Dangers of Looking Your Age

During Wednesday's discussion about younger parents, we kicked around age-related bias. The biggest questions: When does ageism start at work? And what can you do about it?

For the record, age-related discrimination at work is illegal in hiring, promotions and firing decisions. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects employees 40 and older. My research on stay-at-home moms who return to work has found that ageism starts to kick in around age 50. However, like a lot of bias, it's tricky to prove. Ageism affects both men and women. It's a surprise to many employees because until it affects you, ageism is easy to ignore.

Age-discrimination is particularly shocking for stay-at-home moms who left the workforce in their late 30s or early 40s, before ageism was on their radar. They try to go back to work in their late 40s or early 50s and find ugly surprises. Women report being interviewed by hiring managers who seem impossibly young -- but outrank them and control whether their resume gets past the interview. Sometimes bias is subtle, sometimes obvious. It's hard to fight and hard to pinpoint, especially for someone trying to re-enter the workforce (vs. someone who has been fired because of age bias and has a clearcut grievance).

Ageism is real -- an obstacle just like other barriers to getting and keeping good jobs. Another reason to keep your resume current, save your pennies, and remember that a job is just a job. It makes me look kindly on exercise, up-to-date haircuts and even cosmetic surgery as helpful tools -- what seems to matter is how young you look and sound, not necessarily your actual age. What about you? Have you been skeptical of someone's potential because of their age? Have you experienced age discrimination? What have you done to avoid it?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  January 18, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
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Maggie, just caught yesterday's discussion -- if you're still reading, file a complaint with the FTC. You can do it online (btdt). They won't do much for a one-time thing, but they like to track complaints so if they see a pattern (like a lot of complaints involving Capital One), they will pursue it. Also file a police report -- it's annoying, but you may need it to dispute any other accounts or charges.

On ageism, well, I've always had the opposite problem: a baby face that made me look younger than I was, which made it harder to convince clients to take me seriously. I was actually happy when I started to get grey hair, because I finally looked my age. But we'll see what happens in a few more years, when I'm 50ish and completely grey; I do believe that age discrimination exists and is a big problem. So who knows -- maybe someday I'll have to complete the loop and start dying my hair back to its original brown. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | January 18, 2008 7:40 AM

"Have you been skeptical of someone's potential because of their age?"

I've been skeptical of someone's potential because of their ATTITUDE.

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 18, 2008 7:54 AM

Laura, I'm with you. People always thought that my mom was my dad's second wife cause she couldn't possibly have kids the ages we were!

And people comment all the time to me that I don't look (almost 40). It's kinda funny.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 18, 2008 8:05 AM

I find myself at the other end of this spectrum. I am a petite female who looks very young for my age. I do not dress inappropriately young, but am still often mistaken for a teenager by my looks. My field of work requires me to run site visits and interview high ranking officials on a regular basis. When I go to a site with coworkers, the interviewee will often overlook me, and begin speaking to the older-looking person in the group until I introduce my team and myself. They are often very shocked when they realize that I am the person they have been exchanging emails and talking on the phone with, because the face and the knowledge base just do not match. Some of the more rude ones even ask my age. I always find this comment completely inappropriate, because I would never think to ask them theirs. I guess though, I can sort of understand this, as many probably feel like they are talking with their teenage daughter. I suppose this is something I will enjoy in my 40s and 50s, because, hopefully, I will still look like I am in my 30s.

Posted by: audtee | January 18, 2008 8:13 AM

I look about 8 years younger than my actual age. I'm in my mid 30's, but look late 20's. The problem I'm having is when people assumed I am younger then found out my actual age. The reaction from both men and women "you don't look that old". When did mid 30's became old. I have people in their 20's relate to me at times as if I were their peer. It's strange because I wouldn't go back to my 20's even if you offered me money. I'm not freaking out about getting older, I'm looking forward to my 40's. What I don't like is peoples' reaction when they find out my actual age. Lately I've been thinking I should let them assumed I am youger - whose business is it anyway. In parts of Europe women never discloses their age.

Posted by: lourd | January 18, 2008 8:15 AM

Well, I've seen that ageism is alive and well. My mother, who is almost 61, has been looking for work for over a year. She has a Ph.D. in a general field, has 40 years of professional work experience, and never took time off to stay at home. Her most recent experience is with HIV/AIDS research, for which I hear there is still lots of money being reserved, and she's willing to live anywhere--South America, Africa, Canada, anywhere.

