Okay, so the title is a somewhat hokey bid to get your attention, but it does point to a situation that everyone really needs to be aware of. As I’ve said before, we all know age discrimination in the workplace is illegal, and we also know it happens–probably more often than you would like to think. Plus, it’s an issue even if you’re still on the sunny side of 40 and think it doesn’t apply to you. Maybe it doesn’t now, but it will eventually and possibly sooner than you expect. If you’re smart, you’re already thinking and planning how you can avoid or at least minimize its impact on your career well-being.
I really like the articles I read by Michelle Rafter on SecondAct.com, and her latest, “Study: Workplace Ageism is Rampant,” is no exception. She interviewed Jacquelyn James from Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work about a study James’ group did that’s going to be published in June in the Journal of Managerial Psychology.
Conclusions from the study include the following: “Workplace bias against older employees is everywhere, even as the population ages and people continue to work later in life. Even if it’s unintentional, age discrimination can make employees of all ages feel less interested and happy in their jobs.” Among other things, this kind of situation includes job seekers’ perceptions about being passed over intentionally or unintentionally for promotions because they’re 55 or older. Remember: If you’re not there yet, you inevitably will be down the road. None of us is getting any younger as time passes!
Unemployment becomes a factor in this battle, too, because “although the jobless rate for younger workers has been higher than for workers 45 and older, older workers who lose a job take longer–an average of 60 weeks [note: that’s about 14 months]–to re-enter the work force.”
Sure, it’s a problem or possible problem for you as a current or future job seeker, but it’s also a potentially big problem for companies as well. As James points out in the interview with Rafter, “Not having engaged employees means a negative for the bottom line. Employers only worry about age discrimination in terms of being sued. But this is a bigger problem.”
There’s a widespread notion that older workers staying in the workforce longer are preventing younger employees from getting job opportunities. However, the interview contradicts that perception. James says that “the data doesn’t back it up. The problem isn’t that older workers are keeping jobs from younger workers. It’s that there aren’t enough jobs to go around.” Also, I believe from what I’ve read elsewhere that job seekers’ skill sets aren’t always a good match for the jobs that are available, which is a different but related issue.
Whether you’re 50-something or older or not, you could find yourself in an extended job search at some point. Although not necessarily related to ageism, this subject came up in the interview, and James’ response was what I and my professional colleagues basically tell our clients all the time: “Knowing that for most people it does come to an end is reassuring, because people get discouraged and quit trying….you can’t quit trying. No matter how many times you get rejected, you have to keep going.”
I know that’s easy for us to say and maybe tough for you to swallow if you’re the one who’s struggling to find a new job, but think about the alternative: no job and no momentum geared toward landing one. That’s not a great option. Persistence alone might not win the prize, but persistence combined with smart career management and well-planned job search techniques usually does, even if not always as quickly as you might like.