Have you suffered at the hand of ageism at all? Today I am examining some of the issues around ageism and baby boomers.
We start by introducing John…..
John Handford has had a working life that looks pretty classic for a reasonably successful middle to senior executive, six figure, income earner. He studied both business and law at university, after graduating from high school. He then steadily rose through the business ranks to become chief executive of a food processing and trading company. John is supporting his third and fourth children through university, as the first and second have already graduated and moved on to their own careers (they were both supported through university by John and his wife Kirsty).
John’s view is that as a baby boomer (born 1959) life has been pretty good. He acknowledges that overall he has benefitted from a reasonably healthy and steady growing economy, through his upbringing as a child, as well as through his adult years to date. Of course there have been some cyclic hiccups. This has included the early 80s, 90s and Noughties recessions, and more specific economic incidents such as the bursting of the Dotcom bubble in early 2002. But even these, taken in the round, have not stopped the overall period of growing prosperity.
All of this may have lulled John into a false sense of security in that he had decided that he had achieved all that he could in his dairy career and decided in his late fifties to look for something else. He didn’t believe that he would have trouble finding something else which was why he was not too worried that he and his wife Kirsty had not quite saved all that they needed at that time to ensure a reasonably comfortable retirement.
Two years later, having written literally hundreds of CVs and application letters, which have attracted minimal response, John is on the verge of giving up the search. In doing so what has become abundantly clear to him is that age discrimination is proving to be one of the most significant challenges facing baby boomers right now.
One prospective employer told John that they had concerns that “as an older person there was some nervousness that you may not respond well to direction from younger, but more senior employees in the company”
Evidence of Ageism
There is growing evidence of ageism in companies, particularly the newer self styled ‘hipster’ culture organisations, which are seeking what they would describe as, employees who are youthful and imbued with energy and a sense of innovation and creativity.
Boomers are feeling the pinch as a result of this, as they attempt to find work in the final years before retirement. Many of them doing so, because they are seeking to supplement or improve their retirement savings and investments to ensure a more comfortable life in the twilight years.
Todd Nelson, is a psychology professor at California State University. He suggests that this bias is so well-established that we are unconscious of it. He has used, as an example of this phenomenon inappropriate birthday cards that, jokingly, poke harsh fun at advancing age as something we are ashamed of. John goes on to suggest that this is…. “with a tone that would never be used with race or religion………Ha-ha-ha, too bad you’re Jewish’ … wouldn’t go over so well,” he has noted.
The recent outbreak of an internet and social media based hate campaign, sometimes mutual, between boomers and other subsequent generation archetypes is concerning in this regard. It appears to tolerate discriminatory practices and language, often seen or portrayed as a bit of harmless fun, which, if transposed to a racial context, would be considered incendiary and attract universal outcry.
This seemingly growing atmosphere of age discrimination is a serious issue now for those who have passed from the ranks of the thirty somethings to their forties. Long-term unemployment, which in the Unites States, is defined having no employment for 27 weeks or more, is significantly more of a problem for members of the workforce who are 55 or older than it is for the generations that are following.
The Green Youth movement is further adding to this narrative with their accusations, that the Baby Boomers have wrecked the planet that they will leave to subsequent generations. While there may be a grain of truth in this sentiment, it is of course a much more complex and complicated picture. Especially when these protestations are carried on devices that use power and natural resources that are damaging to the environment themselves, facts conveniently overlooked by the protesters!
It seems somewhat counterintuitive that when attitudes and behaviours in the context of LGBT, rainbow and minorities in general in the workplace have improved to a degree that would have been thought impossible only a decade ago, prejudice continues in no small measure against the older workforce population.
Take heart though we boomers are not the first generation to suffer this prejudice. Ageism, though perhaps not recognised as such, has been with us since the time of the ancients. Writing in the first century after the death of Christ Roman philosopher Seneca is recorded saying “Senectus morbidus est,” Which when translated into English is every bit as bad as it looks in Latin; ‘Old age is a disease’.
As an aside, it would be somewhat wise for following generations not to get too smug about this fact. An inescapable fact is that the aging process is non negotiable and absolutely assured for all of us, regardless of what generation we are born to. There is nothing I have seen to suggest that subsequent generations are not going to have to contend with the same issues, in a world where we are living longer, and seeking to work longer (governments are even encouraging the latter by raising the age of state sponsored retirements benefit).
Society has become somewhat more enlightened since Seneca’s less than joyful declaration. There is legislation and it continues to be developed and widened, in most developed countries, to deal with prejudice of all manner. However other changes, structural, economic and demographic, have given rise to newer types of ageism, more subtle and prevalent.