So why isn't she being hired? She even looks incredible for her age. But the resume doesn't lie, and as soon as employers see that she's close to retirement age, they start looking elsewhere.

Posted by: Meesh | January 18, 2008 8:19 AM

Meesh: Actually, the idea that we should all retire at some magic age is the problem. I think that's one reason for ageism (oh, she's only going to be around for a short period of time). The reality is, no matter who you hire, who knows how long you'll stick around, and the older you are the less likely you are to be changing jobs.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 18, 2008 8:32 AM

It's kind of a vicious cycle, really. Oh, someone (the govt) set the age at 65 (it's actually higher now). so people think they need to retire at that age and employers think all employees will retire at that age.

So then people find they can't find jobs when they're in their 50s or older, so they say: oh, it's ageism - I can't find a job.

When if they would just raise the age at which people receive benefits (another reason, other than the obvious ones), it might help 'fix' this 'problem.'

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 18, 2008 8:34 AM

My career was destroyed the instant I turned 50 and my looks began to change. Considered a talented technician on the way up, I began to be excluded from meetings, and promised promotions were awarded to younger women less qualified. When asked why, I was bluntly told I "look too old." You are correct. It may be illegal, but it is certainly difficult to prove; though that employer was extremely nervous about a lawsuit. The day I landed a better job and submitted resignation(after three years of searching), my former manager was terminated.

Posted by: syurek | January 18, 2008 8:39 AM

Whatever you do ladies, please don't gob the makeup on to cover the wrinkles. That just makes it look worse!

Adeism effects women much, much more than it does men. Older men project the image of wisdom, which is not neccessarily true for women.

And one last thought, you know that old wives tale your mother used to tell you when you were pouting, "Your face is going to freeze that way." Well, it's true! If you spend your youth frowning and scowling and being judgemental, the wrinkle lines will become entrenched on your face and become permanent in your old age.

DandyLion here, reminding everybody to smile and laugh as much as you can!

Posted by: DandyLion | January 18, 2008 8:39 AM

DandyLion

"Older men project the image of wisdom,"

Not the older men with pot bellies and comb-overs.

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 18, 2008 8:44 AM

DandyLion, I think you should let us "ladies" make you up one day in revenge.

The younger-ism thing. This is no longer a problem for moi, sadly I guess, but when I was in my 20s I started wearing glasses and dressing "older" for the same reasons listed above -- to be taken seriously, largely by men. It worked. Hope cosmetic surgery can work on the back end...Although resumes don't lie, there is nothing that says you have to put down the year you graduated from college or anything like that (and it is blatantly illegal to ask). So I think how old you look matters a lot. Although it shouldn't.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 18, 2008 8:47 AM

My husband and I were joking the other day about crossing paths. His social value (in the most basic sense) is rising as he becomes more successful and "distinguished" and mine is dropping as I become simply, older. While we both know and appreciate the "whole" person it is interesting and funny to us how outside the home in the most simple sense, things switch.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | January 18, 2008 8:55 AM

I must admit that I've been reading all those magazine articles about looking younger very carefully.

In the bits of looking around for a new job that I've done my age doesn't seem to be the issue as much as my current salary. Too high. So I feel like being expensive is the killer, not age.

When I go to church I've noticed that the older (50+) women who're working all have hair that is not gray. I think there is something to be said for a little hair coloring vanity.

Posted by: RedBird27 | January 18, 2008 9:10 AM

My Dad's a consultant in his later 50's. He's been told, casually, that clients prefer to have someone like him on the consulting team because they want "a little gray hair." So, it works all ways.

Posted by: rr321 | January 18, 2008 9:11 AM

Although resumes don't lie, there is nothing that says you have to put down the year you graduated from college or anything like that (and it is blatantly illegal to ask). So I think how old you look matters a lot. Although it shouldn't.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 18, 2008 08:47 AM

Maybe not. But many potential employers want the traditional, chronological resume. Take the years out and we can all still back track through the years of experience claimed by a candidate and determine the year of graduation. Plus, eliminating those graduation years can make a candidate seem terribly insecure.

Oh, and, yes, I experienced agism in my low-30s when I attempted to make a career change. I was willing to start at the bottom in a new industry, and was one of the final three candidates for jobs at seven different employers. Not less than three headhunters disclosed that I lost out every time to a 22 year old because the employer was concerned I'd be bored and the 22 year old wouldn't know any better. Thanks, but no thanks.

