By Jillian Kramer,
Whether you’re re-entering the work world after retirement or are energized and simply dedicated to your nine-to-five, there are a lot of 50-plus employees making up the workforce. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got it easy.
In fact, ageism and age discrimination are alive and well in our offices. “Older workers are frequently the first to be let go during a corporate downsizing,” explains Susan Peppercorn, the founder of Positive Workplace Partners, which helps transition workers—many 50-plus—to new jobs and provides outplacement services to people who’ve lost jobs, often due to age discrimination.
What’s more, “older workers tend to be more highly compensated, particularly if they have been with an organization for a long time,” says Peppercorn. And that means that organizations looking to trim the fat, so to speak, “will eliminate long-term employees as a money saving strategy,” she says.
Even more subtly, older works are discriminated against by being underused. “If employees don’t keep current and relevant, they may find themselves overlooked when it comes to getting new and critical projects,” says Peppercorn.
But if you’re a 50-plus worker, you don’t have to take age discrimination. Beyond seeking recourse with your human resources department, there are things you can do to combat it. Here are five easy-action tips to get you started.
1. Know your rights.
You can’t fight ageism and age discrimination if you don’t know your rights—and they’re pretty exhaustive. Take time to read and familiarize yourself with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, a federal mandate that applies to all companies with 20 or more employees, according to Laurie McCann, a senior attorney for the AARP Foundation. “The ADEA protects individuals age 40 and older from age discrimination in every aspect of the employment relationship,” she says. “If you suspect you are being treated unfairly based on your age, it may not hurt to let your employer know that you are aware of your rights under the ADEA. Sometimes, they assume you aren’t aware of such protections.”
2. Show you’re raring to go—not slowing down.
According to Peppercorn, “When applying for a job over the age of 50, it’s important to give the impression that you’re ready to hit the ground running and not simply winding down.” That means that when you apply for a new position this year—at your current company or a new one—employers will want to “know that they are selecting a vibrant candidate who plans several productive years in the workforce,” says Peppercorn. “That may be an obvious conclusion with a 30-year-old, but as we age, it becomes critical to demonstrate that vibrancy and spirit.”
3. Ask for feedback.
Many people shy away from performance reviews, formal or informal. But McCann says that older workers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for feedback if you’re not already receiving it. Why? “You need to know if there are concerns about your performance so that you have the opportunity to address them,” she says. Beyond improving on day-to-day tasks, the review could serve as a barometer for whether discrimination is in play. “Sudden changes in performance appraisals are often viewed with suspicion,” McCann says, “and may support a claim of discrimination.”
4. Highlight your tech skills.
Workplaces are increasingly digital, from team meetings held on Slack to invoices paid via apps. To succeed in today’s tech-oriented workplace, “you have to have a solid knowledge of the technology that’s used in your field,” says Peppercorn, down to the nitty-gritty tools only your office uses. “Stay connected and on top of the latest trends and technology in your field and industry, and find ways to weave that in during the recruitment and interview process,” advises Peppercorn.
5. Be a lifelong learner.
Beyond knowing the latest and greatest tech tools, older workers can stay ahead by keeping up with all developments in their fields. How? By attending training and workshops offered at your office—and beyond. “Make sure your employer knows you are willing to undertake training to retain and gain knowledge and skills,” says McCann. “The need to do so applies to employees of all ages, but unfortunately, older employees are more likely to suffer [bad] consequences if they are perceived as being adverse to training.”