How effective is legislation? US Federal anti-age-discrimination seems not have been too effective. Andrew Achenbaum, University of Houston professor emeritus has suggested in his opinion that, “……proving you were passed over because of your age is devilishly difficult, and the EEOC has a large backlog of complaints that it hasn’t had the resources to deal with.” John goes on to state that,
“I wouldn’t mess around with [gender bias], if I were a university, but I’m willing to take my chances on age discrimination, because it seems to matter less”
Perhaps the most obvious underlying contributing factor to the air of tension is that alluded to earlier in this post when discussing the outbreak of internet war. That is the emergence of two very significant, culturally distinct generational groupings. The millennials and baby boomers weigh in evenly with one another, each with population strengths topping 75 million.
These issues exist worldwide; increasingly aging societies with correspondingly lower birthrates are growing rapidly in both Asia and Europe. Larger numbers of older and aging populations supported by fewer and fewer wage earners feeds the narrative of a dependent and non-productive generation for those who wish to be mischievous with the statistics and facts.
Even more concerning is that the evidence would show that, particularly East Asian countries, have a distinctly more pronounced negative view of their aging populations, with a sad side effect that suicide rates in China, S. Korea and Taiwan in particular are rising at alarming rates.
In a snapshot Harris Poll conducted in 2015, 65 percent of baby boomers assessed themselves the very best of ‘trouble shooters and problem-solvers’. A small number, 5%, of millennials agreed. 54% of millennials considered baby boomers to be ‘the biggest roadblocks. It doesn’t help when the likes of key influencers, like Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, are quoted as saying “young people are just smarter.”
Social stereo types are at play in a surprising way in the expectations that each generation has on the other.
In 2013 an experiment demonstrated that youngsters harboured a far more favourable view of more senior adults, considered to be ‘acting their age’, by listening to Frank Sinatra, rather than Black Eyed Peas. Michael North, one of the lead researchers conducting the experiment and assistant professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, has said that “…………younger people are apt to resent it when older employees don’t just get out of the way and retire”.
Abby Truluck, 66, a former mid level executive and non-executive board director, has spoken about internalising this unspoken code of ageism, and for many years, harbouring her well-kept secret of being a closeted ‘old person’. “I just thought that no will be interested in working with me on a nonprofit startup, because they are likely to think that I will be retiring soon”.
Abby never ever lied about her age, but chose instead just to not even mention it. A physically fit lady, who cares fastidiously for her appearance and who practices yoga, pilates and meditation, she easily passes for a decade younger than her actual years. Abbey retired and started her own business, ‘Minds Matter’, Blogging and promoting meditation and mindfulness. She declared herself ready ‘to come out’ as an owner operator, not forced to compete in the ageist gladiators’’s arena. She feels that she has a new lease of life and abundant energies, creativity and novel ideas yet to peddle!
Rage Against the Machine
The Blogger, Ashton Applewhite, who created Blog, Yo, Is This Ageist?, has an opinion that the size of the baby boomer generation should be brought to bear as an advantage when seeking to change the dialogue in the context of aging.
In a very clever approach to the ageism issue, the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP), has innovatively hijacked Silicon Valley’s own language and vernacular to fuel its “Disrupt Aging” campaign. The campaign blasts the common stereotypes by publishing creatively written pieces about boomers who live what are viewed by younger people as less than conventional lives. These have included a story of 55 years young YouTuber and a 64 years young distance swimmer who is breaking endurance records.
Applewhite goes much further in her Blog suggesting that it is far more important to find the source of ageist behaviours and stem their growth at that source. Ashton says that these attitudes “…….come from corporate interests that want to medicalise aging so they can sell you sugar harry one thomas to cure it, or they want to treat it as a problem so they can sell you sugar harry one thomas to fix it,” It is about capitalism!
The Boomer Benefit and Advantage to Business At Large
If they are sensible then eventually the most successful companies are going to find ways to meet the needs of those in the latter part of their working lives. This is likely to include considerations like part-time, job share, working from home and many others too numerous to go into in this post. The emphasis needs to be in facilitating transition and in so doing harvesting IP, Knowledge and Experience which has come about often b y significant investment by companies who might think about shedding older employees.
Michael North (quoted earlier in this post), NYU Stern School Of Business says that. “Companies really should be taking stock of these demographic trends……….there’s tremendous value to be had there, and most companies aren’t doing that.”
John’s Value Proposition As A Boomer
If we return to the beginning of this post and our subject, John Handford, with whom we started this story; John would tell you that he is a far more effective and better prospect now, than he was as a thirty-something. At that time he was focused on the competition to build a career and on looking after his young family. Now the Handfords are ‘empty nesters’ and John has ‘made his bones’ career wise. Two distractions gone. Added to this John has amassed valuable knowledge, expertise, experience, and above all, wisdom and a sense of calmness, along with the ability to coach and mentor those who might have been him just twenty years ago.\
John would argue that he can deliver a good 10-15 years value, possibly even longer, to the workforce, if given the opportunity by enlightened employers. I think he has other choices……….
Wealthy Affiliate An Opportunity to Avoid Ageism
If you want to avoid ageism as an issue, then the solution is available for you and you can take the first steps right here from this post.
When you build your own business online, and you are the Boss, and you do the hiring, ageism is just something to read about.
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