There are now over 108.7 million people age 50 and over in the United States. This comprises 44% of the adult population of 245.3 million with the number increasing dramatically each year for the next 10 – 20 years.
Many 50-plus adults are in new or renewed stages of family life because people are staying in school longer, delaying marriage and putting off having children. Lifestyle changes such as divorce mean more adults are starting second families in their 40s and 50s. Some adults will not enter the retirement or ‘empty nest’ stage traditionally associated with individuals aged 50 and over until they are in their 70s, if at all. Clients who are in their late 60s and even mid 70s often want to continue working and land new jobs. And some are doing so, which shows it can be done.
Just as we are all familiar with the term mid-life crisis, many people face a career mid-life crisis around the time they turn 50. At 50, an individual can no longer pretend he/she is young, but if a person is healthy and active, they are most likely not feeling old, either. Even though youth may be in the past, their most productive years may still be ahead.
The days when a person could join an organization and receive automatic job security, benefits, pay raises and promotions are pretty much gone forever. Work is structured differently now. The key today is knowing how to survive and grow in the midst of change. To do that, one must take responsibility for managing their own career.
For many retirement is not an option for a variety of reasons. Some people keep working because they have to financially. Others want to continue feeling useful or to do something that keeps them excited 8-12 hours a day.
So, how do individuals overcome unflattering stereotypes of older workers? Age is often referred to as a subtle bias. Most companies recognize the need to address gender, race, and sexual orientation diversity, but few have done anything but ignore age diversity.
The federal government long ago addressed age discrimination with the 1967 Age Discrimination Act. Unfortunately, there are many exceptions to those 1967 rules and a savvy employer can find a way around the rules. Despite the statues and laws, age discrimination does exist. Younger workers are willing to work longer hours for less pay despite lack of experience. And for some organizations this is an effective remedy for the budget blues.
The myths about older workers are outdated and in a society that is now information based, older workers have the knowledge, skills and experience to excel in the work world. For the majority of older workers what they don’t know they can easily learn if they are willing.
Age and experience can be a plus if one learns how to value work and life experience. To find a position, an individual must assess their strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. They also need to identify skills, experiences, talents, interests, values and accomplishments. Job hunters from this population would do best to focus on actual work content, the value they are providing, and their own personal satisfaction.
Age can also be viewed as a state of mind, one that can be controlled and should be controlled when competing against younger workers for the best jobs. For instance, if you are over 50 don’t give clues about age. Avoid discussing age or dates of high school or college graduation or anything that could potentially label a person as “over the hill.” Keep the dated experience section of your resume and LinkedIn profile to 10 – 15 years.
Using tired phrases like “in my day” is a negative, as well as exhibiting prejudice or relying on outdated business practices. Falling technologically behind is a major negative. Learning is a lifelong process and it is never too late to learn what is needed to succeed.
Finally, staying fit and healthy is important as well as being energetic, but keeping one’s wardrobe, hairstyle and grooming fresh and current is even more paramount in making a good impression.
When interviewing or working with younger people, older individuals should not focus on the differences between them, but instead attempt to find what they may have in common. This vantage point is also relevant for younger people when interviewing or working with older adults. We may not be the same in many ways yet we are all connected. Our similarities could be hobbies, shared values or common interests including work interests and goals. When the focus is on shared interests, age will matter less and less.
There is no doubt we are in an environment and time of rapid change. William Bridges, author of JobShift and Transitions states “so many people look at change as a disruptive element, as something that takes something away from them.” Some people keep hoping that our society and the world of work will go back to what it used to be where there was more company loyalty and in return, the corporation guaranteed lifetime employment.
Of course, nothing can ever be as it was and so I view change as not taking something away, but as presenting all of us, young and not so young, with opportunities and possibilities. How one perceives and reacts to change makes all the difference. It really is about acceptance and being open to growing. There is always something new to do and experience. As a quote from long ago said “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”