Ageism (the “too-old” type)

Two years after I retired in payroll, an ex-colleague and good friend called to ask if I would like to come back to work. She sounded desperate!!

The job was being re-advertised, and no-one applied. She was alone, doing a job for 2 people. Our payroll department had undergone “restructuring” the year before, and most of our colleagues took redundancies offered to them. They had the choice of being offered another payroll position on lower wages; those who took the payout either moved out of Sydney or found other jobs.

“Restructuring” = corporate-speak for “It’s time to get rid of the oldies and recruit younger staff”. WHO KNEW?!

Why would you spend time and money training over 55s in digital literacy and new technology? Our invaluable knowledge became worthless, simply because we were “too old”. We were farewelled with a morning tea, gift voucher, and a “So long, good luck and it’s been good to know you” speech. 

Personally, I welcomed this opportunity to finally realise my dream to write, but my other colleagues who were desperate to work did it tough. They found well-paid payroll jobs very quickly – only to find their new workplaces had staff at least 20 years younger! The usual “Shouldn’t you leave the workforce and make way for us younger ones?” glances were there. My friends had to deal with it, without support from their team leaders.

When I received the call from my work colleague, I responded out of sympathy – and the reassurance it would only be “for 6 months”. I went for the interview and was called the next day. “Congratulations, Shirley – you’ve got the job!” “Are you sure? I’ll be 69 in a few months”. They replied: “People with your skills are as rare as hen’s teeth. So, when can you start?”

It was February 2018. The same office now had younger people, some of whom appeared agitated at my presence. “Why on earth is she back? Shouldn’t she be at the Leagues Club playing bingo?”

Well, I bravely took it on, and learned new skills. I was slow but accurate, and put in an extra hour each day getting used to Excel. As my confidence and skills improved, I got through my tasks much faster. I survived – but was relieved when a replacement was found in mid-2021. So much for 6 months … I was there for over 3 years! 

Here’s a quote from authors Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton: 

“When it comes to cognitive jobs, the crystalline intelligence of older workers can be a real advantage. This was clear from a study of productivity at a BMW manufacturing plant in Germany which found that older workers were more productive than younger ones. They discovered that while older workers were slightly more likely to make mistakes, younger workers were more likely to make big mistakes. There are no surveys to suggest the over 50s and 60s can’t use Zoom. The so-called digital divide does not exist.” 

Trinca, H. (2020, September 5–6). ‘It’s the New Job: How to Grow Older’ & ‘Ways and Means’. The Weekend Australian. [From the Scott & Gratton book ‘The New Long Life’.]

And from Charlotte Wood’s novel The Weekend:  

“So often in books and on TV, anyone over 70 is this kind of immobilised, depressed, sick, lost, static figure.” 

Hooton, A. (2019, October 5). ‘More people are alive over 65 than under five: it’s time to rethink old age’. Good Weekend, in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Sound familiar??

Today, more and more of us are living longer – and needing to support ourselves. Older people in good health can still support the economy; multigenerational workplaces can and do work! 

Recruiters, HR, interview panels are ALL guilty of ageism bias. If governments are serious in reducing underemployment, ageism must be addressed at the core. Now’s the time to let us in the job market.  

As part of Team 70, I am confident that we can do our bit building relationships with young people. Thanks to modern medicine, good nutrition and exercise we are ageing extremely well. We are indeed fully functioning human beings! We don’t sweat the small stuff. We’re wiser, more accepting, good at problem-solving and in a perfect position to help our younger workmates realise they need us as much as we need them. 

Of course, there are still things that irk us older folk: it’s in full force when we walk into a tech store. How should we respond when asking for assistance and told:

“Do you know what you’re looking for??”
“You could have done this online and saved a trip.”
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Your phone is too old – you should have got rid of it.”
“I don’t think you understand how this works!”

My advice is not to take this too seriously. 

The Alphas, and Generation Ys and Zs are generally a kind lot, and I know would be the first to offer you a hand if you had a fall. They grew up watching their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts using their smartphones. Their world belongs to “the cloud” – and we need to bring them down to earth! 

Now why not cut them some slack with humour? 

First I observe the customer service crew first and check their name tags. Then I say: 

“Harry, I heard you talking to the last customer – and I think you are just the right person to help me choose my … I know I’m old (I smile and shrug my shoulders) – it’s just one of those things that happen to people. If you’re patient with me and speak a little slower, I’ll be so grateful. But first could you give me a glass of water? I need to take my memory pills”. (Poor Harry thought I was serious, but he saw me smiling and burst out laughing!) 

I always get good service when I make them laugh – and I never forget to write a nice email (or a store review) naming and complimenting their staff members. Folks, it’s not that bad: we can connect with our young folk and make them laugh!

So if you’re over 55, don’t stay silent. Ageism needs to be talked about. Have fun with it … you may meet a lovely 18-year-old who’ll be happy to show you how to text with your thumbs!

I’ve asked my dear cousin Efrem to speak on ageism. A big THANK YOU for his wonderful talk spoken from the heart. Here it is, with some guidelines on Positive Ageing that he’s provided.

“Ageism is negative discrimination against people because of their age”

In the 18th century, Princess Elizabeth Charlotte of France was asked when sexual desire ended. She’s said to have replied: “How would I know? I’m only 80!”

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