As we get into our fifties many of us may change our perception of the world around us. The most apparent changes take place in our workplace. When confronted with new challenges that we have to face, we might no longer be as sure to master them in the same way we used to.
Being over 50 in the workplace today has become a challenge for many of us, especially for women. We may be seen as old-fashioned, lacking stamina and commitment to achieve our goals, and more prone to illness. However, our lifelong experience has taught us patience, heightened our resilience to stress, and our knowledge has provided us with a larger vision.
As we are advancing in our lives we learn a lot and gain precious experience in all sorts of fields. But as time passes our body and mind begin showing signs of fatigue. And this makes us feel uneasy when thinking of our age, especially where our work-life is concerned.
How Are Over 50s Perceived at the Workplace?
Yes, there it is, we are becoming aware of the signs of aging as we are growing older.
It is no secret that our aging body does no longer function in the same way it did in our 30’s 0r 40’s. Any effort that was once just a question of willpower seems to be harder to make, implicating more efforts from our side to obtain the desired result.
But there are not only physical problems that we have to struggle with. Our attitude may also have begun to change.
We may feel the symptoms of aging in our own ways, but how do our younger colleagues in our workplace perceive us? Even if these are only general aspects and perception depends on each person individually, there are some common aspects that they will scrutinize:
- external signs of aging
- capacity for memory
- physical ailments
- outer appearance and dressing style
- attitude toward new technology
People Over 50 Look Older And, In A Way, More Fragile
Our physical appearance is slowly changing with age. Our reflection in the mirror may show some wrinkles and our posture may have become a little stooped. When we are tired or do not feel well in general, our allure shows signs of fatigue more profoundly than it does for younger people. And our movements are slower and less smooth than before.
Of course, our looks depend on our genetics, our lifestyle, and our motivation. But still, the signs are there and our colleagues will not miss them. With a few exceptions, our environment clearly puts us in the senior category.
Therefore, it is important to take care of our body by engaging in physical exercise, eating a healthy diet, and trying to catch enough sleep on a regular basis. This will increase our well-being and energy as well as improve our looks.
Older Adults’ Memory Is Not What It Used To Be
There is sufficient medical evidence that our cognitive ability is declining with age. Our memory capacity is decreasing, making it harder to learn new things. We all have more frequent moments such as “it’s on the tip of my tongue but I can’t think of the word right now” or “what was his name again?”. Of course, a declining memory is not a special feature of people over 50. But when confronted with most of our younger colleagues, the difference may be striking.
But we can train our brains by pursuing intellectually stimulating activities. Not only can we improve our concentration and memory capacity but they may even become our favorite hobbies.
Older Workers Lack Responsiveness
Our capacity to jump from one subject to another begins to decline, multitasking is becoming a challenge. If periods of professional pressure last for a long time we are more prone to physical and mental exhaustion. On the other hand, we are less inclined to jump to conclusions. And we tend to give everything a second thought, therefore, preventing us from committing errors.
People Over 50 Show Less Mental Flexibility
We have gone through a lot of different experiences that have shaped our characters. The knowledge and life experience we have acquired have grown our self-confidence and we now have strong opinions on many topics. This is the reason why we are less inclined to change our minds if circumstances require it.
I remember the first time I experienced myself as perhaps being a little bit inflexible in my views. This was when I was defending my viewpoint by saying that “we had always done things this way”. It struck me because this was an argument that I often had refused to acknowledge as being valid before. Yet there it was, I was using it myself!
I thought about what had made me react like this and I realized that this was just a short-cut to end up the discussion on the topic. I had considered that the problem was not on top of the list of topics to be treated and I knew by experience how to argue in my favor. Surely, I was tired that day and I did not want to lose more time and energy on the subject but I realized that this was not in favor of a good co-working attitude. I promised myself that the next time I would be inclined to react in this way, I would think about it beforehand.
Our experience has strengthened our self-confidence and our capacity for judgment. But this does not mean that we are always right and there is no better solution to be found. Such patronizing manners are bound to be perceived negatively, isolating us from our younger colleagues.
Older Adults Lack Stamina
Even if we do not like to admit it, as age progresses we have less energy, get tired quicker, and need longer periods of rest. Long working hours, especially under time pressure can drain us more than younger people, and we will also need more time to recover.
Again, physical exercise and a healthy lifestyle are excellent means of boosting our energy and making us feel competitive. A healthy lifestyle and active social activities are great sources of energy.
Older Workers Tend To Have More Health Issues
While we age we tend to be more often affected by physical ailments, back pain, and aching limbs being the most common symptoms of time passing by.
One day, I went to the mandatory health check in my company. The doctor asked me if I had had the examinations performed that were recommended for people of my age. I felt rather downcast when I saw the list he presented to me! It had been years that I had not been tested on anything. But I was aware that the probability of having some health issues was increasing every year and that prevention was better than cure.
If these minor problems are not treated correctly, they will worsen and then become bigger health issues. This often means that we have to stay at home and are no longer available in our workplace. Hence the prejudice that we are more prone to be on sick-leave at 50 plus.
