August 28, 2016

Ageism in the Work Place: A Problem ?

The interest in having a happy retirement is pretty much universal. While the bulk of my readership comes from America, Australia supplies a healthy percentage of Satisfying Retirement readers. Maybe that is why I was contacted not long ago by a fellow from that country who wanted to share some interesting survey results with me.

David Schneider pointed me to the results of an ageism research project that shows real and pervasive discrimination against Baby Boomers trying to reenter the work place. While I have no comparable study for the U.S. or other countries, I assume there is a similar problem in any developed country.

A few of the results of the study include these sobering findings:

* More than one in three people over-50 (35%) have no choice but to apply for new work or embark upon a career change later in life – half of them because they need the money. So, factoring in what we know about Western culture and its tendency to marginalise those who are no longer in the rosy-cheeked flush of youth, this statistic is all the more of a concern. Why? Because, even at a glance, the results of our survey over whether ageism is a factor in attempting to re-enter the workplace are quite disheartening.

* Perceived or otherwise, nearly half of all Baby Boomers surveyed (47%) feel age discrimination is behind why they may have been rejected for employment. Not only that, but over a third (36%) talked themselves out of even applying for certain roles because they believed they wouldn’t even be in the running. 

* 60% of those surveyed admitted re-employment required overcoming certain obstacles – and in fact, over a quarter (27%) described those barriers as “significant”. 

* Even once Baby Boomers do score that elusive gig, the ageism doesn’t necessarily end there. Nearly a third (30%) report experiencing discrimination over their age while at work. The reasons most cited for this age discrimination is that Baby Boomers are seen as either overqualified (45%), they somehow lack the right “company fit” (30%) or that they aren’t tech-savvy enough (24%). 


The full summary report is located here:Ageism in the Workplace


And, here is an excellent graphic representation of the problem older folks face when trying to re-enter the work force:





Why give you this information? Because there a lot of us who are considering going back to work. Others don't leave in the first place because of the fear of being unable to reenter the job market for the reasons cited in this report.

If you are about to start your satisfying retirement journey, go into things with your eyes wide open. If you believe you can always go back to work if your financial situation weakens, realize that may more difficult than you anticipate.

I am a major advocate of retirement. But, I do caution everyone to be comfortable with where you are financially. If part of your planning includes a simple step back into the full time employment world, that may be wishful thinking.



My thanks to David, and the company Webprofits for this report. Satisfying Retirement has received no compensation from any of the sources of this post.


31 comments:

  1. Bob, I couldn't agree more with both the research and your comments about the difficulty of re-entering the work force. I don't have any research to back this up, but I do have personal experience with ageism in the work place. After staying home with a teenager for a few years, I found it extremely difficult to re-gain a foothold at nearly fifty and never did recover my career. On one job I had a younger worker tell me since I had a husband with a good job, why didn't I just stay home and give a younger employee (like her) a chance to get a promotion and make more money. This was both sexism and ageism rolled into one. I have many more examples including an interview that was canceled with me in the lobby when the interviewer saw my maturity -- I was told by this thirty-something supervisor he had just found the ideal candidate and was canceling all further interviews -- then I saw their ad run again! I believe our society has a disconnect between the expectation of aging and the reality of today. Aging is not what it used to be. It is up to us as baby boomers to push back in an effort to create a fresh view of what it is to grow older.

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    1. The experience and work ethic we can bring to a job is something these age-centric people are completely missing. Example? I'd rather have a 60 year old surgeon cutting me than a 29 year old right out of residency. Why? Experience.

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  2. I lost my job at age 53. It was more of a seniority issue rather than an age issue per se. The company fired me, and hired someone much younger to do the job at half the cost. Is that ageism?
    But when I went out to try to find a new job? Hah. They wouldn't even look at me. Too much gray hair. The prejudices are the same whether you're in Australia or America.

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    1. In a business culture that worships short term profitability over long term growth, the decision to go with the cheaper worker makes perfect sense, for the next quarter or two. I guess it is the same reason national advertisers only care about the ratings among 18-34's. They don't realize that those with gray in their hair control the bulk of the discretionary money in this country and have the freedom to spend it.

