By guest contributor, Rosemary Bointon
Rosemary Bointon helps older people work out what to do now to live longer, in better health, and enjoy more fun and adventures. Rosemary is a certified content writer. You can find her on her blog, https:// www.longlifefunlife.com , or you can contact her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram , or LinkedIn.
There is currently so much negative news about age discrimination for us older workers. We’re losing our jobs because of the pandemic. They say we are taking away young people’s jobs and keeping all the wealth for ourselves. Apparently, we are hired even though we suck at technology and can’t adapt. We’re labelled at greater risk of dying, and told we have to stay indoors because we’re vulnerable and frail. Yet, when we do stay home, we’re designated unsuitable for remote working.
With all these stereotypes about older workers flying around the internet, a lock-down, and a looming recession, it makes us feel like we’re going to lose the jobs we have ,or we are never going to get new ones.
Here’s a look at some typical stereotypes that older workers encounter, along with a few blessedly simple solutions that you can implement to improve your own chances and fight the good fight against ageism, starting today.
Work from the inside out; change your script
Stereotype 1: Older people are all… (insert as applicable, e.g., hidebound, unproductive, out of touch, sick, etc.)
We are all individuals, yet we tend to categorize people as if they are sheep or sausages. We slap a label on them and that becomes the ‘truth’ about that group. To avoid the stereotype label, ‘older worker’, with all its negative connotations, demonstrate that you are not one of the herd.
Solution: Instead of focusing purely on how you are presenting yourself to the employer, take a walk in their shoes and see the situation through their eyes. Something needs fixing and they need a solution.
When you change your focus to an employer’s problem, you change your own script. You can do this whether you are already in a job or you can do it during an interview. Either way, you will have quite a different conversation and an opportunity to show exactly how you stand out. Why not try practising changing focus in whatever you’re doing right now?
Stereotype 2: Older people can’t learn new things.
It is a standing joke that older people get their grandchildren to sort out their technology. Career coach, Lucia Knight, (who specialises in advising older workers and author of X Change), says she sees older workers worrying about having to learn to use new skills without assessing their need to acquire them.
Solution: Develop your superpowers. Lucia Knight says older workers need to figure out the skills they already possess. These are the skills at which you excel, and which excite you, the ones that differentiate you from others, whether they figure in your job description or not. They are your superpowers and fuel the passion that employers are seeking. Lucia believes that you will get paid LOTS more to use the superpowers that you’ve been using for much of your working life but now pointing them at different problems.
Solution: Life-long learning keeps you earning life-long. Even if you have exceptional superpowers, you still need to cover the basics. Make sure you are up to date with technology; all those new on-line ways of having meetings and managing projects. Do not fall prey to the stereotype of not knowing how to deal with technology.
Even if life-long learning does not figure as one of your superpowers, you still need to keep on top of developments in your industry so that you can have great conversations about relevant issues with colleagues and clients. There is nothing like a bit of thought leadership to help get you noticed, and the side benefit is that you will build your cognitive reserves to draw on when you’re really old.
The External Focus. What the world thinks about you as an older worker
Everybody knows that it is much harder to get a job when you’re over fifty. It’s not just a hunch: study after study has found similar results. Take a look at this pre-COVID Hiscox study. Discrimination now is likely to be even worse. Yes, there are laws against discrimination but, arguably, some laws have driven such bias underground and created euphemisms. Let’s dive into the stereotypes on which discrimination is built and look for solutions.
Stereotype 3: Older workers aren’t suitable so all applications from over 50s are tossed out.
Alas, job applications these days are often scanned by computers which behave like sausage machines. If you don’t have exactly the right ticks in the right boxes, you don’t get through the initial filters.
Far be it from us to suggest that the criteria are biased, but it is quite remarkable how scientific studies and surveys show that older people do not get the same proportion of responses from job applications even if they have the right qualifications.
Solution: Start networking today. Talk to colleagues and friends. Build up a network which keeps its ear to the ground about developments and opportunities. Reach out, not only to close friends, but to those who are colleagues and acquaintances. Listen to what is happening to them. Offer help where you can. Start building relationships and learn from other people’s experiences. Your network is where your next opportunity is likely to come from.
