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Ageism in the American workplace is a well-documented reality. While it violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, it is difficult for job candidates to prove that their age was the barrier to keeping their current position or being made a job offer. Anecdotally, baby boomers confirm that despite earlier career success, staying or getting hired after age 60 is difficult, and as hiring managers are increasingly members of the millennial generation, difficult often becomes downright impossible.
But baby boomers can’t pin all the blame on ageism and hostile millennials. They also have to realize that they contribute to the problem by making it difficult for younger managers to want to work with them. The onus is on baby boomers to demonstrate their relevance in companies that skew increasingly youthful. And doing so requires recognizing certain behaviors and rethinking hierarchical assumptions.
Fundamentally, there’s nothing new about such a generational role-reversal. Each generation new to the workforce brings with it the sensibility of its cohort. The big difference here is that while retirement used to be a given in one’s mid-sixties, many baby boomers don’t want—or see the need—to leave.
So, painful though it may be, it’s important for us baby boomers to examine our behaviors and think about whether or not they need tweaking—if not a complete makeover. The behaviors below are illustrative of the ways boomers may be shooting themselves in the foot.
Adopting a role as elder statesman: Baby boomers may see themselves as workplace Yodas. Recognize that no one wants to work with a parent. Acting like a font of wisdom just because you think you’ve done it all before is off-putting. Be as open to ideas and as thrilled with effecting change as the 28-year old in the cubicle next to you.
Overvaluing the status of seniority: Don’t chafe about that cubicle because you used to have a private office. Open floor plans predominate, so get over yourself. Join in and be grateful for the interaction generated by being surrounded by your colleagues.
Raining on your colleague’s parade: Have the words,“that’s been tried before and it didn’t work” escaped your lips? Instead, make a point to help turn around roadblocks by leveraging your experience.
Refusing to adapt: The mission of many millennial-driven businesses is to disrupt norms. This should resonate with anyone who lived through the 1960s. So embrace change and be willing to jettison the status quo.
And speaking of embracing change, embrace your flexibility in adapting to it. The baby-boomer generation grew accustomed to being in charge, to having accrued high compensation levels and to being the voice of wisdom and experience. Demonstrate a willingness to downplay all of the above. Do you consider it demeaning to report to a younger manager? Is compensation on par with your salary history a given? Is wisdom the sole provenance of age?
Answer yes, and the likelihood of future job offers will be slim. However, older workers who can update their outlook will project their enthusiasm for multigenerational synergies in the workplace. They are the ones who will stay effective or get hired.