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  3. Bob, I believe age discrimination in the workplace is real and happening a lot. At 61 I think I'd have a very difficult time landing a new full time job in the open market. With that said though, my experience (over the last nine years) with a director who age wise, could be my daughter, has been the best boss I've had in my entire work career! She's awesome! I do not think she personally would have any issues hiring an 'older' person for a job. She would hire on ability. But that is just one person, one organization. So I guess luck would have to play a part in finding others like her.

    I'm about a year out from beginning my satisfying retirement and in the initial phase of it, work will be part of it, by choice and desire. I know some would argue retirement including work might not actually be retirement. This work will not be for a company, I will not have to please/convince anyone to hire me, I will create my own business, a hobby business. I will work for myself, at my pace, as much as I want to or as little as I want to. I did have a hobby business from 2003 to 2009 and if nothing else, it helped prepare me for this next phase. I am sooooooooooo excited for 'retiring' to get here so I can begin doing the things I want to do! Looking forward to unleashing the creativity that 'work' keeps me from. Retiring will provide me the time to do these things as working a 40 hour work week plus a daily three hour commute, well it just robs so much from me.

    I really do feel I am on the threshold of the most exciting and enjoyable time of my life!

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    1. You will get no argument from me, Scott. Retirement can be the best of all worlds. Your work situation reminds me of the recent movie where Robert Di Niro is the 70 year old Intern for Anne Hathaway. Most people in the office don't accept him, but she does.

      The central point of this post is a real world reminder to folks who think they can jump back into the job market without a problem if need be. Unfortunately, that is not true.

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  4. Bob, I think you hit the nail on the head in one of your previous responses "a business culture that worships short term profitability over long term growth". I also saw recently an article in the financial press discussing working past normal retirement age into your late 60's or 70s to add to your retirement fund. The conclusion was "Working longer is a solution to not saving enough for retirement, but don’t expect your employer to buy in." Personally I think that unless you are self-employed to plan that you will work into your late 60s or 70s is just wishful thinking.
    - David

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    1. IN most cases, I agree. Only someone with extraordinary skills or unique company knowledge is likely to still be wanted that late in life.

      Why are so many new businesses started by older folks? You won't fire yourself!

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  5. As a person who worked in the tech industry all my life, I can assure you that ageism is rampant in that part of the business world. I actually went against it, though, when I was a manager in that I hired people quite a bit older than me for some sales roles. The result? They were some of the best performers in the company.

    When I was downsized at 60 it was after refusing management roles, refusing assignments overseas, and just generally having an attitude of not given a shyte. That, combined with the fact that I made a reasonably high salary, likely put me in the crosshairs of a company that looked unkindly on people not accepting what they considered to me career-enhancing moves. Ageism? Might have had something to do with it, but probably more my own desire to leave coming out daily.

    That story does not detract from the fact that the tech industry is not only the poster child for ageism, but also for firing Americans in favor of lower-cost H1B visa foreigners. Perhaps a story for another blog column?

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    1. Perhaps!

      Thanks, Chuck. Smart managers hire experience or those with the ability to produce. A no-brainer is someone with both traits. Hiring or firing someone based on age, image, or salary level is amazingly short-sighted.

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  6. I worked in a field where age and longevity often is not a hiring problem - adjunct higher education ESL faculty. It might be an issue for a full-time tenure position, but for adjunct, usually not. So, I was surprised when, after being hired at a college first as a substitute and being told I would be offered the first regular part-time opening, and after receiving excellent reviews from students and the staff members I substituted for, two younger instructors with less experience were hired for two positions that opened. I was instead offered a tutoring position that paid less than minimum wage, and continuing work as a substitute. It was ageism, or at least felt that way, and the only thing I could figure was the school used some technology and equipment that the younger instructors maybe were more proficient using than I was (although I learned it and could use it). I felt especially bitter when one of the new, younger instructors asked me to substitute for her, and left me detailed (and condescending) instructions on how to teach! I continued to substitute, and in the end though it all turned out OK - I became disenchanted with the department's methodology and reliance on teaching strictly from the texts (native speakers rarely talk like people do in textbooks) - the job would not have been a good fit for me.

