Tips to Combat Subtle Age Discrimination

Maintain Your Professional Relevance and Standing At Any Age

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You can maintain relevance at any age no matter how subtly age discrimination permeates your workplace. Unfortunately, age discrimination, often a matter of unconscious bias, is prevalent in most workplaces.

Moreover, those who are unemployed are at an even greater disadvantage. The person interviewing you "is younger than your daughter" and just as smart. And, they are concerned that you are older than all of your potential coworkers, even if there is nothing to indicate their thoughts.

Your interviewer may not know that their thoughts are discriminatory, but subtle age discrimination may be coloring their perceptions of your ability to fit within the company's work culture.

Preventing Age Discrimination

Employers can take steps to guard against age discrimination, but much of the onus belongs to the individual. After all, you have the most to lose. However, as in most factors related to employment, you have everything to gain when you take action.

If you work and you're over age 40, age discrimination is a real possibility. You can't change the attitudes and beliefs of other coworkers who may be unaware of what they exhibit or feel, but you can combat subtle discrimination by the actions you take in your workplace.

How to Maintain Relevancy in the Workplace

To stay relevant and combat age discrimination, do the following:

  1. Stay current on the latest technology, industry-specific information, and other items necessary to stay relevant in the workplace
  2. Maintain a healthy, professional appearance through proper grooming and dressing in stylish clothing
  3. Think outside of the box to introduce new ideas and ways to improve processes to increase workplace efficiency
  4. Utilize strong communication and interpersonal skills
  5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by getting plenty of rest, managing stress, eating healthy foods, and getting plenty of exercise

Maintain a Youthful Appearance

Dana Anspach, a multi-credentialed retirement planning expert, suggests that a youthful appearance can add years to your career and thousands of dollars to your income. Wear modern clothes and a stylish current hairstyle.

When hiring for multiple positions, the front desk human resources (HR) administrative assistant or receptionist always flags the HR staff about their first impressions of the candidates who arrive for interviews. On a memorable occasion, whispering to an HR staff person one admin said, "Gosh, this one's really old." When the HR interviewer saw the candidate, he caught her meaning right away and it had nothing to do with age.

The Candidate Looked Dated

The better word was "dated." Everything about the candidate was dated: long hair cut straight across halfway down her back; scuffed accessories; skirted, pinstriped suit with a polyester bow tied around the neck that screamed the 1980s; and a sad, slouched posture that made her look and seem forgettable.

Properly Accessorize

You should look neat and professional by accessorizing with attractive shoes, a handbag, a portfolio, and jewelry. Do not wear scuffed, torn, broken, or outdated accessories. Observe what the younger women are carrying and accessorize accordingly.

At an HR conference, an older HR colleague carried her new handbag. At least three younger HR people approached her during the meetings to say, "Oh, you have a Brighton." They thought it was pretty cool. The HR colleague didn't know it was cool. She just liked the bag. But, the Brighton bag made her cool by association—and approachable.

Stay Current on the Latest Technology

Stay current on new communication tools and technology advances. Technology skills make you appear savvy and contemporary. Social media is here to stay, and in order to participate, you will need to be fluent in this area. A company manager learned through Twitter that one of their employees celebrated her eighth anniversary with the company and remembered to congratulate her.

Get comfortable messaging on Facebook and using other messaging and discussion tools such as Flowdock and Slack, texting, and posting on Facebook. Instant message (IM) that youthful coworker in the next cubicle, and text your meeting leader if you'll be late.

Embrace Change

Be continually ready to embrace change so you stay relevant. You are always eager to embrace change and welcome the opportunity to gain new skills.

Change means progress for you and your employer. Continuous improvement is important. Don't let your language in your workplace date you, stereotype you or make you seem irrelevant. Lead the change adoption when potential changes affect your workplace, and model early adopter behavior for younger employees.

Avoid Dated Language

Don't let your language date you. Reminiscing is only interesting and relevant if coworkers were born before that date. Coworkers likely are only interested in information that they can relate to personally.

"That's the way we've always done things," as a reason to stay the same, is unattractive at any age. It's nice that you have grandchildren. But, your younger colleagues who are parents, get very tired, very quickly, of hearing that you're happy that you can enjoy your grandchildren—but then, they go home.

Manage Interpersonal Relationships

You own the success of your interpersonal relationships with different generations at work. Successful relationships are largely in your control, as you've had the most experience and success in creating them. Every employee should seek to respect and honor every other employee.

Age Doesn't Generate Automatic Respect

Your maturity does not earn you automatic respect from younger employees, who relish debating ideas and think that they know a lot. However, they have the most recent, cutting-edge ideas. Just because you've worked longer, you know more and have more experience, does not mean that your way is the best—or even that younger employees will acknowledge that you have an edge at all.

Join their debate, swap ideas, and acknowledge that you also can learn from the younger generations at work. This is how you will earn their respect and generate cooperative, supportive interpersonal relationships.

Stay Current in Your Industry

Stay current in your field. Read, attend conferences, and converse regularly with thought leaders and colleagues. Be the first to introduce a new work process or a forward-thinking idea.

Also, don't bring a dated portfolio to an interview, such as work that appeared to be 20 years old on yellowing, aged paper. Also, avoid presenting old ideas or a performance appraisal form with a checklist to grade each worker characteristic, on a scale of 1 to 5, using such words as organized, reliable, and energetic.

Stay at Your Current Job

Hold on to the job you have. These tips are relevant for employees at any age, but they are especially important for older workers. You don't want to hit the pavement job searching when you are over 40—the new old—unless you choose to pursue a new opportunity. As an experienced, older employee, you are in the best possible position to put these ideas and strategies to work as you strive to retain your job.

Capitalize on Key Advantages

You have the experience, deep knowledge, and maturity on which you can capitalize to benefit your employer. You are accountable, responsible, and savvy in ways that younger workers have yet to attain. Take advantage of your strengths and make sure that they are on display for your employer to notice—every day.

Consider Changing Careers

Find and transition to a new career field. Some of the saddest stories HR veterans receive are from out-of-work administrative assistants and secretaries. That world is over. Those older, usually male bosses have retired or are retiring. Younger managers cannot imagine writing something and then passing it to an office worker to type. People who worked for years in valued positions find their skills and job duties obsolete.

Take a look at your skills and resume and consider if your skills and career choice are still relevant. You may decide that a transition to a new field of work is in order. A career change could lead you to an exciting and long, happy work life. People who have transitioned from another career into HR, for example, have shared their stories. Embark upon your own career exploration—at any age. Even if you have maintained your relevance in the workplace, you can still redesign your career if that is your goal.

Bottom Line

Age discrimination is prevalent even in workplaces that commit to non-discriminatory practices. Like other forms of discrimination, it is relevant, prevalent, illegal, subtle, and preventable.