You don’t have to go quietly

If they won’t listen, raise your voice

When you are the victim of ageism or discrimination of any kind, you should use every tool at your command to rectify the situation. It may not help you personally, but it may keep others from being subjected to the same treatment.

It is a sad commentary that fear of exposure and fear of being sued are the most effective tools one can use to get the ear of HR and management in some companies after all attempts at logical discourse have fallen on deaf ears.

Unfortunately, in the short run it probably will not enable you to keep your job. Think of it more as a way to keep your integrity intact.

With the advent of blogging, employees have a tool at their disposal that may help even the odds. If every employee who was being unfairly discriminated against blogged about the experience, it would create a fire storm in Management Row. Exposing unfair practices is the best way to bring about desirable change.

Older employees are increasingly at risk

Age discrimination is against the law, but far too many companies use subtle means to screen the older job applicant so they don’t have to interview them. They will ask when you graduated from high school or when you got your college degree.

After you have been hired and have been working effectively for several years, you may find yourself with a new manager who asks the same kind of questions in order to offload you. In your first meeting with this new manager, you will find them probing your "work history" so they can get a better idea of what your skills are.

This kind of manager wants to clean house and remove any possible threats to their rise to power. This may sound absurd to some of you, but I have seen it happen.

I remember a manager who joined Sun Microsystems from AT&T and then fired five senior and highly competent employees from her group in her first few months on the job. She replaced them with enthusiastic young sycophants who publicly praised her at every opportunity.

We watched in fascinated horror from a safe distance as this manager rose to become director and then vice president even though her results were unspectacular and her management practices were despicable.

We finally saw how she managed it one day when she went from screaming at a subordinate in a public hallway to eagerly flattering a senior vice president within a few seconds. She switched from enraged tyrant to excitedly wiggling little girl and charmed the senior VP as we watched. She was a suck-up of the worst kind, but she had picked her targets well. Her seniors in the management chain responded to her flattery and ignored the carnage she wreaked in the organization.

Sun lost many valuable employees as a result of this woman’s activity. She was not the only rising star who discarded competent people because they might become a challenge. After a while, the upper levels of the organization that I could observe directly became populated with politically active, but clueless managers and the organization appeared to lose way. Performance and stock prices began to fall almost immediately and have never recovered.

I saw a definite change in morale and in company performance as skilled senior people were systematically forced out over a five year period.

Judging from one report I read on the future of the American workforce, we may be looking at more corporate meltdowns in the next five years. Older skilled employees are leaving the workforce and there are not enough young skilled employees to replace them. Perhaps the shortfall will be filled by young managers from other countries. That will have serious implications for existing corporate cultures. For those who are interested in digging deeper, here is a sobering collection of facts about the workforce.

I think older employees should be valued and respected when they act in such a way to earn respect. Many older employees hold in their heads the knowledge that enables a company to properly service their customers, because that knowledge is rarely written down in enough detail.

Such older employees are special people and deserve the respect they are due. Other older employees are merely older and no longer able to cope with the demands of a changing job because they have stopped learning somewhere along the way. Relying on past experience alone is no guarantee of success.

As I pointed out in a comment to my last post, in a large corporation older employees do not always get the opportunity to show what they have to offer because they work for people who are quite frankly afraid of them.

These "threatened" managers go out of their way to get rid of older employees. We are talking about a small percentage of managers, perhaps 20%, but they can make an older employee feel like the entire workplace is against them.

When working for an enlightened manager, an older and experienced employee can make major contributions and be recognized for their wisdom and good sense. Choose your managers carefully and give them everything you’ve got.

If you can’t get your manager to listen to you, you need to up the gradient and impinge, in a polite way of course, until you get through and establish a dialog.

If you cannot get through to your manager, look for another position or another manager and do your best to document what has transpired so others will not fall into the same trap.

I hope this doesn’t apply to you, but you should realize that it will eventually. We all get to be older employees in our turn.

It applies equally well to those young managers who are making life miserable for older employees. When their turn comes to be offloaded they will probably not realize that they helped create the situation that discriminates against them. Bad behavior comes back to haunt you eventually.  🙂

If you have been unfairly discriminated against, have you raised your voice and blogged about it?


This entry was posted in Possibly Helpful Advice, The Changing Workplace, Working For Others. Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to You don’t have to go quietly

  1. Clarence says:

    God Bless you David. This is the kind of information that should be running on the evening news broadcasts around the world. I know it is true. It was true for me and it is true for others that I’m very close to. You see, people like myself cannot speak up so long as those who can be identified and punished for my verbal transgressions are still active in the work force. It is tactics such as this that I believe have been at the grassroots of the decline and eventual destruction of many a great civilization in history.

    I pray that no one ever finds a way to stifle the voices of people like yourself and Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By.

  2. Jim says:

    You are right on target with this entry!

  3. so says:

    Interestingly, the closest I have come to age discrimination was by someone that was roughly the same age. My boss wanted me to manage one of my older employees out of the company. The irony was they were roughly the same age. My boss claimed my employee was not performing as he should and was RIP-retired in place. When in reality my boss was not close enough to the situation to judge. Luckily, I was able to manage my boss and keep a good employee, but it was touch-and-go for several weeks.

    Sadly, I have also observed that during reductions in force, the rules for age discrimination get bent. Either through semantics or through RIF justifications, a lot of experience goes out the door.

  4. Jane Chin says:

    Some of my mentorees have asked me the very question about their age and whether this would negatively affect their chances. While I tell them that this would be illegal, I also don’t dismiss the reality that age discrimination will happen. For those who still hold this erroneous notion, they aren’t realizing that people are living longer and retiring later, and having “older” workers on the team can be a wonderful asset. Aren’t we all gung-ho about “experience”? Well, older workers are probably the most experienced workers around. Some companies haul their ex-CEOs out of retirement several times over to run their companies. Today, employees are hopping from one company to another. When you consider a worker who leaves after a few years, age discrimination makes even less sense, because you don’t get to keep people who don’t want to stay!

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