Ageism: The cost of the journey

Even with labour market shortages and shifting demographics, ageism is still rampant in our workplaces. The cost of ageism is both in the journey and the destination. Why can’t we work to realise everyone’s potential?

An outcome of a photo search for older on a free photo site

Ageism is deeply engrained in our organisational psyche. We obsess over made up generations. We fail to appreciate the ‘war for talent’ is because of an ageing demographic. There’s no 50 over 50. Young guns are prized. Twenty-somethings are venerated as startup CEOs. Development is for younger talent. Transition to retirement programs start as young as 45 when retirement is over 65. As our economies have shifted to services and knowledge we have failed to see the value of experience. We retain mindsets from the days when physical work broke bodies.

The Cost of the Journey

Ageism affects all workers. Everyone ages and the implications are not lost on the young. In my twenties, I observed the hair colour of those leaving the organisation and the thinning ranks of older employees. I decided I needed a second or third occupation for my fifties. I thought my career was over when I hadn’t made general manager young enough. I gave up on a goal to be CEO (even though that proved to be wrong many times over). I ended up freelancing much of my forties after a poorly timed redundancy.

As a manager, I have hired so many talented older workers and discovered the breadth of what they can contribute. I have worked with many to develop new career opportunities and new skills. Despite their success in winning and performing in the role, some have been sceptical that they could keep it. The culture of ageism is so deeply engrained that despite their obvious contributions they expected me to move them on. Unnecessary stress hangs over all work. This stress is greater when combined in intersectionality with other forms of discrimination.

No talented person young or old should live in fear of ageing at work. Nobody should view their financial and emotional security tied to a Logan’s Run process where regardless of your potential your life is over at 45. The cost of this is not just on the older workers. This deprived organisations of workers full of talent and experience, both young and old. Talented people of all ages leave when you don’t respect the older worker.

We know horoscopes are make-believe. Generations are a marketer’s confection. We need to stop believing a birthdate determines potential or performance

Hire talented people. That’s it. That’s the advice that ends this nonsense.

But right now, the seasons fermented

To fullness, so slip into something light

Like your skeleton; while these old

bones are working, my darling,

Let’s dance

Barbara Cooker, Reel

2 thoughts on “Ageism: The cost of the journey

  1. 1000x yes! My dad was a highly qualified computer engineer and instructor. The kind that could still count to 100 in binary on one hand. Higher if he could be bothered. He was redundant with the collapse of AT&T Wireless, and ageism kept him from getting another job in his field. He spent the last 8 years of his career behind the paint counter at the local hardware store. I’m not knocking that job – he actually enjoyed it and it was much lower stress. But what a loss for the industry, and a lost opportunity for his continued growth and impact there. I’m starting to plan for this now, and your words have helped again, Simon. It’s time to start talking about this a lot more.

    1. Thanks Chris. Your father’s story is far too common and unnecessary. We all need to tackle the opportunities for all people and plan our own futures well.

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