People Over 50 Are Not As Fashionable
One side-effect of aging is that we no longer have a strong desire to emulate every fashion idea. Especially for women, this tendency can be very disadvantageous and alter negatively the way they are perceived. It is true, you easily stand out from the crowd by wearing your favorite skirt of 20 years!
Or else, trying to catch up with the newest fashion at all cost even when it does not fit you can make you look awkward and earn you some compassionate smiles.
There is no need to act like a fashion victim but always try to dress comfortably and slightly trendy, combining colors harmoniously and avoiding glaring fashion details. Everyone has his own style and such slips will be forgiven easily when you’re young. But as a senior at the workplace, it is important to think about how this may affect our image.
Older Workers Don’t Do Well With New Technology
Let’s be honest, learning to cope with new technology is not the favorite pastime for most people over 50. We have learned to use devices that are functioning. Why should we change something that works well? It takes some effort to acquire these new competencies only to obtain the results we obtained before in a different way.
It is not only learning new things but also changing our habits of doing things that may be more difficult when over 50. But once we have learned a new technique we also appreciate the advantages it provides.
After all, learning is a lifetime project, stimulating our brains and helping us to stay updated and to participate fully in society.
Challenges for Over 50s in the Work Environment
Most people over 50 do not feel all the inconveniences of aging to the same extent. But there it is, we are aware that our younger colleagues’ attitudes toward us begin to change.
What is more, it is an open secret that being over fifty in the labor market, we tend to be in a more fragile position. Firms often have a tendency to hire younger people who can be shaped according to their needs. When firms are in difficulty there is a higher probability that they want to get rid of the older employees, especially beginning at age 50.
Knowing this does not make it easier to stay motivated and feel fully integrated into our workplace, even if we have spent years in the company. The following aspects may affect our attitude:
We Feel Like a Burden
Being over 50, many of us have gained a lot of experience in our fields and climbed the career ladder. Our paycheck has risen over the years and we enjoy the fruits of our work by receiving a fair amount of money in return. While this is meant to reflect the “value” we represent in a professional context, it also presents a certain risk of being considered too expensive for our employer.
Unfortunately, the corporate world is still holding on to a considerable degree to the belief that older and more expensive employees should be exchanged for younger and low-wage employees. When the calculation is made in this way, the over 50s are more likely to be fired in case the situation of the company declines.
Many people over 50 are aware of this situation and there is an underlying fear of being among the first to be dismissed under one pretext when things begin to turn difficult. This consciousness of being considered a burden may lead to a more prudent approach in our workplace for fear of not wanting to stand out from the crowd.
We Feel Bored
As we have achieved a great deal of experience in our field we can now judge different situations based on our knowledge. Where younger colleagues are looking for solutions, we may have them already at hand. This is certainly a big advantage at first glance. But knowing how things work deprives us of our need to research and the excitement to apply new solutions. This may make us feel bored and we tend to disconnect from our colleagues.
We Are Worn-Out by Inefficient Management Methods
With time we are certain to have experienced several managers or supervisors and their methods of management.
I, for instance, have seen 5 general managers in 20 years in the same company. They had all their own style and their management methods were quite different. We have experienced the effects of their methods on our colleagues as well as on the effectiveness of the company as a whole. It is not that we know everything and we are conscious that from our perspective things are easier to judge than if being in the manager’s position.
But all the same, most of the time we know the effects their methods may have and will have a tendency not to support those that we do not perceive as efficient. It is tedious to submit to orders that you know will not bring about positive results.
We Feel Stuck
When we take stock of our professional career over 50, we may come to the conclusion that we cannot get further anymore. The position we have acquired has become like a brand mark and we should be thankful for that. We are perceived as the “office manager” or the “warehouse manager” or the “receptionist”. At over 50 the possibilities of changing our professional field inside a company decline rapidly.
But our professional identity is perhaps no longer what we want at this stage.
I experienced this when I was just over 50. I had climbed the career ladder within some years until obtaining the position I was in. But after about 5 years in this position, I began to get tired of certain aspects of my work. From within my position, I could not improve or change these things. This made me reflect on my professional career and I began to think of alternatives. Unfortunately, there were none inside my company that could please me and this made me feel like I was stepping in place.
We Fear Change and Dependency
When it comes to looking for a job opportunity elsewhere, things look bleak for people over 50. Statistics show that over 50 our chances of being laid off are much higher than the average, not to mention the possibility of being hired by a new company. This may also depend on the area where you live. In rural areas where job offers are limited in numbers and variety, the challenge may even be overwhelming.
No wonder that the perspective alone of having to look for options in the professional field over 50 is sobering. With this in mind, we have a tendency of clinging to our job as well as we can by fear of finding ourselves dependent on social security, or worse, without anything at all.
When I found myself in exactly this situation, all this was what was going through my mind. Of course, I did not think of it every single day, and there were periods when I was more motivated and aware of the privileged position I held. I told myself that I had to be grateful to have a good job in a solid company. I was respected by my colleagues and earned enough money to live comfortably. But as time went by, the negative feeling with respect to my work environment was steadily growing, and my frustration with the actual situation was weighing heavily on me. Finally, I had to overcome the huge fear of change and take the risk of losing my secure situation and jump into the cold water.