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    1. Thanks for sharing a true life example of the struggles we may face. I hear the technology excuse a lot. If an older worker is trying to work for a startup high tech firm, there is probably some validity in that line of thinking. But, otherwise, I believe it to be an over generalization or simple cop out.

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  7. The only way I have seen an older worker get a position is through volunteering. Even then, the positions they were given were way below their abilities.
    One friend, a special education teacher of 35 years, is now the check out clerk at the local library. She feels lucky to have a job. Her supervisor (who was hired after her) does not have a degree and makes several dollars more then her minimum wage. After a terrible divorce, she really needs the job for at least three more years. She had already retired from the school system. They had offered to bring her back on- as an aide.
    She is one of the many women I know who will struggle to have a satisfying retirement. Sad. Very Sad.

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    1. Yes, very sad. Respect for elders and learning from our experiences are missing ingredients in today's culture. Being a special ed teacher for 35 years means your friend has all sorts of skills that are being overlooked. Sad. Very sad indeed.

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  8. First, I think ageism is not just about chronological age but carries other stigma. Younger people are usually more tech savvy and can potentially get more accomplished using tech tools. They also can provide support for their older bosses who lack those skills.

    Another problem with getting re-employed at an older age is that employers may perceive you as being "set in your ways". They may feel a younger person with less experience is more trainable and won't give any pushback.

    Interestingly, I have experienced some ageism in trying to get meaningful volunteer work. Seems like some organizations want volunteers to do menial jobs. Higher level volunteers who want to bring strategic thinking or programs to an organization may appear to be "higher maintenance" for staff, requiring more supervision rather than less.

    I've personally found all of the above to be true, especially in the smaller market in which I retired (someone likened it to going from a fish pond to a fish bowl)! I am trying to keep my chin and interest up in spite of several disappointments.

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    1. Each of your examples is excellent. I agree there are situations where a younger worker is better suited for a particular job. But, what we must fight is the assumption that gray hair (or no hair) means not worth the effort.

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  9. Allow me to share a slightly different view, and perhaps even a solution - consulting, which I have done for almost 30 years.

    The idea started as a young engineer in my late 20s. Floyd, a 45 year old co-worker, was going to law school at night. One day over coffee I asked if he was going to hang out his shingle upon graduation.

    "No" he replied. "This is my insurance policy. I enjoy engineering." As an aside, he had been injured in a car accident, and was semi-invalid. "But look at me," he continued, "who will hire an over 40 cripple?"

    I mumbled an apology, but he said, "Don't be embarrassed. Besides, at my age, old employees may not be in demand, but old lawyers are. Everyone will just assume I've been practicing law for the past 25 years."

    Not long after that, I started moonlighting as a part time consulting engineer, and at age 41 went full time. Soon after solving a vexing problem for a balding client, he thanked me and then added with a twinkle in his eye, "You don't know how happy I was to see another bald engineer show up. You see, I knew I needed some old rooster who had been around the barn a few times." That is when I fully appreciated Floyd's advice years before.

    So consider that as an option. I have several engineering colleagues who consult - most were well over 40 when they started - some were even retired.

    Finally, at 70 I'm now winding down, but still work about once a month. I tell people I'm now retired three weeks out of four. Quite satisfying!

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    1. Consulting is an excellent consideration for those with skills and training in a field that lends itself to this practice. It is also one of few "jobs" where age is a plus. A 30 year old consultant cannot present the depth of knowledge that an older person can. And, you are your own boss and determine how much you want to work.

      I was a consultant for almost 25 years. From personal experience I can tell you that the older I got the more people listened to me!

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  10. Ageism is rampant in the US workplace for Boomers. And it's really sad, as we're missing out on a lot of talent & experience that could be used for the betterment of our country. You are right, Bob, about being cautious about leaving a job precipitously; once you're out, you may not able to get back in! There are so many prejudices about older workers that simply aren't true. This is one of the reasons consulting, as Mr. Gerke above describes, and tutoring and starting your own business or service are increasingly popular options among Boomers. Those are good options, but we also need to push back on this! Employed olders pay taxes and spend, invest, and give away money, helping to build the economy for all of us just as much as younger workers' spending/investing does.

