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July 11, 2017 > Are Stereotypes of Older Workers Affecting You?

Are Stereotypes of Older Workers Affecting You?

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

If I were looking to hire, I would happily offer an older worker the job. The older workers I have worked with or hired have impressed me with their conscientiousness, reliability, loyalty, dependability, and positive spirits. These workers have shown me that older employees can be stellar employees.

Sadly, not all employers share my views about older workers. As a career counselor, I have heard heartbreaking stories from older workers who feel like outcasts in the workplace. Some have difficulties with colleagues and bosses who are younger than them. Others donÕt feel like they belong because they donÕt share the same interests as their younger colleagues. At times, there is a clash of communication styles, leaving older workers feeling disrespected or under-valued.

Increasing numbers of my clients are reporting stress from being an older employee or job seeker. Their stories have prompted me to devote this (and future) columns to issues facing older workers. I believe that we all can benefit and grow from learning more about older workers; even if you are not an older worker, be mindful that you will be one someday. My overall goal in these articles is to empower older workers to feel confidence in what they bring to the table and take charge of their careers.

First, the bad news. One of the biggest hurdles for older workers is societal perceptions about aging and elderly. LetÕs face it: getting old is not celebrated in our culture. Older people in sitcoms tend to be portrayed as doddery, confused, and perpetually nodding off. Take a quick peek at any beauty magazine and youÕll see products promising to reverse aging, restore youth, and erase wrinkles. The message sent to everyone, young and old, is that aging is not acceptable. These messages influence how older people are viewed in the workplace. Unfortunately, stereotypes about older workers tend to paint them in a negative light. Older workers may be seen by some as:

¥ Forgetful
¥ Easily confused
¥ Cognitively impaired
¥ Rigid and inflexible
¥ Unwilling to learn new things
¥ Not current in knowledge or skills
¥ Likely to get sick a lot
¥ Unable to work for the long-term
¥ Uncomfortable with technology
¥ Overqualified

Unfair though these stereotypes are, itÕs critical to know what youÕre up against if you are looking for a job or asking for a promotion. The person interviewing or supervising you may be unconsciously harboring these stereotypes. You are in a better and stronger position if you can prove that you are not a stereotype. For example, if you sense that co-workers doubt your tech skills, be sure to stay up to date with these skills. Take additional courses or training to fill any gaps in your skill set.

ItÕs possible for an older employee to have a satisfying job; just take a look at the happily employed older workers all around you! These successful employees prove that stereotypes about older workers have not affected their career happiness. In my next column, I discuss strategies to tackle all of the workplace stereotypes listed above.

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