Most of us didn’t see it coming. And now that it is here, many are struggling with how to cope. I’m not talking about The Great Recession as a whole, but about one egregious consequence of it-the dislocation of the 50+ worker.
Anecdotal reports started accumulating during the Recession’s early days and have yet to abate. Baby Boomer employees in large numbers have been facing layoffs, many for the first time in their lives. However, in trying to get hired elsewhere these experienced workers have been finding that a new cruel reality has set in. Their skills, history, long-term perspective, and deep knowledge are no longer wanted. They are being prematurely put out to pasture.
To me, an admitted Boomer, this phenomenon at first seemed counter-intuitive. Extensive practice at one’s craft should be seen as desirable. The mistakes of the past won’t be repeated if you have employees who know and have lived history, I naively thought. But contemporary hiring managers, who naturally are becoming younger all the time, apparently don’t see it that way. They see, or think they see, liabilities among this older cohort. Among the accepted downsides:
- Inflexible thinking
- Lack of tolerance for the values of younger workers
- Legacy practices that are counter-innovative
- Higher costs associated with salary expectations and health care benefits
The resulting generational mismatch has led to age bias and de facto discrimination, which makes it very hard for Boomers to land new jobs.
In working as a career counselor with many 50+ workers I’ve noticed another conclusion of this age group. Of those fortunate enough to have remained employed in recent years there are many who are now sick of their jobs, but not tired of working. And why have they grown so dissatisfied with their jobs? In almost every case it comes down to two words-poor management. When someone has been working thirty or more years there can be plenty of been-there-done-that moments and among the worst of them is putting up yet again with sub-standard or even dysfunctional leadership. All together, there is a lot of anxiety about remaining productively employed during the final years of many careers.
Unfortunately, switching jobs for the currently employed 50+ worker isn’t much easier than for their unemployed brethren. The same discriminatory hiring practices can likely face anyone born before 1960. I wish I had easy answers for remedying the employment problems of mature employees, but I don’t. I do, however, have a few mitigating suggestions for those wondering what to do next:
- Consult with a financial advisor. Have a clear picture of how solvent you are going forward. The chances of pulling down high salaries for the foreseeable future are greatly diminished.
- Consider an entrepreneurial venture. Although far from a quick fix, now may be the time to leverage your skills and knowledge into a micro or small business that can positively engage your energies and eventually lead to some income.
- Craft a marketable value proposition. Contrary to popular belief, the mature worker does have some assets. If your qualities can be powerfully presented as a direct match for the needs of an employer, than you just might be able to minimize or overcome the alleged weaknesses your age suggests.
- Embrace the small-is-beautiful ethic. Pulling back on expenses and fifty-hour work weeks does have some advantages. Maintaining high-consumption lifestyles can be like feeding a beast. Rediscovering simple and less demanding living may actually benefit your spirit in addition to your monetary situation.
The biggest challenge of all for the older worker who feels diminished and devalued may be in reframing their predicament into something opportunistic. Although you didn’t intend or predict that the ground beneath your feet would shift so dramatically, nevertheless look hard for the silver lining. As Raum Emanuel says, never let a crisis go to waste.