What Are the Pros of Being Over 50 at the Workplace?
Considering all the aspects we discussed above one would say that being over 50 in the workplace is a hard ride. Knowing that companies are inclined to lay off more people over 50 than younger employees, we tend to be very cautious with what we say and do at our workplace, especially if the economic situation of the company is difficult.
Nevertheless, we should think of all the positive aspects that employees over 50 have to offer the job market.
Once we get rid of the idea that aging brings only negative aspects with it we can focus on the bright side of being over 50. There are so many advantages of being over 50 in the workplace that outweigh the inconveniences!
Amongst these are:
- life experience
- greater resilience
- larger vision
- understanding complex interconnections
- a better ability to focus
- coworking ability – getting along with younger people
We Have More Life Experience
50+ years of life experience have formed our minds in many ways and the knowledge we’ve acquired often does not strike us to be of much value. But in comparison to younger people, we often find that we take less time to think about a problem because we simply know how things work in many fields. Thus, we can concentrate on the problem in itself and how a solution can fit in every possible context.
We Are More Resilient
In addition, our experience and the memory of difficult situations that we were able to solve in the past provides us with the conviction that there is a solution to every problem. Life has shown us that after every down there is an upwards trend. Through this reassurance, we tend to be less stressed in difficult situations.
We Have A Broader Vision
The time when we were looking for short-term success has long gone. We know what it is like to achieve goals quickly and enjoy the results. But we also know that the best way to achieve sustainable results is to prepare things thoroughly, weighing every aspect carefully, and then put in place a good strategy. This needs a broader vision and patience.
We Understand Complex Interconnections
With so much knowledge that we’ve acquired over the years, we are now able to better understand interconnections in many fields. We may find solutions easier and come up with ideas that take advantage of this knowledge.
We Have Accumulated A Lot of Knowledge
There is no doubt that decades of work experience have provided us with a lot of knowledge, often in various fields. This is of high value for any company. Very often, when older employees leave or retire, the loss this incurs cannot easily be compensated. A certain number of companies have become conscious of the problem and put into place programs of mentorship allowing the older generation to transmit their knowledge to their younger colleagues.
We Are Patient
Life has shown us that the best way to progress is to take one step at a time. There is no need to hurry things and put the result at risk. We have acquired the capacity to judge the value of the time we invest to prepare things in a certain way in order to achieve the best results. This also often prevents risks from not being evaluated correctly or not even being recognized.
We Focus Better
Over 50 our capacity to stay focused is a great advantage. We are less inclined to be diverted by our phone chats and messages or by other social media networks. We like to get to the bottom of problems so as to achieve a thorough understanding. Only once all aspects are defined and we’ve got a clear picture of the whole we will be satisfied.
We Are Reliable
As the years go by we’ve had to take responsibility for our choices, our children, and perhaps even our parents. We know that it is important in life to be able to count on others when required. In a company, this reliability is a crucial part of success.
We Have Acquired More Wisdom
Our experience and knowledge and the capacity of good judgment have provided us with what we may call wisdom. We simply know that the world is not black and white but that there are many shades in between. When we were younger we put more energy into what seemed to be the one right thing. Now we know that there are nearly always several ways to go in the right direction.
We Are Good At Team Work
By the age of 50, most of us have acquired all the qualities needed for working together with others in an efficient way. We have learned to judge situations at their real value, accept different ways of thinking and working. And we appreciate the great variety of characters and viewpoints that may contribute to a high-quality collaboration inspiring each other by our differences.
If we compare the drawbacks and how we can improve them and the advantages of over 50s in our work environment we might present them as follows:
|Cons||Actions for improvement||Advantages|
|External signs of aging||Take care of your body||Our personality is our brand|
|Capacity for memory||Mental training||Knowledge|
|Responsiveness||Reflection may prevent errors||Patience and focus|
|Flexibility||Open yourself to other visions||Reliability|
|Stamina||Physical exercise, healthy lifestyle||Resilience|
|Physical ailments||Regular medical monitoring||Life experience|
|Outer appearance||Dress up and adopt fashion||Wisdom|
|Attitude toward new technology||Engage in learning for your own sake||Large vision and coworking ability|
There is no doubt that when we’re over 50, our work environment considers us to be seniors. Even if there is a confirmed tendency by companies to prefer the younger employees this is not a general truth. More and more of them understand the advantages that come with considerable life experience and knowledge. And they know what it may cost to lose this valuable contribution to their company.
Generation 50 plus has many things to offer and there are multiple solutions to heighten our well-being and to improve our fitness and contribute our fair share to the working environment. We can prove that we are still able to solve problems and think creatively.
By continuing to be curious and willing to learn every day, we not only heighten our value in the professional world. It is one of the best guarantees for living a meaningful life even when nearing our eighties or nineties. Our knowledge and life experience will contribute in a great way to the successful development of a company. And a healthy lifestyle, with regular physical exercise, healthy food, and a good social network make us feel active and live to the fullest and help to keep up with our younger colleagues.