Hiring managers make the safe choice every time and they want "fit" on a team. If all your cultural references are from the '80s, a la John Stewart, you may not have much in common with a team whose cultural references are to Superbad, Wilco and Feist. Plenty of people can do the work. Forming a team that gels is a key to good management. Unfortunately, this is the reality ignored by people who think they can move in and out of the workplace, at will, based on skills alone. On a personal level, it stinks, but there it is.

DandyLion, Older men project the image of wisdom about as often as older women -- not much, unless they are family members. More often than they admit, older employees are seen as doddering has-beens entrenched in the way things were done in the '70s or earlier.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 18, 2008 9:12 AM

I started experience agism about a year ago. I am 48 and work in the legal field - I was pitted against a 23 year old and then the bachelor come on tv where women in their 40s were competing with women in their 20s. Simply stated, I will lose everytime to a 22 year old - it is not even a contest. Since then, I have updated my hair style and purchased as nice of clothes that I can afford. I now realize that comestic procedures are a must if I expect to keep my pay and my job. It is very hard to accept.

Posted by: pkm123 | January 18, 2008 9:19 AM

laura--thanks so much. I did file with the FTC and am going to file a police report as well. The silver lining in this whole thing is that if you are a victim of identity theft you can extend the 90 day fraud report on your credit to 7 years. The best part is that for 5 years you are exempt from pre-screened credit card and insurance offers.

I agree with atlmom that it probably has a lot to do with potential employers wondering how long "older" women (who knows what the magic number is) will be around. Also I think it has something to do with the stereotype that older women don't know how to use computers or haven't kept up with technology. Granted, it is true in some cases, but it's just as likely not true in any given case.

My question about the plastic surgery thing is what about when that backfires and sexism or lookism or whatever you want to call it kicks in--they don't want to hire you because you're too attractive (maybe a threat to the woman who's hiring you) or seen as shallow and stupid because you've had "work done." Maybe I'm missing something and/or maybe things are different for women in positions of power but my experience has been that people as a whole seem to look down on anyone who has any type of cosmetic procedure and automatically deduct points from their IQ.

Meesh--your mom may well have already explored this avenue but the military does a lot of HIV research and maybe the climate is different there in terms of hiring. My company administers military medical research programs and HIV research is our biggest program.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 18, 2008 9:22 AM

I absolutely love computers and used to work at a legal software company - I am the one everyone comes to in the office when they have computer trouble, that is until recently, once pitted against the 23 year old, I actually had one attorney suggest that if I did not know how to do something extremely simple to ask the 23 year old. That has calmed down a bit since I kinda confronted the situation. It is still hard to accept that at 48 I am being viewed as a has been. I love to learn anything new and use all the latest technology.

Posted by: pkm123 | January 18, 2008 9:30 AM

Older men project the image of wisdom about as often as older women -- not much, unless they are family members. More often than they admit, older employees are seen as doddering has-beens entrenched in the way things were done in the '70s or earlier.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 18, 2008 09:12 AM

Everyone in my office relies on my boss, who's 66, for his judgment and perspective. He's very grandfatherly to all of us and is, in fact, relied upon for his wisdom. I consider myself very very fortunate to report to him. He communicates in a much slower, more considered way than "us young folks", and sometimes that's desperately needed, especially when a project gets tense for one reason or another.

OTOH, sure, we've all seen the doddering old men that everyone wishes would just retire already! I hope my boss sticks around till he's at least 70, because I want him in the office for at least another 4 years...

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 18, 2008 9:31 AM

pkm123,

I don't mean to be harsh, and I don't know if it's relevant to your field, but you also might consider writing skill/grammar if it's part of the job assessment: writing/saying something like "as nice of clothes that I can afford" (as compared with "clothes as nice as I can afford") is not what I'd be looking for relating to communications skills.

Posted by: fendertweed | January 18, 2008 9:59 AM

PKM - really liked your story. any interest in writing a guest blog about it? leslie@lesliemorgansteiner.com

Posted by: leslie4 | January 18, 2008 10:04 AM

I, too, feel that by looking younger than my age I have failed to appear as "serious" as my fellow, older co-workers. I am paranoid that this has held me back in some ways. But of course, I can't prove anything.

I also suspect (again, merely from circumstantial observation) that unmarried people/people without children are also discriminated against pay-wise due to a perceived lack of seriousness or "need" from the perspective of more traditionally settled highers-up.

