31.05.13

Empowering the Older Worker

Keren Smedley runs Experience Matters and is an experienced life and business coach. She has recently written Live the Life you Love at 50+: A handbook for career and life success.

In this guest blog she gives her personal views about taking control of one’s life beyond 50.

It’s very easy as an older person to complain about how we’re treated. I wonder if we expect to be treated differently just because we are older, wiser and have been around the block? I’ve recently been talking to a lot of older workers in the organisations I train and coach in who feel sidelined and marginalised and I’ve begun to wonder what part we play in this?

Does being older, and by this I mean 50, 60 or 70, give us the right to be seen as important, good at our jobs and worth while training and developing. Isn’t it something we have to earn?

Joan 64 came to see me for some 1:1 coaching after she felt sidelined at work. She said that no one noticed her anymore and if she did offer her opinion in meetings she would notice people visibly responding in a negative way. Some would for example be looking at their phone, others would throw sideways glances at each other whilst others would be all too ready to interrupt her and tell her that she hadn’t understood the issue or that they didn’t want to hear how it always was in the past.

I asked her what impression she thought she was giving to her co-workers and why she felt she was either ignored or attacked.

Her response was, “they think I’m past my sell by date so they aren’t interested or I’m too old fashioned to be of interest.”

As she was talking she became quite distressed and said, “I’m talking for them, I don’t know what they think really as I don’t engage with them much because I think they think I’m too old. I’ve lost all confidence and I know this affects, how I dress, how I respond to people, the friendships I make and so on.” 

I asked Joan if she wanted to do something about this.

Her answer was very clear she wanted to fit in, be part of the organisation and be seen as someone who wanted to contribute and who others wanted to listen to. She was not ready to retire emotionally, intellectually or financially. 

Joan’s self image was now leaking into all her interactions and she was coming over as a ‘grumpy old woman’ and who wants to spend time with one of those?

Joan is not alone, so many of us have bought into the societal view that we aren’t wanted. We are left feeling that we are of little value and that we should be giving up our positions in the work place. Furthermore some of us feel guilty that we are holding senior positions that we are told are the right of younger people. Whatever the reason we feel less positive about ourselves, act this out and low and behold - our worst fears become true.

I’m not saying that there isn’t age discrimination in the workplace or that we aren’t sometimes treated badly for being older but I do think we have to be part of the solution. Many of us are stuck so either do nothing or make it worse.

As employers I think we owe this to our older workers. They are dealing with a totally different environment from the one they came into when they first joined the workforce. Many didn’t expect to still need to work in their 60s and 70s. They’ve had to keep up with huge technological changes and there is no let up. I believe we should be offering them coaching and training to meet this challenge. In this way they will feel confident in themselves and their abilities and be able to show others that their wealth of wisdom, experience and knowledge is exactly what’s needed in the workplace.

* Live the Life You Love at 50+ A Handbook for Career and Life Success published by McGraw-Hill. Keren Smedley runs Experience Matters offering advice on empowering the 50+