Age discrimination and blogging…

One of the interesting things about blogging is that no one knows how old we are unless we beat them over the head with it.

We communicate our interests, our fears, and our dislikes by the way we write on our weblogs. If we are generally upbeat and write about interesting things, the reader is captivated by our ideas, not our credentials.

I have visited a number of blogs recently, where the attention is on the problems of aging in a youth-oriented society. I know from personal experience how demoralizing it can be when managers are so obviously put off by an employee’s age. It frequently shows up in interviews and it takes an outgoing and unusually personable candidate to overcome the barrier of being sixty-plus in an under-forty environment.

In responding to a post on Ronni Bennet’s blog, Time Goes By, I finally twigged on what I believe to be the underlying cause of age discrimination.

I believe age discrimination springs from fear. We older people have something these young managers fear they will catch – old age. UPDATE: We older people also may appear as potential authority figures who can become a problem. See my comment for more on this.

The young and not-so-young managers prefer to avoid the company of those who exhibit the characteristics they themselves are so desperately resisting. There is this image of low vitality, low energy and fearful suspicion which is the oposite of what every young manager feels himself to be.

Older employees often exhibit fear, because they see themselves being considered costly and expendable. If they aren’t fearful, they are often stubbornly adamant about following policy, which these older employees see as a means to be fairly treated. (Good luck with that!)

Older employees tend to be less enthusiastic about poorly planned programs and give away their feelings by their conspicuous lack of arm-waving and cheering at lame announcements.

Let us who are over fifty take a somewhat different approach to age discrimination. When people don’t want to associate with us because we are too old, we should ask ourselves why are we desirous of associating with them at all? We can allay their fears by inspired and engaging conversation, but what is the long term benefit? These are people afraid of what we represent: their future selves.

It’s better to find friends and supporters who value us for our contributions, not our looks. That is certainly the situation with most bloggers. If you blog well, nobody knows that you are a dog, or look like Lon Chaney, Jr on a bad day. It is your production that counts, which is the way it should be.

When our days are filled with adventure, as is the case when blogging, the matter of age become  less significant. If our scope of action is limited because we are too young or too old, then age is understandably a problem. Otherwise, it should not be so.

Regret is an effort to turn back the calendar. It doesn’t accomplish anything. Embrace life as it comes, always looking to achieve your dreams. When you run out of dreams, you are in trouble, so keeping your dreams alive is job number one.

There are an infinite number of dreams. For example, if you can’t hang-glide anymore, then write about it. If you can’t write about it, then help someone else achieve their dreams. There is always a way to help others achieve their dreams.  Even a kind word at the right time will help.

I hope this post suggests ways for you to overcome the effects of age discrimination. I would be interested in your experiences along this line.

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0 Responses to Age discrimination and blogging…

  1. Bren says:

    Hmmm. I don’t doubt that what you say is true among some younger (than you) managers, but it hasn’t been my experience. At least the part about fear of getting older–I actually like the few gray hairs that I’ve acquired. Most of the folks working for me could be my kids’ grandparents (and I’m a late bloomer). Some are *very* clued in, others less so, and yet others seem to be marking time.

    Regardless of their behavior, I give them all the same benefit of increased responsibility, especially when requested. Truth is, I’ve been surprised by the results. Folks who I thought were just plodding turned out to really dig new responsibilities.

    From my perspective, the problem doesn’t lie with age, it lies with bad or mediocre management. Good management frees people to do good work, regardless of their age.

  2. Bill says:

    As an aside, for anyone who is interested, it’s worth noting that the average age of the Best Director nominees at this year’s Academy Awards was 60.4 years old. In fact, only ONE of the nominees was under 60 years old. The directors’ ages work out like this:

    Mike Leigh – 62 (20 February 1943)
    Alexander Payne – 44 (10 February 1961)
    Martin Scorsese – 62 (17 November 1942)
    Taylor Hackford – 60 (31 December 1944)
    Clint Eastwood – 74 (31 May 1930)

    I don’t think this really relates to the issue of age discrimination (given the obsessive emphasis Hollywood puts on youth when it comes to actors), but I found this interesting nonetheless.

  3. I thought of an even more compelling reason that older job candidates are resisted by insecure managers. Older candidates often have more credentials than the people hiring them. They can also come across as potential authority figures who might challenge existing management.

    It takes a sane and secure manager like Brendon to hire someone who might bring new ideas to the table. In fact, his observations mirror mine. There are older employees who act like harmless plodders so as not to appear threatening to younger managers. Given more responsibility, they demonstrate all sorts of ability.

    As far as the directors ages are concerned, this illustrates a significant difference in the perception of employees and contractor/consultants. Employees become embedded in the organization and need to be made into neatly fitting cogs. Contractors and consutants are hired guns. You hire the best and baddest to get the job done, then get rid of them before they become a nuisance.

    The Hollywood model is a team organized for a single film. People are hired for their particular talents, not for their long-term compatibility.

  4. Gretchen says:

    With age comes experience and wisdom. Could it be that younger managers would become fearful of being shown up for lacking these?

  5. Well, David, of course age discrimination stems from fear – discrimination of all sorts does. That doesn’t make it right or acceptable or tolerable.

    As to the reverse – older people exhibiting fear – who does this? Studies indicate that older workers are more reliable, stable and at least as productive as younger workers and often moreso and while there are slackers in all age groups, I’d put my money on old workers being too busy getting the job done to have time for such nonsense.

    I particularly take issue – for two reasons – with this: “When people don’t want to associate with us because we are too old, we should ask ourselves why are we desirous of associating with them at all? …It’s better to find friends and supporters who value us for our contributions.”

    1. It’s not a choice. Older people “desire” to associate with younger people because they need to work and that’s where the young people are. There are few enough jobs these days at all and to advise people to go elsewhere is to advise and accept exclusion.

    2. This question reveals its ageism when you substitute the word black for “too old:” IE: “When people don’t want to associate with us because we are black, we should ask ourselves…”

    I’m sure, David, you would never write a sentence like that, but your sentence is no less discriminatory. The fight against age discrimination in the workplace is a battle to allow equal access to jobs based on skill, not appearance.

    A mixed-age workplace (as I point out here} is vital to the success of any business. You say that “older employees tend to be less enthusiastic about poorly planned programs.” Yes. Absolutely. That’s why they are there (or should be) – to bring their experience and knowledge to the table to help avoid costly mistakes that younger people aren’t old enough yet to recognize.

  6. Ric says:

    That point about being “less enthusiastic about poorly planned programs” resonates with me as well …

    This doesn’t (or shouldn’t) mean curmudgeonly opposition to change – just perhaps some sorely needed insights into what would work better.

    I often think too that how an older person acts at work is sometimes influenced by how long they think they will be working into the future – in Australia the ‘retirement’ age is 65, but for some years now the pattern has been to leave work earlier if possible. Unfortunately this has often been to a retiree’s detriment – both financially and for their self-esteem. With life expectancy expected to reach well into the 70s and 80s, retiring at 55 could leave you a long time without stimulation …

  7. Karen says:

    There is an article on age discrimination on CNN today:
    ‘Supreme Court: Age bias need not be deliberate’ (http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/03/30/scotus.age.ap/index.html)

    which is very timely to this discussion, I think.

  8. Ryan Billimore says:

    Iam a 72 year old man working in a private organization in Londona and recently one young MBA manager fired me saying I was incompetent.

    I challenge the young man both intellectually and physically to beat me.

    Iam really down guys!

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