Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Grow old at your own risk !

Gender or race discrimination at the workplace has received a lot of attention and any organisation that overtly does this is in for serious trouble. But a different form of discrimination has become widely prevalent in the last ten years. Age discrimination. The corporate world favours youth and tough luck if you are an older person. The problem with this is that everybody has to get “older” sometime or the other.

The dice is loaded against you if you are considered too old. The inflexion point comes suddenly on you in the early forties. If, by then, you haven’t “made it” you are on a slippery slope. You get passed over on the grounds of being “too old” and that a younger person is a better future bet. And then by 50 you are a prime candidate for being laid off.

Therein lies a profound sociological problem. By the grace of God, on an average we’ll live longer. Perhaps for 75 years or so. So if you lose your job, or leave when you are 50, you have another 25 years to go. In countries where there is a well defined social security system, this becomes a huge drain on the working population. In countries which have no system, and where the traditional support system of the family is crumbling, what could you do ?

Consider the plight of a 50 year old who’s been laid off, or has been forced to leave. Chances of getting another job are extremely low (does anybody hire a 50 year old these days ?, a sure sign of age discrimination). For many, their very being is defined by their job. When that is gone, self confidence, respect and social standing take a beating.

In the rich world, there’s a clamour for people needing to work longer and not retiring early and claiming their pensions. But the problem is that few people can keep their jobs until they reach retirement age. They’ll have to leave well before that. How many retirement parties for 60 or 65 year olds have you attended in the last couple of years ?

What can be done ? I am not sure at all. The greying generation can do a few things to help themselves. Constantly retrain and update skills. Price themselves competitively against younger guys, taking salary cuts rather than salary increases. Maintain, and demonstrate, that priceless combination of experience and dynamism. Do all this well before reaching 50. But none of this is any foolproof insurance.

This post comes after I read a report in The Telegraph that a High Court in the UK has ruled that compulsory retirement at 65 was valid in law. I think that its an irrelevant judgement. Forget 65; you're lucky if you can hold your job at 55. It’s a scary thought.


Anonymous said...

Interesting issue but I feel torn about how to think about it. Discrimination is wrong but think of the problem as too many candidates for the same job and then all those who don't get the job (young, old, women, etc) feel wronged. But as you near the inflection point or cross it, your perspective changes - I never said I was even close to this inflection point :-). I think the problem is really one of a mismatch between talent and jobs. Nobody will do anyone favors - if the experienced person adds value then I cant see why they wont be chosen. It is just very hard to stomach that someone may be redundant or not incrementally more valuable after slogging at a job for decades. Sometimes you can plan to avoid it and sometimes the best laid plans just fail. -DA

A journey called Life said...

it indeed is a scary prospect innit? how when at an age one should be given credit for experience and maturity (that comes along with age), one is favored for a younger candidate..

A journey called Life said...

its funny how some one who is so experienced can be slotted as redundant..

athivas said...

One industry that did not support this was academia. But, these days, with the tenure based on contract (most univ do this), they easily get rid of people even at an younger age...(unless they reach the set mark)

Anonymous said...

In fact in academia, the ones with tenure never retire well into 70's and this takes up slots that could go to junior faculty - I guess this is a sore point here ;-( --DA

Adesh Sidhu said...

Old is not gold anymore :-)

thethoughtfultrain said...

Yes, it is not so easy for the 50+ anymore. I do hope that it becomes better. Your post struck a chord and I'm feeling unhappy there doesn't seem to be much one can do.

le embrouille blogueur said...

Very true on your observation and wonderful execution .... it is sad to think that competency is ruled out by a natural process ...and convention takes over.Your post made me think Ramesh.

Srivats said...

Gosh you find all this pressing concerns in the soceity and write about it. Yes indeed its a problem and this post made me think. I have seen people at age of 50 plus either in VP / CEO position, having thier own company to take care of. But I never imagined about the rest. May be they take good position in schools or NGOs or something like that. But Its really bad and what a waste of the true potential.

As you rightly pointed out if the social security system is good its potential drain, if its not its scary for the seniors.

