially. The new workplace will do things differently and you will be learning new things.
Don’t take no for an answer when it comes to requesting additional training. Make a bloody nuisance of yourself, if you get turned down, keep trying and if you get turned down again, self-fund the training.
Go to industry events, even if it is the last place you want to be. Get your face known, make connections. Use the industry cliché and ‘Network’.
Plunder the new talent for their knowledge, make them your friend. Buy them their lunch in return for training on the job.
Demand your appraisal – don’t be frightened of it, embrace any feedback and if you don’t agree with some points fight it vigorously, it shows you care (even if you don’t).
Demand your pay review. They are not going to come looking for you to give you a rise.
If you want to work on the new business, put a case together as to why you are the perfect fit for the role.
Read, read and read again industry websites, magazines, blogs.
Make quality time for your family – they are still the most important people in your life. If you need to take time away from work to look after them, do it. You will regret it if you don’t (trust me on this one).
Protect your mental health. It is an old-fashioned notion that having an issue like depression, stress or anxiety is a weakness and you must hide it (I have done this for most of my working life and it is exhausting). Own it, be honest about it, treat it. If some of your colleagues don’t ‘get it’; I was once asked “What have you go to be depressed about?” it is their problem, not yours. You are protected, you can’t be fired for it. There will be someone in the business who is also suffering, who understands. Be open….
Be nice to yourself. Enjoy your quirks.
Most people you work with are decent people. Make allies with these people but also work professionally with the sociopaths and psychopaths – every company has their fair share of sociopaths and psychopaths. Over time you will learn to spot them.
Trust your instincts. Don’t be shy to say if something is wrong, or you are not happy with something. Equally if you are happy with the way a project is going say so.
Encourage your colleagues. If you see someone struggling offer to help. Use your wisdom.
So what happens next?
You find yourself out of work. You start the laborious task of finding a new job. You plunder your contacts and you will get bits of work here and there. You write your CV and then you realise how much experience you have and how good you are at your job. Your achievements are endless – it is a great CV. You hawk it round the recruitment agencies, you initially get the platitudes, “great CV” “I’ll have no problem placing you”. You are encouraged, you feel you can rule the world. You get your self-worth back. And then…….radio silence.
You chase up the recruiters, the feedback is the usual response. “They really liked your CV, but you have too much experience” (interpret that as ‘too expensive’). If, by any chance, you do get in front of anyone, you can almost hear the gasp when they clamp eyes on a middle-aged person. You go through the interview, answer all the questions, are honest about your strengths and weaknesses, smile, are polite, amusing. You shake hands and you then know in your heart of heart you will never hear from these people again.
Eventually you do get something. It may be temporary, it will pay less, but you take it on. You start to enjoy work again, meet new people, make connections learn new skills. Learn the office politics. Make an impact. You realise how much people are reliant on your skill and knowledge. And then the contract ends…. You have to then go through the whole bloody process again. It is exhausting.
Why employing an older person can be the best thing you can do?
So, get over the greying temples, the paunch, the reading glasses and look at the person. Behind this person is a brain and a beating heart. A brain full of experience, empathy, the ability to learn, patience and compassion. A beating heart ready to take on the next step their life throws at them.
They are loyal, trustworthy and willing to share their knowledge. They have had their families so won’t be going on mat or pat leave any time soon. They can deal with any ‘old-school’ methodologies which clients may request.
Across your business you will get a more balanced demographic which reflects society. They understand their target market. Their contemporaries have their mortgages paid, their kids are gone, they are active on social media and, most important of all, their contemporaries have the biggest spending power – fact.
It is madness not to delve into this goldmine.
The industry media is full of news of Start-ups, the next big thing. It is great stuff, new technologies, exciting developments and these start-ups seem to be run by and for young people. These companies are growing, they make mistakes, learn from them. Carry on bigger and better. They feel they can rule the world… and in some cases they do.
These places do need at least one old head. Someone to ‘put their foot on the ball’. Look ahead, see where the pitfalls can be. And also someone may need a work ‘mum’ or ‘dad’.
You are not alone
Across most industries (ours is the creative industry) there will be many others going through the same process and like you, suffering in silence. Don’t!
We all need to have the guts to face it head-on and actually call it out.
Everyone denies they are being ageist – they baulk at the idea of being accused of ageism, it insults their integrity. It is as bad of accusing someone of racism or sexism and they would react in the same way with an accusation. And they are right. No-one is advertently ageist, but inadvertently they are. I know it is a big accusation, but it is my accusation nevertheless.
At an interview once I actually apologised for being old, expressed gratitude that they actually bothered to see me. On reflection, not my best move (funnily enough I did get a second interview – but sadly not the job).
And on it will go unless we all do something about it…
A & I Moss