Do you ever catch yourself thinking “I feel old at work”? Maybe that thought comes up because you’re among the older workers in your unit or organization, or because the clients you serve are young. Perhaps it’s because your director/manager is younger than you are. Or a combination of all three.
Ageist beliefs “out there”
We know that ageist beliefs exist and research has demonstrated that it is common for older workers to face stereotyping in the workplace (Levy, 2022). Some of the stereotypes about older workers are favourable: they may be seen as having a stronger work ethic, and as being more reliable and loyal. However, more commonly, older workers face negative stereotypes. These negative perceptions include that older workers are less adaptable, more resistant to change, lack technological competence, and are less trainable (Harris et al. 2016).
Though these negative stereotypes are largely unfounded, they persist and result in discrimination. Consequences include that older workers are less likely to be:
- shortlisted for interviews,
- promoted; and/or
- offered training opportunities (Government of Canada, 2022).
The ageist beliefs YOU have about yourself
While ageist beliefs exist around and outside of you, they may also exist within and about yourself in the context of your work and career.
These beliefs you have about yourself may sound like:
- I’m too old to go after that
- I’m not as driven as I used to be
- I’m not as quick as before
- My memory isn’t as good as it used to be
- I feel old among all these young workers
- I don’t want to become deadwood at work
I’ve had many of the above thoughts. And, to be honest, I mostly considered these truths, until recently.
“I’m too old” — Is it true?
I’ve become increasingly interested in age and ageing over the past year.
I also recognized the extent to which I hold negative age stereotypes about myself and generally (e.g., thoughts like “cognitive decline is inevitable”, making “jokes” such as “I’m having an Alzheimer’s moment”).
My beliefs (and stereotypes) about self and others, when it comes to age, have started to shift recently; consequently, my fears about ageing have diminished. I credit a few different sources:
- The work of Dr. B. Levy, author of “Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live”. Please read this book if anything about this post resonates or seek out any of the podcast interviews she’s done (This episode of the Career Pivot Podcast is where I first encountered her work)!
- Regularly hiking with women who are strong, fit, vibrant–and typically 10-15 years older than I am. These are not wimpy hikes folks!
- My father, age 92, who is deeply engaged in life, has goals, and active.
What can I do when I feel old at work?
I wish I had a magic formula for dealing with this (and all other non-helpful thoughts). I don’t.
Everything starts with awareness: when you recognize the ageist thoughts you have about your work and career and question their truth and permanence, you can make some changes. For example, I’ve stopped making derogatory statements about myself and my age.
In addition, I am tuning into my strengths more often by reflecting on “How do my age and experience make me a better worker?” My responses include:
- I draw on decades of experience in my work (which I then bring to every initiative)
- I know my strengths at work and know how I contribute (based on my extensive experience)
- I am competent and productive, thanks in part to my extensive experience
If any of the above resonates and you’d benefit from working through this with a coach, book a complimentary consultation here.