National Older Workers Week will address stereotypes and assumptions about older workers and aims to change the ageist mindsets that block them at work.
We grow up with a lot of stereotypes and assumptions, no matter how open we think we are, and many of them seek to divide and separate us off. None more so than age. All the branding of different generations as if everyone in them shares the same views or outlook on life, the talk of ‘boomers’, the words we use to describe older people – and younger ones, the people we don’t see on the screen, the people we don’t listen to, the people we dismiss as ‘snowflakes’ and much more all feed into this soup of stereotypes and we drink it in ourselves. I heard my son, aged 11, refer to someone as a boomer the other day. They were 24.
This, of course, feeds into the workplace. And it is this mindset that we have to tackle before we even begin to put in place training, support and so forth which caters to different pinch points in people’s lives – because there are pinch points at all stages and different types of support needed to ensure you can do your job to the best of your abilities. In November WM People is holding the first National Older Workers Week. The week will include a range of different events targeted at both employers and candidates and the findings of our latest candidates’ survey.
Alongside this we have been running a working life stories series which seeks to tell it like it is, to address some of the myths about older workers and to show just how capable, adaptable and resilient they are. There are people who have weathered umpteen restructures, redundancies and other changes over the last decades and have adapted, maybe started up their own company on the side, learnt new skills, developed a portfolio career, switched careers and all sorts. The stereotype that older people are stuck in their ways and can’t learn anything new is patently false.
There are tales of frustration at the ageism [and for women that is combined with sexism] that several have encountered as they have tried to look for jobs. One man wrote: I have submitted numerous applications and rarely receive a response and believe my date of birth on the application immediately ends the process. I moved to the UK 18 months ago to care for my aged stepfather who is 90. I have a permit to work, but at 63 am likely seen to be well past my ‘best before’ date. I am starting over at an age when others are considering retirement.”
There are stories of people hugely motivated to give back in any way they can. One woman from the airline industry set up a support organisation for her colleagues who were furloughed or made redundant as a result of Covid; another was sofa-bound due to an illness possibly linked to Covid, but managed to write some key emails to help improve her local community; another has just completed a wing walk for cancer, aged 54. And there are stories of resilience, people overcoming not just health issues and change, but bullying, bereavement and much more.
One of the things that has struck me the most doing these interviews is how little we hear from and listen to older people – not celebrities or millionaires, but ordinary people talking about their lives. One woman who had worked in video production then education and, while having trouble finding a job, had developed a sideline adapting old abandoned furniture sent me some feedback after I posted her story which has really stuck with me. She said simply: “It’s so lovely to be heard, which many women of my age just aren’t.”