August 6, 2016

"Baby boomers are taking on ageism — and losing."

I read that WaPo article, and it seems to me that a big part of the problem described there is that employers want people to put up with stress and overwork and not just put up with it but act enthusiastic about it. Employers may predict that older people are less likely to go along with oppressive working conditions. I know I don't. Resistance to inhumane demands is a benefit that older workers can provide to the younger workers, and that's just what employers may prefer not to have around.

I think it's important to make a distinction between ageism coming from employers and ageism coming from younger people in general or younger employees in a workplace. I'm saying this not just because it's the age discrimination by employers that violates the statutory law, but because the reasons for the ageism are quite different.

Employers are hoping to extract more and better work from the people they hire. Younger people may dislike older people for any number or reasons, some of which are more pernicious than others, but they may also derive benefits from older people, at least some of the older people.

I'm suggesting that one of the benefits of older people in the workplace is our longer perspective and our ability to perceive and willingness to object to poor working conditions.

29 comments:

Val Haynes said...

Agree. Having a longer perspective is so valuable--even precious to me now, also my inability to put up w abuse. Thanks Ann.

Ambrose said...

I find it interesting. I was born in 1959, the tail end of the baby boom. For my entire 57 years on Earth, everything has been all about people 5-10 years older than me. Can't change it, but it's been a constant theme.

Stephen said...

Actually, our perspective is shorter----as in life's too short to put up with this crap.

Carol said...

I don't blame employers for ageism. I worked for a company that was very open minded and desperate for experienced people. But I noticed that some of the old veterans who hired on quickly left for greener pastures, or were hypercritical, or disruptive. Or felt they had to make a lot of noise and impress everyone with their expertise. They'd bitch and moan and then they'd leave.

I know it's a humbling experience to start a new job you may desperately need, among strangers who don't know what you're made of yet. You feel so insecure but ya got to keep your head down, STFU and perform.

Me, I just plum wore out my enthusiasm as I aged and wanted to kick back. I couldn't understand the fast talking young sales reps. Jesus everyone was on speed! I did my work as required but didn't go looking for more. When they pinkslipped me at 65 I felt I had done ok. It was a very happy day.

I interviewed at a few govt jobs for fun and saw they hired young, cute and quiet - usually relatives of employees.

Balfegor said...

our longer perspective and our ability to perceive and willingness to object to poor working conditions.

I thought Millenials were the ones who whined about inhumane working conditions, etc. etc.

Paddy O said...

My dad was affected by this. County juvenile hall teacher, extremely effective at teaching English and literacy. Highly credentialed for special ed, you name it. Got forced retired. Lawsuit ensued, and not long after settled for about a year's pay, etc. Could have won a more substantial suit because he was among a number of such who were forced out and replaced by long-term subs. It was illegal both in terms of ageism and education standards, but cheaper for the district to get rid of them, pay for much less experienced and qualified teachers to make sure the kids just got pushed through and out the system. But his lawyer suggested to settle because had they pressed on in court he said the district would drag it out for years and years. Meanwhile my dad was out of a job. The retirement wasn't financially healthy, but he's much more healthy overall since, so not ultimately bad for our family.

On the other side, as someone who spent a few years as an adjunct, I'm not convinced that in academia older workers "ability to perceive and willingness to object to poor working conditions" is really at all the case. The vast privileges of senior faculty are borne by adjuncts and low status faculty. Faculty working well past retirement age keep jobs from those who really do need them and are willing to put a lot more time and passion into the work. Meanwhile, many (certainly not all) older faculty haven't redesigned a course in years. Faculty seem entirely blissful with their perks and privileges rather than really fighting for the working conditions of younger faculty. Some, not all. The institution I'm currently at is a refreshing exception where the faculty and dean are exceedingly supportive and spread the work out.

Caroline Walker said...

Blah blah blah blah ism. Have we reached peak groupthink yet?

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jack Wayne said...

When I was much younger, I had a summer job planting pine seedlings in eroded areas in Mississippi. We were expected to plant 1000 seedlings a day. Not too bad when we were in a forest where the ground was soft. A hell of a problem when we were actually in an eroded area like a washed-out gully. That ground was as hard as iron and it took a lot of effort to get the dibble to dig a nice v-shaped divot. I was doing about 250 a day and the gang boss was pissed. So one of the older guys whispered that I needed to learn some "pine tricks". The number one trick was to lift up a patch of sawgrass and throw about 40 seedlings under it and stomp it down. After that, I had no problem with my quota. Ever since, I've had no problem taking guidance from older people or giving it.

Ann Althouse said...

"Actually, our perspective is shorter----as in life's too short to put up with this crap."

Yeah, I thought of that too. It changes the stakes. A younger person has to get hold of something that will get him or her through many years. An older person may feel very close to being able to walk away from the work world.

I know I feel different about my job knowing I can retire when I want. It's easy for me to have an I-don't-need-this-aggravation attitude, and it allows me to speak up about needless busy work and documentation of hard-workingness that younger colleagues may feel they need to pretend is perfectly justified.

Ann Althouse said...

Hi, Val. Thanks for commenting here.

Val is a very old friend and someone I admire a great deal.

mockturtle said...

Funny, I was just reading that employers were getting frantic that so many [boomers] would be retiring and they would have to replace them. I'm an early boomer and retired several years ago. Most boomers I know are retiring early by choice.

edutcher said...

IOW all the "Don't trust anybody over 30" stuff comes back to bite the Lefty cohort of the Baby Boom.

Couldn't happen to a more deserving crowd.

PB said...

Yes, there are many work environments that are more about style than substance or visible shows of effort as opposed to results.

Sebastian said...

