8 tips for when you fear age bias in the workplace

I see a trend in the American workforce and as a coach struggle with how to make sense of it. This week alone one of my clients was terminated, one was put on a 90-day Performance Improvement Plan that is likely to end in termination, and another had his compensation decreased by $100,000. I find it no accident that the ages of these three people respectfully are 56, 57 and 61.

In many ways, our culture does not value the seasoned wisdom of decades of experience or appreciate the dedication of years of service. Companies see that they can replace “aging” employees with younger people they can pay less. It’s as if they feel “younger” energy will bring more innovation and greater results at a lower cost. They feel the aging employee’s mindset is outdated and that they can’t keep up with technology. That is just plain and simply — Age Bias — and short-sighted.

Employees see this coming. Organizations send people they have stereotyped subliminal messages of disapproval that lower their confidence and depletes their self-esteem, creating doubt in their worth. When someone carries this uncertainty in themselves their perceived under-performance usually becomes a self -fulfilling prophecy. When the end finally comes they are completely demoralized.

Companies forget that people in this age range taught themselves how to use a computer and every other form of technology and did not grow up with technology integrated into everything they learned. So when it comes to adaptability the aging worker has the market cornered. They have a work ethic eclipsed by no one and carry the least amount of entitlement of anyone in the workforce.

They don’t need any, let alone continual, feedback (for which companies are spending a fortune to implement internal coaching and other programs) to inspire their dedication to get the job done and they are loyal to a fault. They’ve lived through the cycles of economics, industries, and markets and can anticipate from experience. They aren’t afraid to pick up the phone and cold call someone in a way that results in new business. They can carry on a meaningful conversation with someone naturally because it’s how they built their portfolios before text messages and sound bites became the modus operandi.

So why don’t we harness the strengths of these seasoned professionals? Because we think they are not productive? As leaders, we haven’t spent time identifying how to modify their roles so these Jedis can mentor on how to connect, lead, sell, strategize. Instead, we just make cuts or spend fortunes on consultants, many who are good but more often steal our watches and tell us what time it is.

Let’s leverage the talents of these mavens as advisors, trainers, and leaders. Let’s not put them out to pasture. Other cultures don’t do this for a reason. It’s stupid and has no honor. Keep in mind EVERYONE will age. And then what will happen to YOU?

If you are in this age group here is some advice to position yourself to be invaluable:

1. Make sure you are working on things that are Measurable, Not Easily Transferable, New and Different, and Hold a High Learning Curve.

This includes relationship building, specific expertise, soft skills, leadership, strategic ability. If you aren’t, do so. If that means leaving the company or transferring to a different role — consider it before they can replace you with someone younger at half the cost.

2. Make sure you work for a company that LIVES the values that hand on the wall.

Define YOUR values. What is important to you? Do your values align with those of the company?

3. Find time to mentor others.

Share your expertise. Counsel people. Have an open door. Be the person no one wants to see let go.

4. When interviewing and get told, “You’re overqualified” have a response ready.

“I’ve spent my career with the pressures of corporate America. At this point, I am excited to find a role where I can put my expertise to work to actually accomplish something without the extrinsic noise.”

5. Know your transferable skills and apply for roles outside your comfort zone.

Consider new industries, roles, a smaller organization. Watch my free training “Three Ways To Move to the Next Level in Your Career” to learn how to define your transferable skills at here. Watch this and know all the things you are qualified to do that you hadn’t realized.

6. Define your strengths and be able to speak to how you have leveraged them for success.

Ask your friends and colleagues to define your strengths. Go online and take free strengths assessments. Build your self-awareness so you can be in a role that aligns with your talents.

7. Write down three people over the age of 55 who you admire.

Then list what you observe about them that draws you to them. What do you want to develop in yourself?

8. Separate your lifelong career accomplishments from the instance at hand.

Nothing negates all that you have done. Make a list of all that you are grateful for. No one can take that away from you.

As leaders let’s not stereotype. Aren’t our employees’ failures ultimately our failures as their leader? Embrace the expertise and wisdom of each employee individually so that you may place them in roles where they can feel fulfilled and benefit the company. Align their values with that of the organizations. Make sure they are in the right seat on the bus. Set them up with measurable goals so their value speaks for itself. Support them with productivity tools and professional development tailored to their individual needs. They will pay for themselves. They are good listeners, detail-oriented, punctual, dedicated, confident, focused, attentive and have advanced critical-thinking skills.

As individuals let’s remain open to learning new things, taking risks and opening our perspective on how to put our talents to good use. Seek out new opportunities to diversify skills.

The bus is bigger than you think. There is room for everyone. Let’s make room so top talent seeks our team as the best place to work because of our culture.