AT OUR AGE, ALL WE WANNA DO IS HAVE SOME FUN”
Not all people over 50-ish, are created equal, so it’s not coincidental that stereotypes of “old” people persist. Be honest. If you’re an employer looking to hire the best and brightest, you’d also like “youngest possible” in the job description too. After they hit fifty, they’re going to be burdensome and pretty much out to pasture, right?
Well, no, because there’s a new brand of “old” on the rise. I call them neo-hip. They have a little more spunk than your ordinary resident of Wrinkle City, as you might picture it. A little more confidence coupled with humility. They’ve banished the denial metaphors like “65 is the new 50.” They’re embracing their 65-ness with a kind of wise awareness that comes with age. The trick is to make the best of the gifts they’ve been given. Doctors push old age as a common denominator for aches and pains that cannot be diagnosed and prescribe meds for whatever ails you. The neo-hip smile at them, politely acquiesce, then break out the yoga mats, the spinners, wheels and balls; they meditate, get acupuncture, take shiatsu and weight lifting. They are healthy, unafraid, daring and, above all, resourceful.
Still, the myths about older workers prevail and some employers still believe and fiercely enforce them. Unfortunately, there are just as many seniors who believe the hype as well. But if you’re neo-hip, you’re faster, better, and smarter than the 30-year old whippersnapper sitting next to you on the bus. It’s time you realized that if you’ve been wallowing in “nobody-wants-me” land.
What if you were worth $19K an hour
A group of 30-something airplane mechanics noticed a strange sound on the floorboard of one of their planes but after weeks of probing, they could not determine where the sound originated. Without the plane in operation, they were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a day. Out of desperation, they called in a retired employee who had worked extensively on this particular model. He was 68 years old. It took him three minutes to discover the problem.
The younger workers congratulated the old guy and called him a hero, until the boss received an invoice for $3,200. The company was outraged. After all, the retiree was on site for ten minutes tops. That would be more than $19K an hour! The company asked him to explain the unreasonable charge. He revised the invoice to explain the justification. It read:
The company had to agree that it was a small price to pay to put the plane back in operation.
The retiree is an example of what I call the “knowledge boomers.”—the original Class I Baby Boomers, born between (approximately) 1946 and 1954 who were afforded excellent economic and education opportunities during the 1960s. They are the tail end of the “Thinking Class” or “The Problem Solvers.”
Eighty seven percent of this demographic receives fixed income from Social Security. But with SS payouts averaging $1,200 a month, it’s usually not enough. So they consistently search for supplemental income and are willing to take almost any type of work they are capable of doing.
AGEISM IS TOUGH TO PROVE
As eager and even desperate as seniors are for supplemental income, most would be happy to work, especially as consultants/advisors and on a part time basis. But they are often the target of age discrimination, without even knowing it. This is their hurdle and only they can jump it.
Age discrimination is insidious and difficult to detect or confirm. Social media has made it easy for potential employers to gather pre-interview information. Once they check you out on-line, they have all the info they need, including your age. No matter how attractive your profile picture is; no matter how well educated you are; no matter how much experience you have (in fact, the further back you go, the worse it looks); if you are hovering between the 50 to 65 bracket, if the potential interviewer lacks insight about the value of your experience and skills, your application most likely goes into the circular file. So much for the one-on-one interview where you might have been able to sell yourself in person.
THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU GIVE UP
Or you can push a little. That’s the advantage you have. You know how to ask intelligent questions to glean the info you want and worm your way in for an interview. Just be armed with a little info about how you might be perceived and be ready with the pushback. Here are a few reasons employers shy away from hiring older people.
MYTH #1- Old people push insurance premium payments up.
This is part myth and part true. When businesses contract with insurance companies for employee benefits, obviously they negotiate for the lowest rates. Young, healthy employees are less likely to use (or abuse) these medical benefits so rates are lower when the average workforce age is lower.
However, many seniors do not require the standard benefits since they are already on Medicare and have a supplemental plan. Neos tend to look for part time employment so benefits may not even be on the table.
MYTH #2- Older people are physically decrepit and can’t keep up with younger employees
Well, true and not true. It’s part genetic combined with what you do with (or to) your body in your thirties and forties. So much depends on your physical and mental health. In 2007, 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men over 70 reported that they never exercise. (US News and World Report) But things are changing and Neos are into fitness mode. The worlds’ oldest female body builder, 75-year-old Ernestine Shepherd, entered her first competition at age 71.
MYTH # 3- Old People Are Slow and Not As Productive
False. Recent studies show older working adults are extremely productive and are rarely late or absent. Neos are more appreciative and grateful and tend to be pleasers. Many have that quality precisely because of their age. They have been exposed for decades to the old fashioned work ethic that many younger people have not.
In addition, “neo-hips” are more aware and tolerant of the need for patience and mitigation of stress as healthy contributors to physical well being. Sister Madonna Buder, now age 80, is a Roman Catholic nun from Spokane. At 77, she became the oldest woman to finish the arduous Ironman triathlon, including a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run.
