11 Ways For Older Employees To Stay Relevant At Work

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Photo: familymwr via flickr

It is common knowledge that baby boomers are going to be staying in their workplaces for many years past the “traditional” retirement age.These reasons are many and typically based upon sociological, economic, and psychological factors.

Today’s older workers are unlike their predecessors of generations past and are not longing to retire, many are actually dreading retirement. They fear becoming disengaged from friends and society, and not being productive. What is being offered are some practical yet potent strategies for not having your age define you within the work environment.

  1. Don’t speak of the past, and the way things use to be done or were.  Reminiscing can be deadly, and create a chasm between you and younger workers.
  2. Work late 1-2 nights per week, communicate that you’re “a go getter” and can put in the time just as everyone else does.
  3. Let your co-workers know that you exercise (go to the gym, yoga, tennis, etc), but only through conversation and your physical appearance.  For both men and women, don’t leave work in a fitness outfit (that’s a no-no).
  4. Discuss your outside interests, which are more “active” driven, rather then passive.  Also, be involved in volunteering—volunteer with at least one group/organisation.
  5. Don’t dress in outdated, or old looking clothes. A dark suit (navy, charcoal grey) for men with a crisp white shirt is always a good look, and timeless/generation neutral.  Have your clothes tailored well so they’re not baggie or sagging, but instead fit your body well. For women, keep it classic, but not your grandmother’s classic, and don’t (do not) try for the 20 something look—it will only accentuate your “real” age and make you seem a bit sad.  Both men and women, don’t walk around with reading glasses on the tip of your nose—who wants to look like Ben Franklin.  Get “good looking” eyewear with a half or third built in reader, and no on will know that you only need readers.
  6. For men and women, there is nothing wrong with adding “colour” to your hair.  Women should stay away from very dark (black that doesn’t exist naturally…) colours, and men should spend a couple of dollars and not use colour that will make their hair look orange, blue, or reddish.  Facial hair can communicate a more contemporary appearance if it is not white or grey—if you’re not going to colour it – shave it.
  7. Stay positive.  As people age, they seem to complain more, and communicate a negative vibe about many things.  As mentioned earlier, don’t communicate that your best years are behind you, or “things aren’t the ways they use to be”.  Communicate your joy of life and all that it has to offer.
  8. As hard as it may be for you, don’t talk about your health, and how your back hurts, or your knees ach, or doctor’s appointments and medical testing (never, ever mention the dreaded colonoscopy).  If you must mention an ach or pain, put it in the context of working out too hard, or one to many sets of squash or tennis—its relevancy to fitness, not ageing, is key.
  9. Obviously, many people over 50 or so are not as techno savvy. Just don’t highlight it, don’t discuss what you don’t know, and be sure to be “somewhat” knowledgeable—not nearly equal to your younger colleagues, but not a dinosaur.
  10. Maintain a relatively neat work space/environment.  This will not only make it easy for you to find what you need. It also communicates that you are efficient, and projects a more “contemporary” image.
  11. Finally, at the very least, be aware of trends in our culture, and communicate a more global view.  Most people under 40 see and experience the world as “being much smaller”—there is a sense for many that they are global citizens, members of a global community.  For many working in Seoul, New York City, or Hong Kong it is all the same.

The strategies being offered are not meant to have any of us feel ashamed of our age, or our experiences, or be dishonest with others, but simply not have all that we have to offer not be recognised and devalued because of our age.

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