How Old Are You? The Problem of Age in the Workplace


by Francesca Arcuri

about 5 years ago


I enjoyed reading this opinion piece, I am 54 and a half — how old are you?, and, I must admit, being in the same age group, it touched a raw nerve.  Especially because my younger boss asked me, 'How do you feel about this article?' to which I replied, 'Why are you asking me?!' Being defensive about such a question immediately implies that you have your discrimination lawyer’s number on fast dial and your finger poised on your mobile – but I could also be a cranky, old troublemaker! In the recruitment field, I see this type of probing on a regular basis, where some clients ask about a prospective candidate's age directly, to which we can’t give a response, followed by the usual implied ageist questions such as, 'When did they obtain their HSC?' 'When did they graduate from university?' 

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?

It’s a highly subjective topic, and I often see more energetic, experienced and stable candidates in their 40s and 50s than newly graduated candidates starting out on their careers who are in a hurry to get to the top or show no interest at all. Don't get me wrong; the opposite is also true, but my point is: why not have a conversation? Ask the key criteria questions, check for the all-important 'culture fit' by meeting individuals face to face, and then – and only then – make a judgement on the life and work experience skills that this person can bring to your organisation.  

I've seen the benefits of inserting a more mature person into a group of younger, 'street unwise' people and thereby creating well balanced and congruous teams. As for me, I have a twenty-something colleague who I can ask complex IT questions and who helps me without making me feel like a dinosaur. In return, I’m available to answer those tricky client relationship-type issues that come from having twenty-five years experience in the field. So, next time I’m asked the 'How old are you? question,  I'll now respond with, 'I feel somewhere between 30 and 40!'* * birth certificate withheld

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