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.
Overcoming 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 Could Be Just An Excuse
If you let yourself feel discriminated against due to age, it may be 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 potential 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.
If You Want To Quit Your Job
If you want to leave a job because you are facing age discrimination, I recommend negotiating a severance instead of quitting. If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training. Since you got laid off, you’re also eligible for up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.
Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye, on how to negotiate a severance. I first published the book in 2012 and have since expanded it to 180 pages from 100 pages in the 3rd edition thanks to tremendous reader feedback and successful case studies.
Be Your Own Boss: If you feel you’re not getting paid what you’re worth and want to boost your income, start your own business online on the side! It used to cost a fortune and a lot of employees to start your business. Now you can start it for next to nothing with a hosting company like Bluehost for under $4/month and they’ll give you a free domain for a year to boot.
Brand yourself online, connect with like-minded people, find new consulting gigs, and potentially make a good amount of income online one day by selling your product or recommending other great products. Not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for starting Financial Samurai in 2009. Here is my step-by-step tutorial guide on how to start.
Updated for 2020 and beyond. I’m 42 now. When I first wrote this post I was 33. I’m thankful I don’t have to face any work place discrimination because both my wife and I retired early and are stay at home parents. Owning your own online lifestyle business is the best thing ever.