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Mature Workers: Staying Relevant


By: Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.

I hadn’t seen Jeff for over 30 years, since we had worked together as teenagers but somehow we recognized one another as he left the employment centre. Stopping to say hello, he recounted how he was recently laid off as a sales rep from a food manufacturer and was coming from a support group for mature workers. I hesitated for a moment and replied with: “ I can’t believe it Jeff, we are mature workers!”.   “Wow, that makes me feel old and I really don’t understand why we would need a special group!” We both agreed that at our age we were really at our prime, having gained so much knowledge and skills. Why would these assets present such a dilemma for employers?

I guess it has to do with how we perceive mature workers. Are all of those stereotypes really true? Cranky, bitter, burnt-out technology dinosaurs. This seems to be the basis for the majority of complaints. Are they really warranted? While working on an assignment with a call centre, I had a chance to test this out. I noticed first-hand why my client was unable to retain their mature workers. The rapid pace of the computer-training was too stressful and they quickly became disengaged, alienated and embarrassed by the younger trainees. I could see how it would have been beneficial to take more time in the training and “nesting phase” (time before you go live ).

Spending more time on the front end would have actually saved on training costs and protect their reputation as an employer. Having a separate training strategy for mature workers would yield better results : creating higher retention and loyalty. Consistently, I saw mature workers quit  before they were put on the chopping block.

With three generations now working together for the first time, we must find ways to integrate them all for the survival of our organizations. It is estimated that approximately 41% of the working population is between the ages of 45 and 64 (up from 29% in 1991), and this percentage will continue to increase over the coming years.   This is an astounding number we cannot ignore. It requires a new shift in workplace and societal attitudes challenging our perceptions regarding aging.

Given how common is ageism,  mature workers must also do their part to stay relevant and informed about the trends in the changing workplace:

Refrain from being overly judgemental about the younger generation’s work habits and expectations. Taking this approach will automatically distance you from them and this will only make you appear older and resistant to change.

Look for opportunities where you can work with younger employees. Many younger workers often lament a lack of mentors in the workplace. Keeping an open-mind may make you someone they can turn to for advice. Conversely, they may be able to help you acquire or understand some of the latest trends that can be beneficial to your work –including technology and social media.

Familiarize yourself with your rights and obligations as a mature worker. Recognize that in some types of jobs which require physical work you may notice a drop in your ability to perform. You may be asked to perform other work.

Avoid getting pre-screened out of a job interview. Only include the last 10-15 years of your work experience and leave out the dates of your education except for recent courses. If you have 30 years of work experience listed on your resume, the screener can easily do the math!

Be open to learning and taking any required professional development. It demonstrates engagement and your interest in staying with your job and being productive. Be honest about the kind of training you need and what approach works best for you. Many mature workers often benefit more from one-to-one or small group training over larger groups especially when it comes to learning technical skills.

Avoid the temptation to parent your co-workers. As you get older there is an increasing possibility that your supervisor will be younger than you. Taking this approach will only work against you as it undermines their talents as a boss.

Stay in touch with the language trends. If you don’t know what something means ask. Remember the language you use speaks volumes about your ability to adapt. Talking about the “good old days” creates exclusion.

Challenge your own biases about ageing and ageism.   Do you carry biases of your own that may prevent you from being your best at any age? Do you let biases about younger workers get in the way of promoting and hiring them?  Age is increasingly referred to “as just a number” and you can be the inspiration to others who decide to remain in the workplace longer.

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“You Just Don’t Fit In!”


By:  Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work in London Inc.  Publisher, Inclusion Quarterly

The interview has ended and you turn to the other members of your selection team and say: “He wouldn’t fit in” and they agree, passing over this candidate in favour of a less qualified one. You site all kinds of reasons like: “he is too old”, “we want people who will be fun to work with and he seems too professional”, he seems to know more than we do”, and his cultural dress wouldn’t fit the corporate image we’ re trying to project. All of these are poor excuses for turning down a candidate especially if they are qualified for the job. Telling someone “they don’t fit in is a proclamation of personal bias. Period. The ideal staff person cultivated in your head does not match the person sitting in front of you. Perhaps you were looking for a man? Someone who is of the same race as you? Or a person who doesn’t have a disability?  Were you specifically seeking a straight candidate?  You wanted someone under the age of 40?  A person who thinks like you? Someone who is less intelligent and won’t challenge you in any way?  Or who seems to lack confidence?

I remember getting hired for a job when my manager was on holidays. Figuring out that she would not want to consider me for the job because of my experience, I later learned the selection team strategically held the interviews while she was away. I was 35 and she was used to working with young women who were fresh out of school. Having been through the trenches of the not-for-profit world, I was full of enthusiasm and ready for the challenge of re-energizing a fledgling program. Introduced to me after coming back from her vacation, she declared: “I wanted someone who was younger and who I could mould”! Can you imagine how I felt? Clearly, I did not “fit” her ideal image of the staff she wanted to have, even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with my work.

Recently, my friend recounted a similar situation about an interviewer. Noting that she liked having young energetic staff, she  conveyed she was impressed by his many years of experience, but  added: I just need to know that you will fit in, because everyone fits in here and I am not so sure about you”. He thought it was an odd comment to make, but decided that he would just forget about it. After getting hired, in his first week, his boss called him into her office and had some peculiar personal comments about him that had nothing to do with his work. He’s a rather introverted man who is reserved until he gets to know people.  She said: I am really not sure you are fitting in”. You keep your door closed and you are not really interacting much with the staff”. You seem really unsociable!” B. had his door closed to block out the noise to accommodate his disability, ADHD.  This was mentioned  during his interview. While he was friendly to all staff,  he wasn’t hanging around in the hallways or in their offices gossiping as so many others were. He had a work ethic! Apparently, that was why he “wasn’t fitting in”?
If you are making hiring and retaining decisions not based on a person’s ability to do the job, but on something about them you don’t really like, (which is really what “not fitting in” is all about) this is a bad move that could end up costing you a bundle in legal fees.

As an employer you could easily be playing with fire when it comes to human rights, legislation protecting people with disabilities in the workplace and laws against bullying and harassment.

Hiring someone because they are the best person to do the job is always the right decision and having standardized documentation to support all phases of the hiring process is the way to go.

Next time, you think “that person doesn’t fit in”, challenge yourself to look at what they do bring to the workplace instead of imposing unnecessary superficial expectations on them. Take the time to understand what is happening for them. After all, a good leader makes everyone feel included no matter how different they are. It is up to you to help them “fit in” and be accepted and respected.

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