To work or not to work isn't the question for most of us. About two-thirds (63%) of the 76 million midlifers born between 1946 and 1964 are currently working, according to a new poll by Associated Press and LifeGoesStrong.com, with nearly half (49%) working full time.
That's why a critical question is arising: As an older worker nearing retirement, how comfortable are you in your workplace? Is the environment one that welcomes you and your abilities? Or are you finding yourself in the crosshairs of age discrimination?
Nearly one in five of us midlifers say – "yes" - they've experienced some form of age discrimination at work; and, that solely because of their age, they have been:
- Passed over for a raise, promotion or chance to get ahead (15%)
- Assigned unwanted tasks (12%)
- Denied access to training or the opportunity to acquire new skills (9%)
- Been laid off, fired, or forced into retirement (8%)
Some older workers (13%) say they've missed out on certain assignments because of their age or heard unwelcome comments about their age while in the workplace.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
As we age, health and money are our number one and number two concerns. The survey says less than half of us (43%) are satisfied with our level of on-the-job stress and the retirement benefits offered by employers. Interestingly, there wasn't a significant difference in the satisfaction with retirement benefits between midlifers who lost money in the economic downturn and those who didn't.
For those of our generation who are dissatisfied with their job, the overwhelming primary point of contention appears to be the lack of opportunities for advancement (79%) followed by the level of on the job stress (70%) and displeasure with their boss or immediate supervisor (53%). The poll also shows that most (58%) of midlifers' work colleagues are younger than they are – including their boss (46%).
A SILVER LINING
The poll does reveal one bit of good news – information that only highlights how important older employees are in the workplace: A majority of midlifers (57%) say that since they turned 50, their co-workers have come to them for advice more often and a third (34%) of midlifers feel they are receiving more respect within the company.
That said, what can we do to alter/improve age discrimination where we work?
WHAT TO DO NOW – TURN "AGE" to "SAGE"
Don't anticipate or expect a friendly, warm environment in the workplace when there are so few jobs to go around. It's a sobering thought but that's the frame of mind that our generation needs right now. We don't have the time or the money to think that things will just get better.
- Convert our age into a value proposition for our respective organizations. To do that, articulate in a clear, strategic, verbal (and written) manner how our years of past experience speak to the goals of the company – today.
- Midlifers must show how we support and achieve the company's goals which (universally) are about increased revenues, higher profitability, new asset creation, new market development, new client/customer acquisition, and the retention of existing customers. That's how our workplace value will be established. That's how age becomes the asset: sage.
- Take the initiative. Have discussions with your supervisors showing the professional contribution you can make to the health of the company.
- Your years in the business mean you know many people in your industry. Re-establish contact with them through professional organizations. Show that you have the ability to quickly establish rapport with prospects and turn them into clients.
- Know that you have an established network capital of other professionals that can make your efforts on behalf of your project or company far more efficient.
Your work experience isn't going to get positive attention and/or be respected if it's not seen as an asset the company can leverage. Show that your years are an advantage.
AROUND THE BEND
A new corporate culture is on the horizon. The current business culture is and will continue to be transformed by international diversity and multi-culturalism for which many Americans of our generation aren't necessarily prepared.
In addition to diversity, we midlifers must be acutely aware that there's a technology overlay in today's workplace. In many environments it's presumed you have knowledge of certain technologies (i.e. WebEx, Skype). The poll showed the bulk of our generation (62%) is mostly satisfied with their abilities to keep up with technology.
If you don't have tech-skills, it can assign an opinion about you that isn't positive. So do some online classes or work with a young person for whom technology aptitude is second nature. Mentor them in what you know in exchange for them mentoring you with brushing up on your technology skills. Much like money, mentoring can be taught up – and down — generations.
Valerie Coleman Morris is the author of "Mind Over Money Matters: It's Your Money So Take It Personally," which will be published this year.