On the flip side, in technology fields, almost every young employee has parents who are completely befuddled by new technologies. And younger employees are quick to notice that (again, from circumstantial evidence) amongst one's own co-workers the older employees frequently adopt a wanton, even strangely proud ignorance of various technologies. Out of this, it seems easy to imagine that a young person interviewing an older one for a tech-related position would bring to that interview some skepticism or prejudice.

The solution to all this? I don't know if there is any. It seems to be something entrenched both in our genes and via personal experience, regardless of the legality issues.

Posted by: kingpigeon | January 18, 2008 10:12 AM

btw: it's ageism to infer automatically that the 23-year-old isn't more qualified than the 48-year-old, too. Some 23-year-olds have advanced degrees, significant work experience, and a flawless professional demeanor.

Rather than simply stating that "23-year-olds keep beating me out for these positions!", it would be advantageous to explore what strengths these candidates have that are attracting employers. (and it might be as simple as the fact that they're willing to do jobs for $28K, and you're looking for at least double that!)

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 18, 2008 10:14 AM

"Maybe I'm missing something and/or maybe things are different for women in positions of power but my experience has been that people as a whole seem to look down on anyone who has any type of cosmetic procedure and automatically deduct points from their IQ."

In my experience, a good cosmetic procedure isn't something anyone either in the office or on the client-side acknowledges noticing. There's a big difference, however, between a small eyebrow lift or neck lift and pasting a couple of cantaloupes on your chest. The former procedures are viewed as staying in shape, aging gracefully, and caring enough about your appearance to put your best foot forward. The latter is viewed unfavorably.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 18, 2008 10:24 AM

Both my mother and a friend's mother have experienced age-ism (early 60s). Both women have run organizations with low six figure budgets in the non-profit world and just want a 40 hour a week job -- a concept younger interviewers find hard to fathom. (They seem threatened). My mom was successful, my friend's mom gave up looking. Favorite phrase from my friend's mom "I just want to work and contribute, but I don't want keys (pager, blackberry,...)"

Posted by: tntkate | January 18, 2008 10:32 AM

In my prior field, bosses were always looking for the *rising young star* -- someone they could promote and then take credit for finding or advancing in some way. A very talented young woman I knew was denied a promotion many years ago. The explanation she was given -- I kid you not -- was that she was an Audi when they were looking for a Porsche.
So I am too old to be a rising young star now. Having had kids late makes me seem younger as do some tricks in writing my resume. But I can't imagine doing more than maybe coloring my hair in the future. Ageism does worry me especially given there's no job security these days and I've no pension or retirement benefits.

Posted by: anne.saunders | January 18, 2008 10:55 AM

Very relevant topic. In my 30's, I worked in a field where I came in contact with a lot of male managers and directors from abroad who thought that, at best, I was a secretary (I don't need to tell you what they thought at worst). I had a great boss at that time who made it very clear to them what my role was in those meetings. Then, in my mid and late 30's I worked on Capitol Hill where I was a clear target of ageism from younger single and childless staffers (I was married and had two kids). I would love to hear from those who were discriminated based on their age or marital status, how they handled these situations. What is a good comeback when a 27 year old female tells you that "she needs to rent some kids" so she can leave an office on time or when somebody announces to you that they will never have kids implying that you are not as valuable an employee as she/he is.

Posted by: tsm | January 18, 2008 10:58 AM

Well, I'm at work so I don't take a lot of time to rewrite my postings so they are grammatically perfect. I get along with everyone at the office, both young and old. I am open to anyone showing me how to do something better or teaching me new technology. My problem is that my age is now an issue at work (let's not even go to my personal life and dating) and I never anticipated that my age would be an issue. I certainly never anticipated that I would be expected to compete with a 23 year old in the looks department, not on performance or knowledge, but on looks only.

Posted by: pkm123 | January 18, 2008 11:03 AM

These stories ring true, but I've also had several older male managers and business owners sidle up to me after I've spoken about Mommy Wars issues and confide that even thought it's illegal, they only hire women who are older than 50 because a) they are done having kids b) unlikely they will move away for a man c) they don't spend an hour a day in the bathroom doing their makeup and d) they are consistently hard working and reliable.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 18, 2008 11:09 AM

Apparently women can never win. You are either too young to be competent or too old to be competent. What is the answer? What should we do?

