A Morning Walk on Casco Bay
I Don't Mind That I'm Old

The Obligations of Elders in the Workplace

category_bug_ageism.gif The Blame the Victim post ten days or so ago provoked some lively commentary that shouldn't be left to drift off into the ether without acknowledgement.

But mostly, I'm picking on Alan G who, as he frequently does, left a provocative comment that I find impossible to let be without a response. He's a big boy, he can take it and he always has the power of the comment button for rebuttal.

Alan writes:

“Not all elders who are looking for substantial employment should be out looking for substantial employment…”

“…we do have to be as honest with our individual abilities as we are critical of those who would simply deny us out abilities simply based on age.”

“I have had several experiences working with folks older than I am right now, all of whom were more than qualified intellectually and experience wise…[but] could not produce efficiently. They were slow…”

This is true of some elders. It is also true of some youngsters right out of school. And of some experienced, middle-aged workers.

The problem with age discrimination in the workplace is that although these failings (and many others) apply to some workers of all ages, only elders are universally tagged as incompetent for them, and always the tagging is related to their age. It could just as well be related to their laziness or stupidity which, unfortunately, does not usually improve with age - but it is always made to be about age.

In any group described by a single attribute - skin color, size, education, religion, age, etc. - some are good at what they do and some are hopeless. The sin – and in some cases, the actual crime – is attributing the failings of some to everyone within the group. And while Alan’s exhortation to be honest about our abilities is a worthy goal, it applies to elders no more than any other group.

On a factual note, Alan writes that “…many employers are looking for someone who they think will be with them for years.”

Um, not for the past two decades or more. Today, if a recruiter or hiring manager sees a job on a resume that lasted ten years, they’ll want to know what’s wrong. In general, today, anyone who doesn’t change jobs every three or four years is seen as a loser who lacks ambition, initiative and enthusiasm. And for the few employers who might be looking for long-term commitment, there are no guarantees. 20-somethings quit every day. 45-year-olds die every day. And 60-year-olds sometimes live to be 90, competent to the end. No one can predict the future.

The last item I want to tackle is Alan’s statement that “as with any issue regarding racism or prejudice, let us not forget that no one owes us anything.”

I'm not so sure. Everyone is owed respect until they prove they are undeserving of it and, on the topic at hand, everyone is owed the right to make a living. In the United States, no one may be refused employment based on race, religion, ethnic background, gender or – ahem, age. It is the law, and even though the law is flouted every day by thousands of employers, we are all owed that right. Whoever may deny it is to be denounced.

That too many elders are denied the right to earn a living merely because they are no longer young is a large part of the reason Time Goes By was created and we will not back down from that point.

Workers of any age have no more obligation than to do the job they are paid for to the best of their ability. Women and blacks have battled the requirement to be better than everyone else just to tread water in their careers. Let’s not lay the same burden on elders.


Hear, Hear!
Not only "right" but also heartening!!

Hear, hear.

Anyone who thinks that sort of thing is okay has not considered the law or basic rights. Or the fact that those of us who still ARE young will not be young one day. (Of course, a goodly number of those who think such things are okay probably don't want to think about that fact at all.)

Alan has unfortunately screwed his focus ring down so far he has excluded the world at large in his critique of elders and "working slow". Clearly, he has never followed along behind our slowly strutting, baggy panted youth, our ubiquitous "illegals" as they drive way below limit on our roads, etc. Does he never get out?
I pass them all.

I will say this, even though I could easily mentally handle a warehouse or assembly line job, I can no longer manage with the same speed and ease the physical demands of lifting and pulling boxes from shelves, and squatting for long periods of time.

However, due to experience, I am far more qualified than my younger counterparts to manage an office environment where quick thinking, problem resolution, and good business etiquette is a must.

I could see an employer hiring a younger person over myself in the first instance, but it does not make sense in my second example. Sadly, it happens everyday in offices where a youthful appearance is more desireable than professional productivity.

I say this all the time to people of all ages when they ask me about job interviews: It's not your job to tell yourself what you can't do. It's not your job to tell the employer what you can't do. It's your job to tell yourself and the employer what you can do, and their job to buy it or not buy it. Once you've got the job, it's your job to scramble into it and do the best you can with it.

If, once you've got the job, you struggle or fail at it, well, you gave it a shot.

There are two issues here: self-limiting and being limited by others. Being limited unfairly by others is always bad -- but it's my bet that people accept limits they place on themselves that if their boss did it, everybody would be yelling "Discrimination!" at the top of their lungs.

Let it be someone else's job to say, "No, you can't do that." Don't add to that large population of naysayers by adding yourself. There will be plenty of people to say no without it.

Ronni..I appreciate your efforts to somehow call attention to age discrimination in the workplace. In my opinion, age discrimination in the workplace is akin to age discrimination in all of our society:

Driving a slight bit slower than the hot shots who pass and blow their horns even though we are NOT holding them up and are going the speed limit,

Taking a few seconds longer to complete a transaction at the checkout counter; to the consternation of those waiting,

Using up an extra minute of the doctor's time to explain symptoms; his pencil begins to tap,

Answering the phone in 4 rings instead of two; where were you?