In singapore, the prime minister has come up with different solution to such issue. Few months back he has asked investors to consider silver industry which concentrates on products services for greying generation. Majority of the singaporeans are in this generation and its said after 10 to 20 years there wont be much young adults to carry on the job. So the government is promoting various stuff, to increase family support and ask singaporeans to make more babies! :)

now thats something to write about in ur next post ;)

athivas said...

@DA: Academia WAS one industry that did not support this trend. Now, It has also begun. These days, most univ only recruit staff on contract basis. If your research potential is up the mark, you get an extension or your contract is terminated. One prof(full time prof) at his 50 has been terminated of his contract in Singapore. He is a cabbie now:

Nobody can predict the outcome of a research,esp., in a subject like his. And this is only a beginning, and his is not the only case, yet!

Sandhya Sriram said...

more than the age, the demand supply mismatch is the culprit. younger crowd offers flexibility and versatality when compared to older people. also, a young non performer is still put up with but not an old person.

this is a very sad situation to be in. However, this is not end of the road. working in a BPO, i can definitely vouch that a mix of older people in the team gives consistency, greater knowledge, people handling skills, ability to coach and train younger team members and lesser career aspirations to manage. But the key is our ability to identify the right place to fit them and give them the right set of tasks to handle

Having said this, very few people realize the merits of this. i think like we have NGO work happening on women empowerement, focussed effort on career counselling for older people needs to happen. infact, it can be rewarding manpower consultancy career option for some if people have the inclination

Ramesh said...

@DA- If it was only a m ismatch between demand and supply, then its fine; you take your chances. But I think in today's corporate world you stand no chance of being hired even if you are much better than competition.

@AJCL - Yes, but we all favour youth - I thinks its now an ingrained bias.

@thoughtful train - Since you have 33 more years to reach 50, you can forget about this for a long time :-)

@Adesh - Sadly, not anymore

@athivas - Academia is something of a contrast as both you and DA have said. Incidentally DA is a "Distinguished Academic" , a very young and hot shot prof in one of the best B schools in the world. DA take a bow :)

@blogueur - Yeah - its a bit of a poingnant thought isn't it ?

Ramesh said...

@srivats - Singapore like many other countries is facing the problem of an ageing population as you rightly observed. I will pass on the "make babies" idea, but surely the answer it to attract more Indians and Chinese.

@sandhya - Yes balance is required in every context. Neither too much youth , nor too much experience is a great idea. The NGO idea is a good one ; you really are in great form and so well informed on the not for profit sector. Blog about it please; we'll all love to know.

athivas said...

//Incidentally DA is a "Distinguished Academic" , a very young and hot shot prof in one of the best B schools in the world. DA take a bow :)//

@DA: A bow from me, as well! :)

DA? said...

@Ramesh - you are too generous with the superlatives. Accurate or not, it is very sweet - thanks. Hey, DA was a private joke - it seems vulgar to use it now :-)
@athivas - There is a constant debate over the relevance of tenure in academics - I didn't realize that in Singapore there were actually going without it. Too bad...

Ramesh said...

@DA - Hey sorry, sorry. I know it was a private joke and my big mouth yapped it off. Hey World - DA was a tag I gave this fine lady - she's so modest she would never take on such a name.

Please become DA again. It got a lovely ring to it and btw its also true !!

mahesh said...

True about age becoming the discriminating factor. In certain cases the reverse is also true (very few cases though) where companies want talent and cant find enough and retain people who are about to go on retirement or want to go and work some where else.

The answer like you said is to upskill yourself and move on from your company if you do get the opportunity of someone offering you a better job.

WagonR said...

Days are gone where the young man has the aspiration of settling in a job and retire from the company at the age of 58 or 60. There will be no good service award, long service award, etc. What is important is as you grew old, one has to adapt to the changing needs of the day, learn the new things and keep up with the pace of today's reality. In other words, one has to keep running the marathon and do not withdraw in the middle till you get to the finish line (this means, you have to energize yourself while running and ensure you are fit to be in the competition).

Ramesh said...

@WagonR - You are very right - no more retirement functions. And the best one can do is to remain young, atleast in outlook, keep up to date, have the energy and hope for the best. But its tough to do that if you are discriminated againt simply because you are chronologically old.

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