I remember my grandmother saying to me once when she was 70 “I know on the outside you see an old woman but on the inside, I’m still 27”. I never really understood what she meant by that statement until I turned 50 …… because I still feel the same energy, enthusiasm and passion for life that I did when I was 27. Sure the hair may be a lot greyer but I would like to think I am a bit wiser and have acquired some knowledge and experience that might be worth sharing.

Whether you are male, female, gender fluid, LGBTQ, straight, black, white, Asian, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist or no religion, one reality that we all share is that we are all going to get old. Ageism is a prejudice against older people because they are old, and while thankfully other prejudices against a person because of their race, sex, religion or sexual orientation are confronted, ageism seems to slide under the radar.

Perhaps we all make little comments about our older colleagues or relations without thinking of the effect those comments may have on the receiver: old fogies, bed blockers, grannies, old dears, ‘the elderly’, ‘their past it’ ‘at your age’. These prejudices can become part of our everyday norms and can slip into the workplace environment.

Even though employers aren’t supposed to discriminate based on how old you are, getting hired can be a challenge when you’re considered an “older” worker. However, you don’t need to have grey hair to be consider too old to get hired. Believe it or not, job seekers are reporting age discrimination beginning as early as the mid-thirties, I bet that has grabbed your attention. By the time you reach your forties, you can be considered washed up in some industries.

A recent study by William Fry ‘Employment Report 2016’ found:

42% of employers believe there’s ‘an upper age limit for customer-facing roles’

87% of those unemployed aged 55 or over believe their age has been a factor in their not getting work.

3. 65% of employees over 55 would like/believe they need to work past the age of 66.

The average lifespan in Ireland has increased by nearly 25 years since the 1920s, but our attitude to getting older hasn’t moved with the time. It is time we need to start talking about a second middle age that stretches from about 60 to 75. Some researchers in the UK have even suggested that 70 is the new 50, based on the belief that age should be calculated not on one’s actual age, but on how long people are expected to live after retirement. By that reckoning, you reach old age when you have 15 or fewer years left to live. This, of course, is all great news, but we need to start talking more positively about middle age first and then think about introducing the concept of a second middle age.

As a society we need to change our perception of “old age” and instead of looking at the age of a person concentrate on the person and the qualities, experience and skills they bring to a position.

While ageism applies to the old, age bands can so often be used to tar an age grouping with a set of behaviours. I genuinely find it hard to stomach the labels some commentators make about millennials as not hard working, unable to take disappointment and having a sense of entitlement. I can tell you the millennials that I meet in my work are passionate, hardworking, ethical and long to make an impact on the world. They inspire me.

When we meet older people for the first time we may make subconscious judgements about their ability to be flexible, to change and adapt, to embrace new technology, to work in a stressful environment, all of this without getting to know or understand the person behind the number. Think of the potential opportunities we have in life where these assumptions may prevent us from working with the most incredible people in the most effective way.

There are many, many amazing success stories to be found about over 50’s who have been super successful and Nidhi Shah has uncovered some of these examples in her this blog http://arkenea.com/blog/entrepreneurs-above-50/

No matter what age a person is, it really is their attitude that counts, not a number on their birth cert. My grandmother had an incredible attitude and a determination that drove her all her life. She was an extraordinary woman who brought up her siblings with her older brother after both her parents passed away …. she was 17 at the time. After contracting TB of the spine when in her 70’s, she was hospitalised and had to lie on the flat of her back for two years. She was only a week out of the hospital when she fell down the stairs and broke her hips. She was told she would never walk again … but she did …. and taught herself to walk unaided. She remarried at the age of 75 her second husband, whose name was Maurice was 80……. Never say never.

I will leave the last word (or song) to the incredible Evelyn Williams the 81 year old contestant on Ireland’s Got Talent. Evelyn won the heart of the nation, not only for her singing but for her attitude to life and for the beauty that shone from within.

Let’s stop using age as a determining factor ……. Let’s get to know each other as individuals and what each of us can contribute in a unique way to our organisation no matter what age we are. 

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