Stereotype 4: Older workers are afraid of social media.
Like a lot of stereotypes, there is a grain of truth in this one. Everybody these days has reason to be a little afraid of social media. There are clever scams, some about pensions, identity theft, dodgy investments, and more. Social media, however, provides a means of finding new opportunities and meeting new people who might happen to lead you to the dream job you want.
Solution: Brush up on cybersecurity and do the best you can to protect yourself on-line. Then, write yourself a great bio on LinkedIn. Ask your network for help to get it right. Seek out recommendations from trusted colleagues. Comment on other people’s posts to get noticed. Join relevant groups to find out how others are coping with life during COVID.
One of the best ways to network outside the people you already know is to make new connections and follow up with them. Take every opportunity to be a good friend to others and you will earn your positive karma for when you need it.
Stereotype 5: Older people are overqualified for the job.
Have you ever been turned down because you are too experienced for a position? Or maybe you are overqualified. Could it be that employers think you’ll leave when you find a better position? Along with the term, inflexible, these are common euphemisms for ageism. How can you get around such labels?
Solution: This is a tricky stereotype to deal with because, as HR manager Rebecca says, if you’ve been rejected, it’s too late. Go into an interview prepared. Explain your point of view. For example, the job is closer to home and you’re fed up with commuting. Or, yes, you might be overqualified, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be off to a new job in a few months. You want the chance to mentor younger staff, at which you excel.
Expound upon the benefits of diversity, including those of experienced, well qualified older workers. Ask about how the company is putting its diversity policy into effect. Here’s an interesting study on how a company’s policy towards older people affects the behaviour of older people in their work.
Stereotype 6: Older people get sick.
COVID has labelled all us older folk as fragile and vulnerable. So now there is another big excuse for not hiring people who are just a tad older; they’re going to be really sick, really soon!
Solution: Statistically, older people take no more sick leave than younger folk. Although some older people with chronic conditions may take more protracted time off, on the whole, they don’t call in sick simply because they want a day off.
Stereotype 7: Older workers don’t stay; they just want to retire.
You read it again and again; it’s not worth employing older people because they’re not going to stick around long term.
Solution: Statistically, older workers tend to stay in their jobs longer than younger ones. Tell your employer that you want to ‘die young at an old age’. What keeps people living longer is having purpose and contributing. And this is the way that you want to contribute; helping your company to achieve success. Chris Farrell, who wrote ‘Unretirement’ says. “it’s healthier to work under a bad boss than to sit and watch TV all day”.
These days, life circumstances often dictate that older people need to work longer because of diminished financial resources. For example, you may need to catch up on losses incurred during the last recession, or when you lost your job, or had a sick partner who wasn’t covered by health insurance. Explain your own circumstances, splashed with a big dollop of enthusiasm for working.
Stereotype 8: It’s not me, it’s them.
One last little stereotype. We bemoan our fate as older workers, but we don’t often reflect on whether it’s us that’s allowing the situation to continue.
Solution: Take a look at the way you think and speak. Do you catch yourself thinking, young people aren’t conscientious these days? Or young people don’t know how to work? Thoughts like that are form of ageism too! Correct stereotypical remarks made about colleagues in a matter-of-fact manner. If you behave like a stereotype, you will be treated like one.
Staring down older worker stereotypes
COVID has made it harder for everyone to get a job. It has made it even harder for older workers. However, by utilising your networking contacts, you will feel confident that some opportunities are going to come your way.
You will know that you are coming across more confidently because you know how to kick the stereotypes into their places. Knowing the facts and illustrating the issues with your own examples can demonstrate your abilities for analysis, persuasion, and negotiation. Your talent will shine through.
You may not get the job; however, holding up your head and looking those stereotypes in the eye will make you more confident and likely more successful. You will feel proud that you’ve stood your ground, fought the good fight against ageism, and helped older workers coming along after you.