It used to be that older employees were revered and appreciated. Today, age discrimination is rampant. Employees often find it easier and cheaper to hire younger employees, which means people in their 40s, 50s, and early 60s end up getting forced out. If you aren’t aware of this issue, you could become the next victim.
Ageism and Discrimination in the Modern Workplace
Most people know that factors like race, gender, and religion are protected characteristics in the workplace, but so is age. Employers are not allowed to make decisions related to hiring, firing, work assignments, or promotions based on an employee’s age. Yet companies continue to do so, particularly when it comes to older employees in their late 50s and 60s.
Ageism and discrimination can look different in every setting – and it’s often subtle. Rarely will an employer flat out fire an employee because they’re getting old. Instead, discriminatory decisions and tactics fester beneath the surface. They may include:
- Automatically offering learning opportunities to younger employees, while leaving older employees out.
- Insinuating that older employees aren’t allowed to take as much time off because there are no kids at home.
- Being overlooked for challenging assignments because of an assumption that older employees aren’t as capable.
- Disparaging jokes or remarks about age.
- Getting passed over for raises, promotions, and long-term projects or accounts.
These are just a few examples. There are dozens of other situations and factors that run rampant throughout corporate America. The point is that ageism exists and older employees like yourself must constantly fight back to avoid letting discriminatory behaviors compromise your career.
4 Tips to Stay Relevant (and Employed)
You might have healthy relationships with your employees and coworkers, but this isn’t enough to keep your job. If you want to avoid having your job inconveniently “eliminated,” there are some proactive steps you can take to remain relevant:
1. Continue Cultivating Skills
When you’ve been in the same industry for decades, there’s a tendency to coast. You have twice the experience that your younger coworkers have and they’ll never come close to touching your instincts. However, you must avoid the temptation to rest on your laurels. Your age puts you at a distinct disadvantage and the only way to stay relevant is to continually cultivate your skillset.
Don’t view continuing education as something you have to fight through and finish to completion. Look at courses and training – within the company or independent of your employer – as opportunities to get better. And if they have to do with technology, they’ll lead to a noticeable improvement of skills.
2. Manage Appearances
As shallow as it might seem, your appearance could be hurting your future job stability. (We’re not saying this is right, but it’s just the way the business world works.) If you’re showing signs of aging, while younger coworkers are young and fresh, you’re losing ground.
For men, choosing the right balding hairstyle can go a long way towards looking younger and more engaged. For women, keeping the wardrobe contemporary and leveraging pops of color can benefit appearances.
3. Eliminate Signs of Incompetence
Be conscious of all the little signals you’re sending out to your employer and coworkers and eliminate all signs of incompetence. This includes small things like using an AOL email account, not having a LinkedIn profile, making fun of social media, and failing to learn new technologies. (You might not care about any of these things, but your failure to evolve will rub people the wrong way.)
4. Prove Value
At the end of the day, it’s all about proving value. It doesn’t matter if you’re 27 or 77, if the company sees you generating value and positively contributing to the bottom line, you’ll have a place on the payroll. Look for ways to add value and then be intentional about quantifying and communicating the value you produce.
Continue Building Your Career
The fact of the matter is that 50 is the new 40. At a time when many people have traditionally begun to wind down their careers and begin thinking about retirement, we’re seeing more and more professionals hit a second gear. The problem is that employers are still stuck in the mindset that aging employees are on the decline and should be replaced by younger, less expensive workers.
As you continue to build your career well into your 50s and 60s, make sure you have a realistic understanding of the marketplace. You know you’re fully capable and skilled enough to add value to your employer and/or clients, but you have to prove it!