Posted by: pkm123 | January 18, 2008 11:22 AM

Fortunately I'm in a field where most of my peers are my age or a younger by a year or two. Funny thing happened last night, though. I was at an alum event for my college, and even though it has my class year on my name tag, another woman asked if I had graduated this past May. I said no, I graduated seven years ago. But thanks for the compliment! I'm of the mindset that getting carded frequently when I'm almost 30 will pay off when I'm almost 40. :-)

Posted by: plawrimore1 | January 18, 2008 11:24 AM

I find the notion of surgery a bit extreme. I mean, no matter how you sugarcoat it, surgery has risks.

My mom is 60 and she has problems with "mission creep" on her job. Her boss keeps trying to overload her with more tasks (because she is very good at her job and gets things done) without changing her job and giving her the salary to match.

She said he didn't really seem to "get it", that she's 60, working full-time, trying to care for aging/ailing parents, in graduate school and she's not interested in moving up the corporate ladder right now. She doesn't WANT to have the "better" job, with or without the pay, because the hours are murder. Anyway, she went into work one Saturday (she had to miss Friday for appointments), and he turned up. He didn't recognize her. She was without makeup, her hair wasn't "done", she wasn't in her work attire. She looked and felt every one of her 60 years. I think that may have been the first time he realized that she's NOT a young woman. She's smart, she's very hard-working, she takes pride in getting things done well, but she's not 40. She's not interested in pushing herself to their limit.

So, there's the downside to not looking your age. Sometimes, you do feel the bite.

But she never took a hiatus from working, either. She was a psychiatric nurse for many years, and they're always wanted. But she and dad couldn't afford to not have two incomes.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 18, 2008 11:25 AM

I am a woman that is frequently told I don't look my age. I used to consider it a great compliment, but now that I am in my 50's and getting arthritis and am full of aches and pains, I would gladly trade looking 10 years older for having a body that felt 10 years younger!

Posted by: cjbriggs | January 18, 2008 11:59 AM

My husband went back to school and changed careers when he was around 40. He majored in PR and minored in communications, and graduated with honors. I am the primary breadwinner and was stable in my career, so he was willing and able to work himself up from the bottom.

When he started interviewing for a career in PR, it quickly became apparent that there was no way he was going to get an entry-level job in that field, they considered him too old and he was being interviewed regularly by people at least 20 years younger.

Luckily, he was able to finally land a job in journalism, as a copy editor. And, despite my suggesting it as a temporary measure, he refused to color his hair or beard, which were just starting to turn grey.

Posted by: cjbriggs | January 18, 2008 12:05 PM

Fascinating. Does no one see how, as a manager, I have to prefer the employee who is throwing him or herself 100% into the job over the one whose priority is work/life balance? I have accommodated employees' need for flexibility gladly over the years, for reasons that ranged from personal health to family issues to continuing education to volunteer firefighting. I seek balance myself, and set limits on what I'll do for the company.

But think about it. What's a good comeback to the 27 YO who says she needs to rent a kid in order to go home on time? She's working late, folks, so that the work will get done. Do I value that employee? You bet! Is she more likely to be promoted long-term? Possibly, if all else is equal. Some of my "balance" people are real star performers, some aren't. Some of those whose sole focus is the job are star performers, some aren't. I try to be as fair as I can be without compromising my own responsibilities to MY job.

Looking at it another way, I take piano lessons, I can muddle through a Brahms Rhapsody or one of the less complicated Bach Fugues, but I don't practice enough to be as good as my talent might take me because I want to do other things, too--it's a compromise. If I were part of a performing group, I'd be expected to keep up. If extra practice sessions were needed and I had other things to do, I might get replaced. How is that unfair?

Yes, we should all be able to get everything done in 8 hours a day. But that's not always possible, so there are choices we make, and they have consequences.

Posted by: compassgrl1 | January 18, 2008 12:27 PM

plawrimore1 : well, I'm almost 40 and still getting carded - seriously. Some places just card everyone, but many of them do not. Except for the grey hair (which I didn't have to cover up nearly as young as my sisters (teens/early 20s) - cause I have lighter hair and it just blended in), many people seriously underestimate my age.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 18, 2008 12:35 PM

cjbriggs: reminds me of that friends episode where chandler was changing careers and he was trying to deal with the 20 YOs and then he wasn't offered the intern position and they said something like: well, chandler, with your background we didn't think you'd do well, blahblahblah, and he screamed: no no! I'll do it! When they were trying to offer him a higher position...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 18, 2008 12:37 PM

"I don't mean to be harsh, and I don't know if it's relevant to your field, but you also might consider writing skill/grammar if it's part of the job assessment: writing/saying something like "as nice of clothes that I can afford" (as compared with "clothes as nice as I can afford") is not what I'd be looking for relating to communications skills. "

It's a blog for God's sake. You have no idea how she writes at work. Get over yourself.

