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When Age Is a Problem at Work

Reacting to Age Discrimination

A friend of mine had finally gotten into a comfortable groove with her boss who was an executive at the company where she worked. The both of them were close in age and had an understanding of how each other worked. Her boss retired and was quickly replaced by a man a couple of decades younger. Rumors rumbled that middle-aged and senior employees may be let go. My friend didn’t believe what she was hearing. Many of the co-workers, including herself, had been with the company for several years. Surely their experience and longevity would mean something. Then the new boss appeared to not warm up to her, and her co-workers were laid-off. She was one of the last to be let go.

Unfortunately, many employees who are aged 50 and over don’t recognize, or ignore, warning signs that their age may have targeted them to be laid off or fired. Here are some ways to put up a fight against age discrimination in the workplace, or at least soften the blow after losing a job because of it.

  1. Make sure your work is exemplary. Keep records of good job reviews. Keep track of work projects that went exceptionally well. Did you take classes and seminars to help boost work skills? Make sure copies of those degrees and certificates are in your personnel file. Some employers want to use the excuse that older employees can’t keep up with trends, technology, etc. in today’s workplaces. Produce evidence that shows otherwise. Update your resume with your achievements.
  2. Don’t buy into every rumor going around the office, but keep a lookout for the truth. No matter how well some companies try to hide upcoming changes to personnel and restructuring of departments, some of the news always comes out. Sift through the information and form a plan to protect yourself regardless of what happens.
  3. Network for a new job while still employed, but don’t rely totally on family, friends, and associates who are also in your age range. Those who are out of the workforce due to retirement, layoffs, and terminations aren’t going to be able to give much information about possible job opportunities. Talk with younger workers who may be able to give some valuable tips on how to navigate in an employment culture that is vastly different from how it was when your generation first entered the workforce.
  4. Adopt a frugal lifestyle. Job loss for older workers often happens suddenly. Older workers remain unemployed for longer periods than the rest of the population. If and when we do get a job again, we’re often working for fewer hours and less pay. Make sure your basic bills such as the rent, the mortgage, and utilities are current. Pay down as much debt as possible and do not take on any more. Sell items in the house that are no longer being used. If your former job is decent enough to give severance pay, take it, but use it wisely. Cut down on unnecessary expenses or cut them out completely. Collect money that was borrowed from you and cease lending out any more money.
  5. Don’t rely on unemployment insurance or other forms of government assistance. Employees who have been laid off usually can get unemployment checks. Employees who have been fired don’t qualify for that benefit unless they can prove their termination was improper, but the time spent trying to fight a denial of benefits might be better used in trying to get employed elsewhere. Other government benefits depend heavily on an individual’s age, health, marital and family status. The guidelines for receiving benefits from government agencies are often very rigid, unfair, and seemingly arbitrary to those who are struggling against circumstances out of their control. Keep in mind that government agencies are looking for any reason to deny benefits to people, and they often do.
  6. If there are signs that a current employer is engaging in age discrimination, document each and every incident with as much detail as possible. The laws regarding age discrimination are not as strong as they could be, so employees must arm themselves with as much evidence as possible.

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When Age Is a Problem at Work
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