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Make Your Age An Asset At Work

There’s a book and a blog—and soon there will be a movie—with a point-of-view and a sassy attitude. The title is How Not to Act Old and author Pamela Redmond-Satran places a strong emphasis on how to make age an asset. The premise is that mature workers who are clueless about the latest technological utensils look like dinosaurs to the savvy, hi-tech generation. Is she talking to you?

It all started when Satran noticed that her friends spent a lot of time telling what their kids and grandkids were doing not what they were doing. “They sounded so old,” she said. So Satran started a blog. The book that followed became an instant hit, probably because an estimated 80 million workers today are labeled Boomers between the ages 50 to 70. They’re not going anywhere anytime soon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68 percent of employees in the category say they have no plans to retire (partly due to the economy).

Boomers in the workplace show noticeable signs of living in the past. “You may not be aware that what you’re doing and saying pegs you as over the hill, but the young people around you certainly are,” she said on her blog.

Time For a Tune Up

Those young people Satran mentions are rapidly gaining ground while others spin their wheels on the technological highway. It’s no secret that senior workers are “work-centric.” Isn’t that a good thing? They’re dutiful, motivated, conscientious and goal-oriented. So what’s the problem? The problem is they may have a hard time adjusting to a workplace that changes by the minute. They may expect the younger employees to think and act as they do. They may be, in a word, inflexible.

Meanwhile, the tech-savvy generation is the fastest growing segment of the workforce. Is there room for everyone? What will you do as a senior competing for a place on the payroll with Gen X, Gen Y and the latest, Gen I?

Don’t just sit idly by. Do as Dr. Phil says: Put yourself in the shop for a tune up.

The Ageless Attitude

If you were born between the years when Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson were in the Oval Office, can you keep pace? Can you climb that next hill if you’re slightly over the hill? Of course, you can.

Actually, the news about generational differences in the workplace is positive. Predictions that oldsters and youngsters were destined to clash at work seem to have been overblown. Or at least, we made the issues part of our past.

A recent Kelly Global Work Force Index consulted nearly 100,000 people in 34 countries and discovered reasons to celebrate. Generational issues that may have once soured the workplace have sweetened. Age gaps have been bridged as teamwork—shared views, opinions and practices between generations—had produced new ideas, innovations and understanding.

The Kelly survey found:

  1. Nearly 50 percent of U.S. respondents said they think differences among generations make the workplace more productive
  2. Another 26 percent reported that differences among generations are not an issue

That translates to a congenial, and more productive, office environment. Yet the road to tomorrow is not without speed bumps and obstacles for veteran workers. In some cases, seasoned employees have started to show the miles. Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Schellenbarger said that if any group can turn their age into an advantage, seasoned workers can. The Baby Boomers have already weathered huge change and have the experience and longevity to be viable today. Success at any age may be a matter of attitude.

Attitude + Aptitude = Altitude

“You’ve been many places as you age and you have many experiences that you bring with you,” said Placement Specialist Nanette Carney of Greater Philadelphia’s Carney Group. “Know which experiences are pertinent to 2010 and which ones are not. If you continue to talk about the past—not the future—that is not good.”

With more than 20 years experience, Carney said she has learned an important equation: Attitude + Aptitude = Altitude.

“It’s your attitude, not your aptitude that matters most,” she said.

The formula applies not only to the mature worker, but to everyone.

Above all, show how your experience applies to tomorrow because employers are thinking about tomorrow, Carney advised. “The market is so competitive, you’ve got to be up-to-date in technology and in appearance,” she said. “That’s how you stay marketable.”

Tips for Peak Performance
Extremely Doable, Totally Reasonable, Highly Practical Ideas

If you’re above a certain age, you’re not just another number in an aging workforce that is 80 million strong. Instead, you are strong. No matter how many candles are on the cake, you can keep your career humming along. You make your age an asset.  

“Age doesn’t seem to be an issue,” 60-year-old Susan Hawkins told CareerBuilder.com. Her last three bosses have all been younger, some by 25 years, but she learned to embrace change and youthful coworkers a long time ago.