Posted by: getreal22 | January 18, 2008 12:38 PM

compassgrl1

"Fascinating. Does no one see how, as a manager, I have to prefer the employee who is throwing him or herself 100% into the job over the one whose priority is work/life balance?"

No. As a 30+ year manager, I've learned that a lot of people who come in early and stay late at work are the worst goof-offs, screw-ups, and biggest blabbermouths in the workplace (or they are hiding at work from a bad home life). These types tend to whine about having to work through lunch again! Oh, no. They forget about the 40 minutes they spent surfing the Net earlier that same day....

The best workers know how to use their time/resources wisely. Nothing to do with choosing job over work/life.

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 18, 2008 12:44 PM

"He's been told, casually, that clients prefer to have someone like him on the consulting team because they want "a little gray hair." So, it works all ways."

My husband has had the same experience. He generally looks young for his age. He just grew a goatee, which has a lot of gray in it. He looks older (but very dapper) and he says his clients seem to like having someone who looks a little older and more experienced.

Posted by: LizaBean | January 18, 2008 12:44 PM

compassgrl1, you seem to contradict yourself almost immediately. Seems to me that a smart manager values the star performers, whether they are accomplishing their feats by being in the office 24/7 or whether they can do it in 8 hours and go home to their families. You said it yourself: not everyone who throws themselves at it is a good performer. So why would you necessarily prefer that person over someone who is a star performer and wants flexibility?

Posted by: LizaBean | January 18, 2008 12:49 PM

When you live in a world where even the Washington Post succumbs to reporting the antics of Britney Spears as front page news, it's hypocritical to go around blaming the world for being ageist.

However, what's really missing is a desire for the Old. Through much of Western civilization the ancients were seen as superior. Now, we're more likely to watch a movie about a really rad college guy, plowing a 4x4 powered by new grass-powered motor that his "nerd" friend invented, through his literature class and running over a professor orating on Plato so that he can make a beer run and reprogram the computer to give him an 'A plus' so he can meet that cute German chick.

This is what we're up against...

Posted by: jabailo | January 18, 2008 1:41 PM

"Apparently women can never win. You are either too young to be competent or too old to be competent. What is the answer? What should we do?"

-- PKM

Best summation today.

My answer is: educate yourself, work hard to make yourself a valuable employee, surround yourself with people who believe in you and jettison those who don't.

Don't be ashamed of being smart, ambitious, aggressive, and a good negotiator (in all things, personal and professional). And be good to others. In that order.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 18, 2008 2:03 PM

Chitty says: "As a 30+ year manager, I've learned that a lot of people who come in early and stay late at work are the worst goof-offs, screw-ups, and biggest blabbermouths in the workplace."

I agree with Chitty on this point! I once sat next to a woman who spent the entire day on the phone, calling all her siblings, children and friends. She did it every single day. And when she wasn't on the phone, she was socializing.

I would sometimes work late, waiting for some quiet time to do my work, and then SHE would stay late, because she had to squeeze in some time to do some actual work. Thankfully, someone must have finally figured it out because she was let go in one of our periodic "dead wood" cleanouts.

Posted by: cjbriggs | January 18, 2008 2:05 PM

What's up with these young whippersnappers working as office techies and don't even know what a MS-DOX prompt is?

And When I service a help desk call and realize they don't know the difference between a forward slash and a back slash, it really leaves me wondering how they got the job in the first place.

As my office mate has heard me say many times after I've slammed the phone down, "That was a real cute one!"

Posted by: DandyLion | January 18, 2008 2:06 PM

"In my experience, a good cosmetic procedure isn't something anyone either in the office or on the client-side acknowledges noticing. There's a big difference, however, between a small eyebrow lift or neck lift and pasting a couple of cantaloupes on your chest. The former procedures are viewed as staying in shape, aging gracefully, and caring enough about your appearance to put your best foot forward. The latter is viewed unfavorably."

LMAO--I think that "a good cosmetic procedure" is an extrememly subjective concept..just as "pasting a couple of cantaloupes to your chest" is.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 18, 2008 2:14 PM

Speaking as a 46 yr old who competes daily along side 20-something co-workers I can shine a little light on defeating ageism.

