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?

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