These women are exceptional to be sure but there are more like them and more than you think, are as physically sharp, as mental.
MYTH #4- Old people don’t understand new technology and don’t want to learn.
Getting to be on the false side. While most seniors may not have the tech skills that a 20-something Apple store employee knows by rote, Neos are starting to “give in” to the inevitable, and they have a faster learning curve than people expect.
A recent PEW study shows a distinctive link between seniors who are tech-savvy and level of income and education. “Educated seniors adopt the internet and broadband at substantially higher rates than those with lower levels of income and educational attainment” according to PEW.
Of those seniors who have an annual household income of $75,000 or more, 90% go online and 82% have broadband. Only 39 percent of seniors earning less than $30,000 annually hit the computer regularly. “Fully 87% of seniors with a college degree go online, and 76% are broadband adopters” the PEW study shows.
It’s a logical conclusion to draw that for those on a fixed income, the high cost of the computer and WiFi prevents them from being more involved. That does not mean they wouldn’t or couldn’t if given the appropriate tools and training. Boomers are a part of one of the fastest growing demographics in terms of usage of social media and other technologies.
MYTH #5- They are just unattractive. No one wants to look at a dried-up face all day.
This is hands down, the most ridiculous myth in circulation. Most 55-65 year old “boomers” today are also “age-questionable.” Take a look at the iconic Sophia Loren at 80!
It is difficult to tell the difference between a 52 year old who has taken no interest in his or her appearance, from a 68 year old who works out regularly, eats healthy foods, and sticks to a routine that defies aging. Sultry actress, Sophia Loren at age 80 is age-defiant.
Seniors are a huge target in the health and beauty industry with an emphasis on anti-aging products. Even on limited budgets, they will experiment with various products to keep a youthful appearance. This does not include those with enough money to go for plastic surgery which can shave ten years away in an hour.
MYTH #6- Old people have more diseases and disorders than young people.
This is a common myth that probably stems from the fact that we all lose more cells and gray matter (brain cells) as we age. But many seniors are in better shape–healthwise– than their children. Unless they suffer from chronic diseases that prevent them from working at all, most seniors over age 65 visit their doctors regularly and are more aware of health issues and how to arrest or prevent further deterioration. Their diets are usually healthier than those of young people who tend to eat what they want, not necessarily what is good for them. Many young people today have a feeling—usually unconscious—of immortality and feel “Life is short. Might as well live it up.”
MYTH #7- They will bail (from the job) as soon as a better opportunity comes along.
Probably untrue. A “better” opportunity for this age group is not lurking at every corner. Once hired, they are not likely to actively seek other employment.
MYTH #8-They want more money because of their experience.
Generally, false. This generation of neo, unless inherently wealthy, are very middle class or what is left of it. They want to live comfortably but not lavishly. They want to buy the grandchildren something nice at Christmas. They like to treat the “kids” to dinner occasionally. They are often willing to settle for a lot less than they were accustomed to as professionals; however, they do want fair wages.
MYTH #9- Old people don’t really want to work anyway.
Based on my own experience and my conversations with 60-and-70-somethings, everybody wants to be doing something productive and hopefully lucrative. They just don’t want to continue a 60-70 hour work week they were putting in for the past twenty years in the corporate world.
Most people over, say age 55, may have lost their jobs and need to work just to stay financially afloat. For many, the retirement plans they made twenty years ago just didn’t pan out. There’s also ego and self esteem. Being out of work at age 25 is one thing. At 55 or 60, it’s definitely more traumatic. The older person may feel threatened and intimidated by younger workers and stuck in a mindset of “Nobody wants someone my age.” This is a psychological “tick” that only the Neo can smack out of her reality. If you believe you’re too old and will never find suitable work that you love, that will be your plight. Your thoughts are more powerful than you think.
Actors like Harrison Ford do not survive on looks and luck alone. They recognize a need to handle the body with care–the earlier, the better. They reinvent themselves if they want to keep getting work. You have to do the same.
Of course there are seniors who are physically or mentally restricted with regard to the work they would like to do and what they are actually able to do. This percentage of the population is, sadly, throwing a wide net, and there will be serious consequences without appropriate legislation, but that is another topic.
The neo-hips whose careers were in skilled trades and industries such as finance, health, insurance, and technology, have an excellent chance of being hired. Nurses, radiologists, nurse practitioners, dental hygienists, doctors, certified teachers, accountants and data analysts are in high demand and many young people do not have the chops or perseverance. Younger workers have big dreams but lack basic old school work ethics, organization skills, planning skills and social skills. Older people are usually better educated than their youthful counterparts and that kind of background gives them an advantage when it comes to clarity of expression and problem solving.
Just know this. More than ever before, healthy seniors are becoming a more valuable commodity in the workplace on many levels. Most of all, they are ready to retire the “senior” label and exchange it for “Neo.” News flash, employers. Not all seniors are techno-wizards but many have other, valuable skill sets that can benefit your company. Perhaps it’s time to think about the ones who got away and run after them.
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