1. Accept the younger worker as your equal immediately. Show them you do by the eye contact, your personal interactions with them, and questions you ask of them. "What do you think?" Is a great question. Don't talk about "the old days". Instead discuss the improvents of the new age, and the future to come. And for god sakes learn how to send a text message, Facebook, an ipod, a pocket PC, etc.. You can't be a successful businessperson today if you fear technology. Start listening to modern music and find some that you actually enjoy very much. Put it on your ipod nano. Learn about your new favorite band. Find a second one. It shouldn't be a big deal you flaunt - just something you like and know about so you can share if asked "what are you listening to?" You'll be suprised how listeneing and discovering new music relieves you of ageist fears. Yes it matters tremendously in the social aspect of the workplace. It shows you aren't a dinasaur.

2. Its about your BRAIN. If pychologically you are into a cruise where you eat, sit around, go into port to take-in a disneyland-esque version of a foreign culture... You're toast in the working world because your brain is "on vacation". Get involved. The "new generation" comparative would be renting a villa outside of Tuscany and living with the Florentine locals. Being involved and engaged like this in the workplace means being aggressive about achieving the TEAM GOAL. Always be asking yourself and challenging co-workers along the concept of focusing on "what is the goal?" of "getting it done and reaching the goal".

3. Youth shake their heads at people who cannot change - the old ways are being usurped by new ways for a reason... The new ways are often better, faster, more to the point, and more egalitarian. Adopt these qualities. Be flexible, think outside your old box. Always be asking "Why not?". Challenge the leaders of your industry with options that fly in the face of tradition when you believe they will work better. The youth with respect your new ideas and gusto.

4. Go on a diet. Young people are high energy, and you must be too. That sometimes means dropping 20 lbs, getting in 10 minutes early and staying 10 minutes after your shift to make a point. Personally, I lost 30 lbs. DO NOT start wearing teenager skirts. DO begin dressing in modern tones. You wear a suit? How about a cool, all-black-layers italian number? Got a pinky ring? Get rid of it. Glasses? Update them (without looking like a clown.)

Go with matter-of-fact, open minds, seek mutual goals, and take peer-equality assumptions of everyone you meet, regardless of their age or position.

Take young people seriously and they'll be impressed when your experience delivers the answers to the shared goal.

Just as a glass ceiling is in the mind of the "blocked" individual, so is ageism. Go forward and blast through it with ethics, optimism, and forthright action.

Posted by: onestring | January 18, 2008 2:16 PM

So why would you necessarily prefer that person over someone who is a star performer and wants flexibility?

Posted by: LizaBean | January 18, 2008 12:49 PM

I have to respectfully disagree, LizaBean.

Because sometimes I need someone prepared to pitch in - whatever it takes. When a client calls at 4:30 Friday and needs it by Monday morning, that "star" performer who oh-so-politely declines because she is attending a soccer tournament this weekend isn't bringing her stardom to bear for our client base. She may do great work, but she isn't a "star" for our business. The "star" is the person who steps up to the plate when there's a client need, makes alternative arrangements at home so that that client need is met, and doesn't make her boss feel as though he or she should be uber-grateful. You're not a "star" if you do "star" work when it's convenient, but not necessarily when the client needs it.

Is this important in all jobs and industries? Heck, no. If you are in an industry where work is not particularly time-sensitive, last minute business needs are rare, or if the skillsets and personalities on your team are fungible, then, as LizaBean suggests, you ought to be able to be a star without being available for work outside of 9 - 5.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 18, 2008 2:24 PM

LMAO--I think that "a good cosmetic procedure" is an extrememly subjective concept..just as "pasting a couple of cantaloupes to your chest" is.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 18, 2008 02:14 PM

Funny, I don't think there's much dispute about the difference between well-done cosmetic procedures, e.g., Catherine Zeta Jones or Cheryl Ladd, and awful work, e.g., Tara Reid and Farrah Fawcett. It's only extremely subjective if you've never known people who've had plastic surgery.

Breast implants are in fact the only procedure I can think of that, even if you use a reputable surgeon, everyone immediately knows what you did and might not consider you the brightest bulb for having done it. If you think there's a similar stigma to a neck lift done by a reputable surgeon, so be it.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 18, 2008 2:45 PM

Actually, some of the things that people do to look older, can backfire badly.

For example, one evening after marching band, one of the marching band dads drove up in a bright red corvette convertible. He waits for his daughter.

