Career Advice

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

Posted by Francesca
min read

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?' 

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