I am nearing that pivotal age of 65, once thought of as the beginning of retirement, now thought of as “Oh, hell, how many more years of this crap do I have to take?”
In spite of my graying hair, I am darn good at what I do and can do it faster than those half my age. When I hint at slowing down in the next year or two, my clients beg me not to. Clients I’ve dropped in an attempt to ease away from 55-hour-work-weeks ask me to return, which I’ve often done for months or years to continue training my younger replacement who can’t seem to figure out the work or keep up with it. Fortunately, as an independent contractor, I can, and have, set a higher hourly rate for what I call babysitting work.
My value in the workplace is undeniable.
So, why am I ignored?
And, it’s not just me. Other workers, but I believe mostly women, in the over- 55 range experience the same. Once a younger generation enters our workplaces, we become ghosts that no one sees.
We aren’t invited to strategy meetings, as if we are too old to plan for the future or maybe the bosses think we’ll be retired or dead before long, so why bother asking our opinions.
Long-time contacts, people we’ve worked for and with for many years, seemingly forget our email addresses, routing messages to our younger co-workers instead — the same co-workers who don’t know how to answer those emails and run to us for help. Colleagues and clients who once visited our desks when conducting business in our offices forget where our work areas are located, making a bee-line for the desks of younger workers.
I have a bookkeeping service and work at my client offices, where I consistently see and experience these othering attitudes and actions. I’m also privy to financial information employees don’t see.
Younger workers are usually hired at lower salaries/wages — but only slightly lower than the pay of employees with 10, 20 or even 30 years under their belts. While the older employees’ wages languish, the younger ones receive quick increases that soon have them at the same pay level or above those who know more, can do more, and have years of service. Younger employees receive bonuses for just being there as if their very presence is worth more than the work they produce.
The long-term employees get the most challenging work — the work that requires years of experience and a certain level of maturity. The older workers stay after 5 o’clock and arrive an hour early when workloads are heavy, while the younger ones are reluctant to give up any of their personal time, resulting in their unfinished tasks being passed on to their gray-haired office mates.
I receive credit card receipts for lavish dinners where bosses entertain their younger employees — dinners that exclude older staffers, who are often still at the office while the others are enjoying delicious food and getting tipsy on wine.
I understand that the employers may think they are ensuring the future of the company by encouraging the younger generation to hang around. I get that — to a degree. But, I also see the younger ones relying heavily on the expertise and experience of their older co-workers — the same workers who continue to carry the heaviest workloads, usually until their retirement.
Do they not deserve recognition and monetary reward for their continued hard work and dedication?
Of course, because most workplaces have confidentiality rules about salaries, one group doesn’t know what the other is earning. However, the older employees are often aware of the after-hours dining and drinking events to which they are not invited and know that they are left out of meetings and overlooked by colleagues and clients.
I hear the over-55 employees complain of feeling marginalized and taken-for-granted. In spite of their dissatisfaction, they do what has to be done, and they do it efficiently, professionally, and competently.
My opinion is that the employers know the older staff members are not likely to jump ship so late in their careers. Someone over 55 who can continue to survive on her current income will battle through until retirement, unwilling to start over somewhere else so late in the game.
The employers take advantage of the loyalty and hard work of their graying female employees, pushing them aside while working them like mules until that final day when they walk out the door and don’t return — if that happens.
Often, the retired employee is called back for training others and helping with work overload. She accepts because she can use the extra income after years of being underpaid, not to mention there is a sense of justice when an employer acknowledges the need for one who was depreciated for so long.
After years of being marginalized, underpaid, and ignored, we don’t even get to retire.
Perhaps, these attitudes toward aging employees are nothing new, although I remember in my younger years when senior staff members were regarded with respect and rewarded for their many years of service. I see that less and less.
Perhaps, this problem is no different than other current workplace issues such as stagnant wages, being on call 24/7, and the general decline of the importance of employees to employers.
Quitting is an option for the dissatisfactions of the young, but not so much for those who are older and either unwilling or unable to begin again at a new place of employment.
Of course, confronting a manager or employer is an option, but that isn’t likely to reap the desired benefits. After all, your future with the company is limited, and you probably don’t have much with which to bargain. Plus, you risk creating a hostile work situation for the remainder of your employment.
Should you be able to establish with your employer an understanding of how you wish to be treated, that doesn’t change how people outside your company, such as clients, customers, and colleagues, treat you.
Unfortunately, aging marginalization is another symptom of a society that values youth and change over wisdom and reliability. To solve the problem, our culture needs to change and that is highly unlikely.