My kid, upon seeing dad and daughter commented to me and another marching band dad, "Wow, you know, old guys with young women look OLDER than their age. They look older than they would if they were in a car with a woman their OWN age."

Kid was right too. Too extreme a contrast just throws ones maturity into sharp relief.

Ditto for facial cosmetic surgery, because if you skip an area, it'll still give away your age. Say you "do" your eyes. Well, it's likely that your neck or decollete will still "tell on you".

I did squawk at the kid, in public. But in my head I was saying, "Whoa, you are RIGHT!"

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 18, 2008 3:01 PM

I don't work on Saturdays for religious reasons, MN. It wouldn't matter what my age was. Would that be acceptable to you? Sometimes, the answer to a question is no - or should be no.

Just because someone needs it doesn't make it gospel. Of course, there are exceptions, but as a general rule, it's rarely the big emergency people think.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 18, 2008 3:02 PM

But MN, LizaBean was talking about flexibility -- and the example you give is one of inflexibility. I agree with you, there are certain careers (like, say, ours) that are incompatible with a set 9-5 worklife. But I do think you can have a good family life, and value that, and still be a star at work. You just need to be able to give your work the same flexibility when they need it that you ask them to give you the rest of the time.

Example: I'm getting a draft of a brief sometime this afternoon (yes, it is already 3 PM and no sign yet, sigh) -- and they need to talk about it by tomorrow. I don't like it, I'm kinda pouty inside, but the fact is, we have a really short deadline, so I told them of course I'd get it done. So my evening is kinda shot. But the tradeoff is that I can take advantage of the extra "free" time I got when the brief was delayed. So this morning, I took a slow, lazy morning with the kids, made french toast, played in the snow, etc. And I scheduled the conference call for naptime tomorrow.

Of course, it doesn't always mesh together that well. But I do think that people who stereotype based on whether someone has a family or not, or works certain hours or not, are the ones who lose out in the end. Most of the people I know like me who are trying to do this job on a reduced schedule are very conscious that we need to get the work done when it needs done, because we know we have a stereotype to overcome -- and we are also extremely loyal to our firm for giving us the flexibility we want without sticking us on some mommy-track.

Posted by: laura33 | January 18, 2008 3:19 PM

"You're not a "star" if you do "star" work when it's convenient, but not necessarily when the client needs it."

Well sure. I should have been more clear, but my definition of a star performer is someone who gets the work done, well, and when it needs to be done. In some businesses being a star performer requires availability at all sorts of hours, in a lot of them it doesn't.

"Throwing yourself at it 100%" is neither a sufficient nor an exclusive measure of performance in a lot of businesses. Although I think there managers who are more interested in superficial displays of "commitment" than in the real work that gets done.

Posted by: LizaBean | January 18, 2008 3:34 PM

Laura and others who attended school with real a-holes:

Check out today's The Law School Gunners thread on Abovethelaw.com

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 18, 2008 3:40 PM

Chitty, that's great -- LMAO right now. It was always fun to see who shut up after first semester, and who suddenly started talking. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | January 18, 2008 4:32 PM

laura, you are lucky that some of them actually shut up after first semester :)

Posted by: LizaBean | January 18, 2008 5:09 PM

Agreed, Laura and LizaBean.

atlmom, I'm not sure how this became about what is acceptable to me, but I don't personally care if or when you work, or whether your standing manicure/pedicure appointment is the barrier or your religious practices. I don't tell my bosses that I will work on Saturday but rarely on Sunday. I get it done over the weekend, as laura describes, whenever it fits my family and personal preferences. My only point, as stated, was that the work needs to be done when it needs to be done and "stars" don't bore everyone with the reasons they CAN'T hit a deadline. Stars deliver. You aren't a star if what you choose to give isn't sufficient to meet the business's needs.

re: gunners. I was lucky - the stars at my law school alma mater were all quiet folks. They understood from the git-go that the point of law school was listening, LOL.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 18, 2008 5:58 PM

MN wrote: "I don't personally care... whether your standing manicure/pedicure appointment is the barrier or your religious practices."

Wow.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 18, 2008 6:13 PM

Re: working on the weekend - seems to me that 1) not all fields are the same, and you have a choice to work in a field the demands constant availability or not. There's no question that in some fields it really does have to get done tomorrow, or by monday, or what have you. In others, that's very rare. And 2) Not everyone is or wants to be a star.

Make your choices, live with them, change them if the results aren't panning out.

Posted by: LizaBean | January 18, 2008 7:17 PM

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