Is Your Age a Deficit--or a Plus?

Last Updated May 2, 2011 11:31 AM EDT

As a baby boomer, I have found myself working for a number of bosses (in my case, editors) who are Gen X or Y (and some sound fresh out of college). But they don't seem to hold my boomer status against me. Sometimes I even detect a note of respect. That appears to be true for many baby boomers, according to an poll.

The poll found that nearly half of people born between 1946 and 1964 work for a younger boss, and most report that they are older than most of their co-workers. But when responding to a general question about whether their age was an asset, a liability or not an issue at work, 25 percent of boomers surveyed said their age was an asset, while 61 percent said it was not an issue. Only 14 percent said their age was a liability. There were 28 million people 55 and older in the workforce in 2010.

In fact many young people believe that with age comes wisdom. Most boomers said that co-workers seek their counsel more now than when they were younger. And a third said their employer treats them with greater respect.
But some boomers said their workplace issues were related to their age. Those with lower incomes or fewer savings were most likely to report dissatisfaction at work. According to the AP story:

On the question of age discrimination, 82 percent said they have never personally experienced it in the workplace; 18 percent said they had. But that number rose to 24 percent for unmarried women and to 29 percent among boomers reporting job dissatisfaction.

The most oft-cited form of age discrimination was being passed over for a raise, promotion, certain assignments or a chance to get ahead. That was reported by 15 percent of workers 50 and older, although those in lower-income households - or those not currently employed - reported more instances.

The poll was conducted in March by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, Calif., and involved online interviews with 1,160 baby boomers.
"I don't think it's necessarily a good thing to play along with age-related prejudice," emailed Peter Cappelli, director or the Center for Human Resources at The Wharton School and author of Managing the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the Shift in Authority. Harvard Business 2010. "Experienced workers do better than their younger peers on just about every aspect of job performance," he wrote.

Age discrimination often centers on the fears that younger supervisors have about how to manage older subordinates. Boomers should attempt to address misconceptions about aging, said Cappelli, by doing the following:

  • Stress you are perfectly OK being managed by a younger supervisor.
  • Point out examples where current challenges are ones you have seen or handled well before.
  • Demonstrate that your skills and abilities are up to date.
One of the most important areas boomers need to examine is their technology aptitude. As Valerie Coleman Morris, author of "Mind Over Money Matters: It's Your Money So Take It Personally," wrote,

In addition to diversity, we midlifers must be acutely aware that there's a technology overlay in today's workplace. In many environments it's presumed you have knowledge of certain technologies (i.e. WebEx, Skype). The poll showed the bulk of our generation (62%) is mostly satisfied with their abilities to keep up with technology.

If you don't have tech-skills, it can assign an opinion about you that isn't positive. So do some online classes or work with a young person for whom technology aptitude is second nature. Mentor them in what you know in exchange for them mentoring you with brushing up on your technology skills.

Boomers are not exiting the workforce any time soon, despite the fact that the first boomers will hit 65 this year. About 1 in 4 working boomers say they don't plan to ever retire, and an equal number say they have saved no money for retirement. But two-thirds say they'll work at least part-time past retirement age for financial reasons, either because they'll need to or because they'll want extra spending money. Another 29 percent said they'll keep working just to stay busy.
How has your age been an asset or a liability?


Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist who writes for the New York Times, national magazines and websites including Health, Prevention, Ladies Home Journal, iVillage and the Huffington Post. Follow her on twitter.
Photo courtesy of flickr user erin m
  • Laurie Tarkan

    Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist who writes for The New York Times and many national magazines. She is a contributing editor at Fit Pregnancy magazine and the author of three books, Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility, Perfect Hormone Balance for Pregnancy and My Mother's Breast: Daughters Ace Their Mothers' Cancer.. You can follow her on Twitter at @LaurieTarkan.