Eating slowly in order to chew food properly; all eyes are on you

Giving a grandchild or any child an extra minute of your undivided attention; they love it

Taking the time to STOP and see
the redbird who is serenading
the day; not to be missed

Lingering at the front door to smell the roses; ahhh

Giving the right of way to another driver thus using up about 30 seconds; well worth it

Wasting time by hugging those you love; priceless

And anyway, what's the big rush?

Remember the tortoise and the hare?

Many times slow and steady wins the race.

Right on, Chancy: Our society makes more waste with haste than we ever do by slowing down and doing things right the first time.

Pick up any newspaper and we'll all see plenty of examples.

(Here in Massachusetts it was revealed that bolts that failed, dropping a multiton concrete slab on a motorist and killing her -- had been held in with duct tape while the epoxy meant to held them set. Because the workers had to hurry on to drill in the next bolt).

Afternoon Ronni,

I had high hopes that after the “corner bordello” issue that controversy would remove itself from my door step but alas – that was not to be. Okay, so much for the day’s humor!

I knew that perhaps some might want to take-to-task the previous comments I made on the specific issue relating to elders and the job market but was not expecting certain things to be construed from those statements. Perhaps the most disconcerting of those being the implication that I was somehow questioning the abilities of elder folk in general, yet giving sanctuary to the younger folk on the same issues. It would seem there is some measure of prejudice to be dealt with on both sides. I went to some length in my first two paragraphs of my original comments clarifying that the comments contained therein were directed at one issue involving a “specific” group – that being elders of which I am one.

What is the complete synopsis of my original comments? Simple….

“Elders need to be objective about their abilities which will reflect on the good of the group as a whole as well as themselves as relates to the job market and they need to be aware of the underlying factor that generally speaking, employers are going to have an unspoken concern with your long-term availability.”

Here is an analogy reflecting exactly what I said about abilities in my previous post. I am a ditch-digger and at age 40 I can dig a ditch 2 feet wide, 2 feet deep, and 3 feet long every hour. For this ability my employer pays me $20 an hour. After a couple of years I find what I consider a better job and quit. At age 62 I retire but now at age 65 find my economic situation dictates that I need to supplement my income. As luck would have it, there is an ad in the local paper for a ditch-digger. However, due to the lack of the same physical abilities that I possessed at age 40, I can now only dig a ditch 2 feet wide, 1 foot deep, and 1 foot long in an hour. Therefore, I do not think I should have any reasonable expectation to any longer be able to secure employment as a ditch-digger. That comes from the fact that I recognize the abilities I possess at age 65 verses those I possessed at age 40. That is my whole point. Yes - there is a law that says the employer must give me equal consideration for that job as a ditch-digger. It does, however, not entitle me to a job I can no longer perform. So I should look for a job more in line with my physical abilities at age 65. And….it just may not pay $20 an hour.

Now, let me quickly add before someone quickly points out that I chose to use some physical labor job which requires no ability to think (bet the ditch-digger would like that comment) verses one which does have extended mental aspects to it such as, but not limited too, a bookkeeper. The same analogy can be applied to them both. Are there 65 year olds that can still dig a ditch like a 40 year old? Yes there are! Are there 20 year olds that can not dig a ditch like a 65 year old? Yes there are! But that is not my point!

With regard to your comments in response to my comments concerning employers and long-term employment….my experience has led me to the total opposite conclusion so here I must simply “agree to disagree.” In the context of full-time employment, neither myself nor anyone I have associated with in the job market has ever interviewed or hired under normal circumstances with expectations of the prospect employee not being long-term. And although somewhat off topic, I have to say much to the contrary with regard to resumes. Jobs of short length and multiple employers has always an issue of concern.

In closing….I am a huge advocate on the issue of age discrimination and have been for several years now. That advocacy being brought on primarily when I had to begin to endure it. And afforded the opportunity, I will continue to engage on this subject as opportunity permits. You and your blog’s readers can be assured that my comments come solely out of my heart-felt concern for my fellow elders and one of the major issues facing elders. Others will certainly hold a different view on this issue but this is my view based on my experiences and my conscience.

Interesting post, Ronni. What I've always found so ironic about employers is one of their biggest beefs is 'absenteeism', yet I've never had a prospective employer or an application refer to that part of my work record. I think if 'attendance records' of applicants were examined and treated as meaningful it would certainly help to compensate for the 'age thing'. So many of us have worked for many, many years, and a lot of us never missed work as long as we could crawl there (even if we had the luxury of paid sick days).

I think Alan’s comments were maybe a little “obvious.” By that I mean I consider his sentiment about being “honest” about ones abilities to be kind of a given for everyone of any age. In my career as an HR professional, I have seen employees of all ages, races, etc., over-inflate there abilities--both physical or mental. So I think by pointing this out to older folks, Alan may have gotten a little backlash.