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    1. That is really the key issue: we are shortchanging our economy and ourselves by assuming that older workers have nothing to offer. I suggest it is just the opposite.

      Thanks, Kathleen.

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  11. If Justice Scalia were still alive, his vote on the Supreme Court would have required my employer to downsize and I was planning to retire after 20 years on July 1 of this year. However, when the vote was taken after his death, it allowed me to continue working and I am planning to work until 70 1/2 in 2020. We have an 82 year old who works tirelessly with a 23 year old who try each others nerves, but get the job done. From running retirement seminars 30 years ago, if I remember correctly, life expectancy at birth in 1930 was 62 for women and 58 for men, so people worked until they passed on. Since people didn't live very long if they made it to 65, positions opened up for younger people. Now, if we make it to 65, women can hopefully count on 84 and men 82. So, until employers can't find enough employees especially in retail and service jobs, we may have to settle for part-time or temp work.

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    1. I understand the unease from the younger workers: the job pipeline is clogged up with older folks. But, it is a poor solution to force those out who can still contribute just because society can't create enough new jobs.

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    2. When I arrived at my office this morning and went to get on the elevator, I was almost run over by 3 new girls all looking at their phones as they departed...I would think the fact that folks in their 60s are able spend time actually looking where they are going would be a desirable trait for an employer...it certainly would be for me.

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  12. My Mom let her hair go silvery gray in her 50's and then needed to find a part time job.No one called back.Her hair stylist talked her into getting her hair colored again and she was able to get a part time job in retail within a week!

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    1. I can't say I am surprised, but that is sad.

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  13. I own my business and work out of my home. I work as a designer/sales rep in the trade show industry. At 69, I would not fit into the "corporate environment" as a fulltime employee. But, as a vendor, it works very well. I meet with my clients for meetings, do a lot of the work over the phone or computer, and provide great customer service. I have an extensive client list that I have been able to maintain and add to for the last 20 years. I have no intention of retiring. Most people have skills they do not put a value on. Baby boomers, especially, should look at starting their own company or work freelance using their skills and experience.

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  14. When I was 56 years old the company I worked for went out of business. I thought I would have a difficult time finding a new job. The day after the announcement I sent out an email to my clients and friends. That same day I received a reply from a company looking to hire and went to work for that company. I worked there for 10 years until I retired. I could see some of my clients loose their jobs, probably age related, but I guess I was one of the lucky ones. Not sure what would happen if I tried to enter the workforce again.

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    1. Yes, you may be the exception to the story.

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  15. My retirement planning assumes that at the age 55, I may have difficulty finding replacement work at the same level of pay/hours that I have now because of this... but I also see it from the employers point of view as part of the hiring decision with several of my clients.

    For most jobs, 10 years of experience has the same relative value to an employer as 20 years. My husband has been a delivery driver with the same company for over a decade and is excellent at his job... but the learning curve is over and he holds the same value to the company now as he will hold in another 5 years. We do not expect him to see a raise, other than COL, again. Many employees do not accept that each job maxes out at a certain rate and continue to expect raises/bonuses based on an imagined value increase. This leads to them being overpaid for their position and the underpaid trainee, who works at 50% less, suddenly looks very good.

    Seniors then are used to being in a position of seniority (small joke), with preferential treatment and higher rates/benefits. A hiring company has to think twice before hiring someone who, though needs a job, is less likely to get job satisfaction and may even stir the pot among other employees.

    This is before considering issues such as how well the senior employee will get along with others who are younger, how they will manage high tech environments, how likely there are to be additional demands on their time, higher incidence of health issues, higher insurance costs, etc.

    Bottom line, it's simply easier and cheaper for most jobs to hire someone in with significantly less experience. I don't know how easy it is to classify that as ageism... some of it is just practicality.



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