“I benefit from working with younger people. They keep you young! They keep you tuned into today’s world and the latest technology,” Hawkins said. “I love that I’m learning so much from them.” But most importantly, she said, “I was hired because I’m good at what I do.”
So here we are, facing a new decade with more hills to climb. Is it time to realign? Can you operate at peak performance? If your career (and your attitude) need a tune up, as pop psychologist Dr. Phil suggests, try these extremely doable, totally reasonable and highly practical ideas:

Extremely Doable Ideas

  1. Talk. Contrary to what you have heard, a recent Kelly Services survey discovered that although Gen X and Gen Y increasingly use instant messaging and texting, each generation values face-to-face communication. Overwhelmingly, the survey said, all generations prefer actual dialogue with colleagues over written or electronic formats. So, talk. Invite a younger coworker to lunch, to work on a committee or to lace up their shoes and take a walk with you.
  2. Listen. Sometimes miscommunication is an agreement cloaked in competing vocabularies, said Get Real columnist Jason Fried in Inc. magazine. Programmers speak one language, designers another and managers yet another. In a diverse workplace, don’t tune out cultural accents or youthful slang. If you don’t understand, ask. Most people are eager to share what they know because it makes them feel valued. Flash back to the old-school, yet timeless advice of Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) who said, “The need to be important is not just a wish or a desire but a craving.”
  3. Tune In. A hiring manager told a senior job candidate that she might not be comfortable in the company’s youthful environment. “You go to lunch and all they talk about is Gossip Girl,” he grumbled. “I watch Gossip Girl,” the applicant replied. “I watch it so I can relate.” Knowing what younger coworkers watch on TV gives you an entry into their world (even if it’s Jersey Shore). Tune in to ESPN, too, and join the Monday morning quarterbacks who huddle in the break room. FYI: soap operas are so 1970s.

Totally Reasonable Tactics

  1. Be Your Own Advocate. Workers in the 50 to 70-year-old age range became activists a long time ago, said Sue Schellenbarger in a Wall Street Journal report. This group influenced social, cultural and economic change, such as child care, flexible scheduling, telecommunication, compensation and maternity and family benefits. Take advantage of that experience and be your own advocate when it comes to keeping or advancing your career.
  2. Redefine Your Goals. Boomers are capable of redefining workplace relationships the way they have redefined much of life, notes Ken Dychtwalk, Ph.D., author of Age Power: How the 21st-Century Will be Ruled by the Old. Dychtwalk told the National Association of Colleges and Employers that, “In the past, we retired our old folks because of health reasons. Today’s Boomers live much longer, stay healthier and may want to continue to work.”  Dychtwalk calls Boomers Bloom as more and more embrace fitness and healthy lifestyles.
  3. Beware of the Doom Loop. News makers need news, the more sensational and attention-grabbing the better. Don’t listen. Beware of the doom loop that can take you down as grim reports about a less-than-robust job market continue to circulate. Two great enemies are anger and fear, said consultant Ted Harro in Fast Company. Don’t let insecurities impede your success. Ask yourself these questions: What am I afraid of right now? What can I do to minimize my worries? Then do it. Positive results spring from sound decisions, effective follow-up and learning.

Highly Practical Plans

  1. Network Like You Mean It. Take advantage of your greatest asset—contacts. More life experience means a greater personal and professional network (plus all the  people your contacts know). Don’t fret over age, said Richard Deems, co-author of Make Job Loss Work for You. Network face-to-face, especially within the ranks of your professional organization. Join LinkedIn. Latest statistics show that social networks are today’s “go-to sites” for recruiters with jobs to fill and employees who are searching. 
  2. Embrace the Three E’s. Ed Koller, a principal in the Howard Sloan Koller recruitment firm, told CareerBuilder.com that today’s generation of seasoned workers are appreciated as companies continue to value experience, energy and self esteem. Add a solid work ethic and updated skills to the list and be a frontrunner, one that is adaptable and loaded with expertise. 
  3. Adapt to Change: By keeping pace with change, you naturally increase your ability to compete. Don’t be a dinosaur. Willingly enter “the brave new world” of increased competition, changing cultures, technologies, theories and innovations. Update your use of electronics.
  4. Stay Fit. This decade saw the largest group of workers in history move into the age range of 45 to 69, said Kate Lorenz, an editor on CareerBuilder.com. And we saw something else that was different. This generation of seniors is healthier, more confident and younger looking (and acting) than ever before, Lorenz said. Ask about your company’s health and wellness initiative and don’t stay glued to your chair.