I understand what Alan is saying, however, I have to agree with Roni that the “risks” any employer faces when hiring anyone are always there, regardless of age, race, etc. I have seen the whole gamut of employee personalities and abilities, I have to say that I have seen more than my fair share of incredibly poor younger workers—and younger workers who have a surprising number of health issues resulting in large amounts of missed work. I have also seen older workers who were in denial about their declining abilities, but then I’ve seen more younger workers in denial about their deficient abilities. All in all, I think I’d have to say that no one class of people is a greater employment risk than another.

And speaking to job longevity. Having sat on the hiring side of the equation, yes, it would be wonderful if employees stayed for a good while, but in reality we understand that that is not the world of today. A good employer will work towards retaining good workers, and there is something to be said for “institutional knowledge” that comes with years at a particular employer, but I have also seen employees become lazy in their work after they’ve been with one employer for a long time. In short, there are pros and cons all the way around--kind of like so many other things in life.

There is an article here that is well worth reading. Although written in 2003, not much has changed as far as I can see.

I am 60 and still working full time. I see various types of discrimination and just plain ignorance often. I am constantly concerned about not seeming "old." I work in a professional office but to truly keep up with a lot of coworkers (and bosses too), I would have to come in late and hung over at least three days a week and leave early two days, spend a lot of time on my personal cell phone, have used up all of my earned leave time (personal, vacation, sick) and be in the hole against future leave days, and swear like a longshoreman (throwing an "F bomb" every few minutes). (I'm just saying this is in my office.)

Hey, I partied and had fun too when I was young! Now at 60, as at 45 and 50 and 55, I am a much more reliable, diligent, and professional employee.

When I had my first child, I went to a teaching hospital and was tended by a resident. I told him that no woman in my family for five generations back had ever gone over four hours of labor and he told me that my mother had meant hard labor and that she had been telling me tales to keep me calm and that I was a primapara and therefore I would have a good 36 hours of labor. Exactly one hour and 57 minutes after the first labor pain, that young doctor had to drop his coffee to catch my baby.

When I had my second, the doctor was 65. I walked into his office, he looked at me, and said, "You have a good pelvic spread, should make for fast deliveries."

The difference was experience. Knowing from doing rather than reading. My second OB/GYN may have moved slower, but he didn't have to drop coffee to catch babies.

I'm a twenty-something who likes this blog but I found Annie's comments about her younger coworkers disturbing.

If you see them that way perhaps it is time for you to move on to a new opportunity.

My colleagues at my firm work very hard and are often here at 8 am and leave after 7 pm "paying their dues" and supporting senior executives.

I agree whole-heartedly with Ronnie's comments but your comment was just as bad as those who lump seniors together as incompetent.

Open your eyes because if you choose to stay in the workforce with that attitude you will become the sort of drain that Alan G threatens.

Before we retired we took a class at the local technical school about retirement planning. What we were told is that the trend in employment is to contract labor. This trend is driving down wages. Employers don't want long term employees they want to contract with employment services to hire workers so they don't have to pay benefits. Periodically in my work career I got temporary jobs through temp agencies. I was always paid less than what permanent employees were being paid and certainly much less than the agency was receiving for my labor.

I don't foresee this trend diminishing and elders are caught up in this trend. I see my friends who retired to start living in their RV's and work camp being paid much less than prevailing wages in the area. They work for their RV site plus electricity and propane and usually get minimum wage. There is a high price paid for freedom to roam.

In response to Stephanie, perhaps I didn't make feelings very clear. I apologize. I did not generalize that all younger workers are the same...I said this is my office. I like my younger coworkers, and they do make valuable contributions in addition to adding a lot of "spark." As do my older colleagues and I in our way. We have different ways of contributing, different phases of life that are each to be enjoyed. I think I mentioned, I've done my share of enjoying the phases.

I am fortunate. My company just sold a "project" and the buying firm today offered me a job with a raise and promotion. My employer wants to keep me and match the offer.

I do try to keep my eyes open.

Thanks for the apology, Annie. That means a lot. And, congrats on the new offer.

Sounds like you really appreciate your coworkers - young and old - and you are really important to your company.

So, if you don't like someone's foul language just tell them. Just because it seems like 'everyone' is doing it doesn't make it right. (Everyone's mom has used the Brooklyn Bridge reference at some point).

I learned a lot when I first started working from the older employees about how to act and I still do every day.

Women of your generation have something very important to share maybe even more so than just quality work.

Best of luck to you.

Very interesting post and comments. To comment further would appear redundant, because I agree with both Ronni and Alan. Any discrimination is a two-edged sword...it shouldn't be a black and white issue. There's too many shades of gray.

Ronni's comments that "everyone is owed the right to make a living" resonated for me. My 48-year-old husband is in the beginning weeks of a job search in a new field (health information management and he was three years out of the workforce while he completed a bachelor's degree full time) and I'm naturally interested to see if age discrimination will factor into his search. I think so; he thinks not. I hope I'm wrong.

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