The moment you hit 40, you are a victim.
The instant you cross the 40 threshold, the discrimination begins.
It’s rampant, it affects almost everyone, and there’s no possible way to prove it.
The signs are subtle.
The interviewer makes little remarks like, ‘Wow, you were at (previous job) a long time…”
Maybe you have sped up the process, by resisting changes in your department, or trying to get out of learning new software.
Maybe you have been heard saying, “That’s not how we do things here…”
Maybe younger employees that don’t have your wonderful skills are getting promoted in front of you. That’s not subtle- it’s a sign your shelf life may be reaching expiration.
Ageism is real, it’s ubiquitous, and you need to be aware of it.
It stinks because you, the “older” worker, is really good at showing up. You don’t call in sick with a hangover. You have experience, which means you can identify problems quickly; you’ve seen this before, after all.
You know where the company has been, so you can be a great asset in determining where they are going.
I’m guessing that a lot of young managers simply feel more comfortable with employees who they can directly relate to. If you’re a decade older, they might see you as someone they can’t talk to.
You can combat this. You can flourish in an environment of younger co-workers, if you play your cards right.
Some bullet points:
1) Lead the charge. Be the first one to share articles of interest among your colleagues. Raise your hand first when challenges are presented to your team.
2) Know the software better than everyone else. When you are the one who gets asked to show a newbie how the workflow works, you are proving your value.
3) Watch how you dress. You want to be age-appropriate, but “current”. You want to fit in, and not stand out with a dated look and/or hairstyle.
4) Act your age… The lexicon of the very young is their own. Resist the urge to use trendy phrases. It might seem you are trying too hard, and it’s not authentic.
5) …But watch your cultural references. Remember, a 25- year old was in kindergarten when Seinfeld was on the air. Chime in on the conversation only when the ‘kids’ talk about a show or a band you are familiar with.
6) Say “yes” – a lot. You don’t want to be known as Dr. No in your office. Embrace change. Stay in front of it. You will draw less attention when you are not providing friction.
7) Be curious. Engage your colleagues. Ask them to teach you stuff. Chances are they will be happy to do that.
Sports teams understand the value of having a skilled veteran on the squad. They can mentor the young stars, show them the ropes and help them avoid traps and pitfalls you might have experienced.
You know you still have game. Make sure everyone else sees that.
Of course, when you are the owner/founder, you have shielded yourself a bit from obsolescence.
Make sure you have some cagey veterans on your employee rolls – they will provide a perfect mix with the young and ambitious!
John Scott is the National Online Learning Coordinator and a media history professor at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels clients and groups on the art of reinvention.
His debut book “Broken Glass and Barbed Wire” will be released soon.
Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.