Value of older people varies by type of work and workplace--less where work requires physical vigor, less in secure jobs where risk of dead wood increases.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...I'm suggesting that one of the benefits of older people in the workplace is our longer perspective and our ability to perceive and willingness to object to poor working conditions.

"We're not crotchety old complainers, we're helpfully pointing out poor working conditions." I buy that.

Fernandinande said...

Ambrose said...
I find it interesting. I was born in 1959, the tail end of the baby boom.


If you were 5-10 years older I would've read the rest of your post.

Jon Ericson said...

@ Fernandinande

I haven't been here long enough to know where that particular burr under your saddle came from.
Could you elaborate?

Lucien said...

Us old codgers should do all we can to stir up the young'uns so that even if we can't make a case for age discrimination we say that we were involved in "concerted action" so that anything bad that happens to us is an unfair labor practice under the NLRA. Obama DOL types eat this stuff up.

David said...

The young have always been more than willing to replace the old. But these days the old have their revenge. You youngsters have to pay for us and we keep refusing to die on schedule.

MikeD said...

I'm sorry, but the opinion(s) of a unionized/tenured public/government employee who's never even tried to survive in the private/capitalist economy isn't really valid here! In her world, ageism, aka tenure, is the Holy Grail of employment!
BTW, in my 60's-70's years of corporate employment, I jumped longer serving employees because I was better at what was expected. Is it different today? I'll guess where productivity is the criteria it's still the same? Of course this is an economy/culture where corrupt crony/capitalists thrive:
https://stopelonfromfailingagain.com/

n.n said...

The senior entitlements were introduced with the intent of removing the old to make room for the new. It seems that the old are unsatisfied to be put out to a comfortable pasture and left to graze.

Bob Loblaw said...

I know I feel different about my job knowing I can retire when I want. It's easy for me to have an I-don't-need-this-aggravation attitude, and it allows me to speak up about needless busy work and documentation of hard-workingness that younger colleagues may feel they need to pretend is perfectly justified.

The flip side of that is you realize once you walk out that door you may not be able to find another job if you change your mind. For most people, anyway.

Phunctor said...

I'm a travelling coder. I've lived and worked in 4 states in the last 5 years; it's fun in a kids-grown kind of way. I've been contracting for 35 years. Historically, about 60% of interviews yielded an offer. Now, it's much less.

There's a pattern: phone screen with hiring manager, half an hour of his time. Passed on to further screens with team leader, half an hour of his time. Passed on to further screens with team members, quarter of an hour of their time. Multiple levels of non-disqualification. Then, feedback to job shop is "He's the leading candidate.". Then there's a long pause and "No, went with another candidate.".

So I infer the widespread existence at the lab manager or director level of some kind of mysterious hurdle that I can't get over anymore. They're the poorer for it, but then so am I.

wildswan said...

As soon as you have two gray hairs everyone thinks you are or should be Whistler's mother and they keep trying to lead you over to the chair. In many situations it's best to be pleasant and thank these young people who are trying to be polite. Murmur a quiet statement that you are on the way to make some scuppernong grape jelly, that's why you are still walking. Discuss cooking methods (that don't involve cilantro or cumin) in general conversation.

But the whole social position of older people needs to be rethought in view of the fact that most will live fifteen to twenty years beyond retirement at 65 (and 25 to thirty years beyond these forced retirements at 55), the whole time collecting Social Security and whatever else. Most are already assisting grandchildren and volunteering. I mean something deeper like having quotas for how many people beyond the age of sixty-five are working at companies, this accompanied by a lower Social Security levy for companies with lots of older workers. Or Carry out :America Without Borders" - where up to 11 million retired Americans could live, own property, run businesses, own guns, drive cars and possibly vote in Mexico and Central America in a balanced relation to illegal Hispanic immigration to the US. This would make Social Security go further and help change the reasons people have for fleeing those countries and make amnesty acceptable. Winning.

Rusty said...

Ann Althouse said...
"Actually, our perspective is shorter----as in life's too short to put up with this crap."

Yeah, I thought of that too. It changes the stakes. A younger person has to get hold of something that will get him or her through many years. An older person may feel very close to being able to walk away from the work world.

I know I feel different about my job knowing I can retire when I want. It's easy for me to have an I-don't-need-this-aggravation attitude, and it allows me to speak up about needless busy work and documentation of hard-workingness that younger colleagues may feel they need to pretend is perfectly justified.

It also means you don't have to self edit as much as you used to. People in power over you no longer intimidate and fools need no longer be suffered in silence. Which is rather liberating in itself.



jaydub said...

In the private sector most generalized, sweeping statements about employability are only applicable to commodity-type jobs. If you have marketable skills and have demonstrated superior productivity against clearly defined and quantifiable objectives, private sector employers will always value you no matter your age. In the public sector such demonstrated, superior performance does not seem to be a primary requirement for advancement or longevity, and I would submit the difference lies in the absence of a profit motive. In fact I'm not sure what the criteria is for public sector success, but it does seem to be tied to bureaucratic considerations rather than performance metrics. This makes most public employees essentially commodities to their government employer, hence, they put an outsized value on employment stability. I'm not saying that a public employee cannot be just as productive as a private sector employee, only that the government bureau is not necessarily capable of recognizing it or prone to place much value on it. I suppose this is why you get civil service regulations, public sector unions and such things as tenure. Too bad.

Jupiter said...

"I'm suggesting that one of the benefits of older people in the workplace is our longer perspective and our ability to perceive and willingness to object to poor working conditions."

In the Real World, there is no such thing as "tenure".

Unknown said...

"I'm suggesting that one of the benefits of older people in the workplace is our longer perspective and our ability to perceive and willingness to object to poor working conditions."


Do you dream that this is a benefit to the EMPLOYER?