Every large corporation has some type of annual “Diversity Training” course where we learn not to harass colleagues, send out crude jokes over e-mail, and discriminate against those unlike ourselves. Everything generally makes sense except for one rule that I once read: “One shall not discriminate against someone over 40.” I thought about this for a second, and I began to wonder if they had made a typo.
At age 40, one will have worked for 18 years out of college or 15 years out of graduate school on average. If the accepted age of retirement is 65, or 25 years away from 40, then the rule is implying that age discrimination starts before you are even half way through your average 40 year long career!
The other interesting fact is that most people are living longer nowadays. Forties are the new thirties as they say. People are looking younger and younger at various age milestones. Hence the question, why 40? Let’s explore the various reasons.
NEGATIVE PERCEPTIONS ABOUT OLDER WORKERS
Older workers are…….
1) Slower and less adaptable to change. In the age of the internet, if you don’t know how to write html code, or work your way around a Powerpoint or Excel spreadsheet, you might as well be a dinosaur.
2) Less loyal to the job due to family. Families result in more vacation time and sick days, and less desire to work weekends and put in the extra effort.
3) Less malleable for a mentor to mold. Instilling work culture is more difficult, and therefore older workers will have a harder time fitting in.
4) More expensive and therefore squeezes margins more intensely during downturns. Due to the lack of flexibility in pay, there is less maneuverability.
5) Uncomfortable working for someone younger than them. Younger managers feel their discomfort and therefore naturally tend to shy away.
POSITIVE PERCEPTIONS ABOUT OLDER WORKERS
Older workers are….
1) More knowledgeable and experienced where no amount of smarts can match.
2) More patient and mature. They bring different insights to solve difficult problems.
3) More dedicated to their jobs because they are not just providing for themselves, but for their own family and perhaps even their parents.
4) Have more savings and therefore are more flexible to take pay cuts during downturns.
5) Work well with younger co-workers because there is a natural tendency for older people to help mentor younger workers even if they are more senior.
AGE IS JUST AN EXCUSE
If you let yourself feel discriminated against due to age, it’s your fault for letting it get to you. We start blaming exogenous variables that should have very little to do with whether we succeed or fail. Yes, if you are working at a company where the average age is 30 and you’re 50, maybe you will feel the young guns are out to get you. Or rather, since you’re the minority, you’ll feel special due to your valuable insights. It’s really what you make of the situation.
You can argue either way whether older workers are better or worse employees. It doesn’t really matter because you’ll never convince the world conclusively that you are right. One can always find the positives and negatives in any type of person because our perceptions are all different. We just need to focus on what we can control, which is our attitude, presentation, and work skills.
Perhaps the reason why so many of us, including Lyndon and I would like to have the option of retiring by our early 40s is because we unconsciously don’t want to face age discrimination. We’re given subtle, hard-to-notice messages telling us that we have at most 20 years in our careers to be someone before others start taking our place.
We all have latent biases that cannot be clearly proven. Rather than dwell on exogenous variables which cannot be helped, let’s work on making ourselves invaluable so that even when we’re 80, we’ll be able to make a difference if we want to.
Readers, are you convinced age discrimination in the workplace starts at 40?
At what age do you think age discrimination starts?
What about reverse age discrimination against younger employees?
What pros and cons am I missing about older workers?
Sam @ Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”