As I reminisce about my professional journey, I remember an event that took place in 1986. I was 27, and an aggressive, up-and-coming ad sales person working for a media company. One day I learned that a 50+ year-old colleague had been fired and was leaving our company. He had had the best office of everyone on the team. So, the minute I heard he was leaving, I packed up my desk and ran down the hall to grab his. Well, I hadn’t counted on his not having exited the building, and encountered him when he came to pick up a box. He caught me filling his desk with my stuff. I looked up at him, speechless. He looked down at me and called me a vulture. Yes, a vulture. And looking back now as my (almost) 58 year-old self, he was right. My behavior was reprehensible.
That experience haunts me today.
It’s sad that at 50 years-old (unless one is wealthy and/or comfortable enough for the rest of one’s life, and wants to retire) many of us are aching to remain challenged, active, earning, vital, learning and necessary to our companies, our clients and our industries. We are sharper than ever as we have the wisdom, the experience and a sense of ourselves that make us valuable team-members, mentors and consultants to our younger colleagues and our peers.
Today, 50 has become ‘that age’ where many employers are ready or getting ready to set us free. Perhaps it costs too much with higher salaries and benefits than the younger, incoming Millennial population. Perhaps there’s just the perception that we’re too old, lacking fresh ideas, not up on technology, have less enthusiasm and/or energy. Any or all are possible.
Why so young? What happened to retirement being 65 and how did that number even become the accepted retirement age? According to the Social Security Administration’s website, the decision to make 65 the magic number for retirement was a pragmatic one, and a main reason was that, “Studies showed that using age 65 produced a manageable system that could easily be made self-sustaining with only modest levels of payroll taxation.” There are other factors having to do with systems that were formulating in the 1930s based on even older precedents. (If you’re interested in this subject, there’s a lot more information you can retrieve on the web.)
Today, there is a huge and growing population of 50+ers who take new jobs for less money and many who become consultants because they can’t find jobs. (Some of course voluntarily change careers and are looking for a new, more meaningful chapter.) According to the Washington Post*, from an AARP survey, “…the headline statistics hide a harsher reality: older workers who do lose a job spend longer periods out of work, and if they do find another job, it tends to pay less than the one they left.” And a”…look at long-term unemployment data….show(s) that older people have a harder time landing jobs after losing one.”
Employers, take note: make sure older employees, “…don’t end up out of work involuntarily before they’re ready. While vocational programs and access to higher education are seen as the ticket to a better job for those just starting out, those who’ve already spent decades in the workforce have less to gain from a training course that will only benefit them for the few years it takes to get to retirement. That’s why avoiding job loss in the first place is so important.”
It pains me to see my talented friends and colleagues suffer; either cut out of work, or struggling to hold onto their jobs (with enough of a hint from employers that their time may be up) or that their positions may fold. And, even though I’m not a corporate employee any longer (leaving in my mid 40s voluntarily to be a coach and trainer) I am a solopreneur in a sea of consultants battling for a unique voice on social media and a secure place as a ‘go-to’ consultant in my field — with a dream of having the comfort and ease of enough referrals and gigs to sustain me for many more years of work. But with so much unemployment and so many out of work consultants vying for position, all in my age range, there is little to rest upon.
I can’t say whether the situation is bad or good. I can only say that it is a journey and an unexpected turn that relies on one’s resourcefulness, passion, social media savvy, networking ability and persistence. We want to believe that there’s always enough for everyone to go around. We hope people will have the choice as to when they retire. Our hearts want to explore paths filled with purpose. But these desires ain’t for the faint of heart!
In the meantime, if you are a Generation X employer or a Baby Boomer executive with hiring authority — take responsibility for your 50-somethings. Show your industry that you are not ageist. Grey hair = invaluable grey matter. Take advantage of what Baby Boomers have that no Millennial can reproduce: the benefits of irreplaceable experience.
This post was first published on https://pointmakercommunications.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/in-the-job-market-50-is-the-new-65/