An Exotic New Home in Midlife
Recurring Pleasures

Workplace Age Ambivalence

category_bug_ageism.gif As Daniel Gross points out in a commentary in this week’s issue of Newsweek:

“…in the corporate world, 80 is the new 50. The exploits of these Sunshine Boys and advances in medicine make the retirement age of 65 seem like a relic.

Mr. Gross sketches the ongoing accomplishments of several aged corporate chiefs: Sumner Redstone (85), Rupert Murdoch (77), Carl Icahn (72), T. Boone Pickens (80), George Soros (77), Kirk Kirkorian (91), and notes that a big benefit of keeping these people in power over such younger folks as the Wall Street managers who have recently led their banks and financial institutions into bankruptcy, is that they

“…have experience managing through the last serious oil shock and prolonged period of financial pain in the 1970s.”

But as Gross also points out, working into one’s 70s, 80s and beyond is reserved for executive suite denizens - as though low- and mid-level workers have not also learned from their years on the job:

“…for non-rock stars – i.e., people who don’t own their own companies or don’t have enough cash to start a hedge fund – barriers to staying active late in life remain. ‘There is still enormous resistance and unwillingness to consider older people for job hires,’ says AgeWave’s [Ken] Dychtwald. As one executive recruiter told me, boards frequently look askance at older candidates because ‘somebody in their mid-60s isn’t going to take an 18-hour-a-day job.’”

Nor should an employee of any age. People fought hard in the early 20th century for the 40-hour work week, and 90 hours a week is both exploitive and inhuman, leaving no time for rest or family. On the other hand, what these ageist recruiters are missing is that older employees who are willing to work long days no longer have young children at home who require and need their presence.

Although there is some indication that a few employers are beginning to see the light in terms of the need to retain older workers because the generation coming up behind the boomers totals only 54 million compared to the boomer 78 million, little progress is being made.

“For leadership guru Warren Bennis, who at 83 teaches full time at the University of Southern California’s business school, such ambivalence is a key issue facing the economy,” writes Gross. “‘Organizations have to learn how to manage the people who keep growing and learning even as they get older,’ he says. Bennis still detects plenty of signs of ageism in corporate America.”

Perhaps such as this one: if you’re an older IT worker and think you might qualify for a job at Facebook, think again. The choices in the field for graduation date go back only to 1980, ignoring everyone older than 50.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Rabon Saip begins a two-part story of long-ago friendship in Just the Three of Us – Part 1.]


I reentered the job market in my 50's.
I can remember smiling to myself, during interviews, when I was told several times that I was over qualified.
Now I realize that they meant, I was too old.
At that particular time that thought never entered my mind.

So, what about McCain(72 in Aug) and this viewpoint? To be fair,the same measuring stick applies to him as to the "elderly" CEO's.

I reentered the workplace part-time at a marketing firm mid to late 40s. At 49, I secured a full-time position at a university. When I gave notice at the marketing firm, I was called into the office and asked why I didn’t let them know I wanted a full-time job.
They said they would have had a position for me. I saw the way older people in the company were treated. I knew that, if I accepted their offer, it would mean someone older then myself would be out of work. They already tried that, and I refused to transfer up to another floor knowing full well their intentions. If Millie was going to be pushed out, it wasn’t going to be by me. Looking back, I’m sorry I did not tell them my main reason for not wanting to work there any longer; Millie today, me tomorrow.

Posted by: on Jun 12, 2008 9:30:33 AM

Being married to a techie, I have mostly seen how it works for them. He started his own consulting firm when he took advantage of a layoff package intended to get rid of the elders but giving a few benefits to going. He didn't use that money for the start up though. It went into a managed retirement account which has yet to be tapped. He bought his lab equipment on ebay and other resale places and bit by bit acquired what he needed, went through several transitions as he got into working for start-up companies and contracting.

His friends have done it a lot the same way. When people are older, have experience, going into consulting and contracting out their services can be a way to work full-time or more if you aren't careful. To do it does take a network which comes from where you did work and thinking what services are needed and that you can offer; but for many people, it's the new retirement-- self employed.

He doesn't do this because of the need to work economically but rather that it lets him do active, exciting projects again, like he did when he was starting into engineering. The big problem, as I see it, will be being able to really retire someday. My hope is he can do this less of the week and get to a time where there is some free time for the things he used to like to do like fishing.

This scares me, frankly, all this talk about how we can all work til we're 90. I think it's the first round in justifying the elimination of "entitlements"--SS and Medicare. Retirees are about to be recast as the new welfare queens by the corporate media; those of us who can't do techie startups will be picking up litter in the park for our SS check.

My apologies for my first post; I tend to be a devil's advocate. Of course many elders *can* work and are willing to. But many can't, or they're busy taking care of a spouse who can't (saving us billions a year by providing "free" 24-hr-care). On a more personal note, watching my mother decline, from beginning about age 80 til her death at 90 in a nursing home, has colored my perception of aging. More recently, as we've been looking for a place for my aunt, 87, to live, I've seen a phenomenon that didn't exist 10 years ago when we were looking for a place for Mom: "memory care units." They're adjuncts to assisted (enriched) living units for elders who can't live independently, and they're for people who are physically more or less OK but who have dementia. With my family history, I want to retire as early as I can. I don't want to be forced to work until I can't remember how.

Yes, there definitely is a long way to go to dispel the attitudes that result in ageism. Wouldn't it be wonderful if some real leaders in this country -- government, business -- would come forward promoting the idea of providing Elders employment opportunies!

On the day I read this post, I also read an article originally published in the L.A. Times by Maria L. La Ganga on the numbers of Americans over 65 who are working in retail jobs often related to their former fields in full-time work, such as former plumbers working at Home Depot. Apparently this chain has 5,000 employees over the age of 70. While I applaud the employment of these people, I'm sure their wages could not support them without Social Security benefits and other (modest) assets they (may) have. It would be instructive for such a reporter to do a follow-up story on the lives of a few of those employees, to know what their financial lives are like, what their needs are.
It surely brings home the point you made in accepting your award from National Committee to preserve Social Security and Medicare, that these benefits are most likely a foundation in the financial support of these employees and a lifeline that, if privatized or removed because of mismanagement, would be devastating. I was disappointed to read that candidate Sen.McCain has said he was interested in the privatization of SS/M. I did not know that previously.
BTW, I read your article in the print edition of the WSJ and loved it. I agree with the blog poster you quoted who observed that blog friends constitute a widely diverse group of interesting people--easy to see why, since they are intelligent, gregarious (electronically speaking), and wordsmiths of a caring and sharing nature.
And, glad to see WSJ will publish more of your writings. I am sure this will have a wonderful, positive effect on many of the people in the corporate world who need to develop of better understanding of the elder population--both their workers, colleages--and--their customers.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)