Older Workers

Posted: July 15, 2015
By: Clay Cerny


A friend of mine shared a copy of the AARP Bulletin with me. It featured an article by the organization’s CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins, on the benefits older workers bring to employers. Jenkins moved to AARP after working in government for 25 years. Most people assume such transitions are impossible. Jenkins argues that this is not true. The number of employees in the workforce who are 50+ is growing despite the fact that some employers still practice age discrimination.

Older workers bring a wide range of benefits to employers. The most obvious is experience. However, employers also note that older workers bring reliability and knowledge. They mentor less experienced employees. Jenkins claims that these benefits outweigh any increased costs. She ends her article with these simple but strong words: “Experience adds value.”

Some employers will always want to hire younger workers. Why? They will work for a lower wage, and they will be easier to manipulate. I often tell clients who are worried about age discrimination that it can work in their favor because it will keep them from working for a bad boss or a company that does not want to pay its employees fairly. Any prospective employee – old or young – should be evaluated on their contribution, not their age.

Posted: January 22, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

Older workers have a target on their back.  They often make more money, which is the sole focus of companies that want to improve “productivity” through salary cuts.  For many older workers, job loss is very difficult because age discrimination exists.  However, for the lucky few, being older can be a great advantage.

I have three clients who recently decided to retire.  Each worked for a company that was going through rapid change.  Their opinions were listened to – and ignored.  Companies they cared about were not the same place anymore.  Rather than play the game and hope to last a few more years, each of these people wase able to retire with full benefits.  Given tax laws enacted in the 1980s, they can continue to work full/part-time as they wish.

Who is the loser in this scenario?  The employer who let loyal workers take their dedication and knowledge into retirement.  Many corporations and some smaller companies have lost sight of all but short term, bottom line thinking.  Beyond measurable contributions, dedicated employees bring the intangible qualities that are hard to measure.  They know how the company works and how problems were solved in the past.  They put in the extra hours because they are committed to the company, not a paycheck.  I expect to see more older workers following this pattern in coming years.  Once they are eligible for retirement benefits, the tables will turn.  The big bad boss won’t be so big or so bad.

Posted: October 9, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients, let’s call him Fred, is an executive in his mid-sixties.  He’s told me more than once that he plans to retire at 70, so I was surprised last week when he informed me that he’s interviewing for a new job.  He’s happy with his current position, and he’s been with the company for six years.  When I asked why he’d consider leaving.  Fred answered, “I might get a better deal,” adding that he thinks the new position could pay him as much as $10,000 more a year.

His response opened my eyes.  Even if someone is only going to work for three or for more years, a annual salary increase of $5,000-$10,000 is a lot of money.  Fred then put his decision in a better perspective:  “How do I know what’s out there if I don’t look?  Going on this interview might convince me that my current job is great, or it could give me a chance for something better.”  Throughout his career, Fred has consistently moved when he found a good opportunity.  He didn’t stay with an employer out of a sense of loyalty or, worse still, fear of change.  Over the years, he’s been laid off a few times, but his approach to the job search has always led him to find new opportunities.

My take away from this story is that a smart professional never stops looking for a better deal, especially in an economy where most employers are stingy with raises and generous in giving more work.  Changing jobs can often bring a higher salary and other perks.  It can, as Fred pointed out, also show that the current employer isn’t so bad.  Looking for something new brings perspective, which is good in any aspect of life.  Start looking.  Who knows what you’ll find?

Posted: June 17, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Huffington Post led me to a great resource for workers 50+ from AARP.  The website lists best employers for older workers as well as resources to help with resumes and interview preparation.  Too often, older worker assume that all employers practice age discrimination.  Some do, and they are probably miserable people to work for.  Smart employers value experience and are willing to pay for it.  Check out the tools from AARP and share them with your friends.

Posted: June 28, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Francine Knowles of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that workers 55 years or older have had more success finding jobs.  This trend is also true of workers age 20-24 and those 25-34.  This is good news.  However, some groups have not been so lucky.

The groups that have seen job loss are 35-54 and teenagers.  Teens always suffer during periods of high unemployment.  Middle-aged workers are often earning high wages, which motivates employers to lay them off in favor of lower-paid, younger workers.

Overall, the job market is still only ticking up.  As I often say, that’s macroeconomics, and it’s important for how we live as a society.  For individuals, the unemployment rate is less important.  Job churn means that individuals will find job opportunities if they search the right way.  Whatever your age, be ready to look for a job and be ready if an employer asks for your resume. When it comes to your career, only two questions matter: Do I have a job?  Do I have the kind of job I want?  I call that the 100% rule.

Posted: October 1, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

When clients express a concern about age discrimination, I remind them that more people in the 50s, 60s, and 70s are working now than at any point in history.  That was before I read about Hedda Bolgar in today’s Los Angeles Times.  Bolgar is a therapist, and she is 102 years old.  She learned how to use the Internet at age 100.  In dealing with a man in his 80s who complains that he is too old and wants to die, Bolgar offers this therapy:  find something useful to do.  No better example exists that Hedda Bolgar, an amazing woman.  Author Steve Lopez ends his profile with these words from Bolgar:  “I’m too busy to die.”

Posted: June 21, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

I’ve always been a Jack McKeon fan.  When I was kid in the 1970s, I had his baseball card when he was managing the San Diego Padres.  Later, he became known as Trader Jack, when he was a general manager who liked to trade players.  In 2003, he returned to the dugout and led the Florida Marlins to a World Series championship.  Now, 8 years later, the 80 year old McKeon has taken on the challenge of managing a last place Florida team.

I want to root for McKeon, but it’s hard.  At what point should we step aside and say, it’s someone else’s turn?  Everyone says we have an employment crisis in this country.  If people in their 40s and 50s are going to be competing with 80 year olds, won’t the problem be worse?

Then I turn the coin around:  If an 80 year old is healthy and capable why shouldn’t he or she be able to work?  Some people like to work and don’t want to retire.  I don’t believe we should have a law that condemns older people to lives of rocking chairs and shuffleboard. 

Looking at all angles, I think McKeon’s example just shows how the work world is getting more complicated and will get even more complicated in years to come.  80 year olds won’t replace 40 year olds.  But more and more jobs will be lost to technology and automation, which means there will be fewer jobs for all workers.  I wish McKeon all the best, and I hope to be as vital if I live to be 80 years old.

Posted: November 21, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

There are three stories about jobs in the Business section of today’s Chicago Tribune.  One story says that older workers are finding more part-time and temporary jobs because companies value their experience.  It also claims that they have skills that younger worker lack.  A second story reports that international students with MBAs are having a hard time finding jobs.  Many companies don’t want to go through the steps to provide these potential employees with H-1B visas.  U.S. companies are looking to American MBA students.  A third story says that undergraduate hiring is expected to be up 10% this year, which would be a good thing – if the forecast holds true.

I’m glad that the Tribune is focusing on jobs, but the news is so mixed that it’s hard to understand what they say about the broader employment picture.  If older workers are only getting temporary work, will that continue or lead to full time jobs?  Are American MBA students being hired more?  Is the 10% figure for undergrads significant?  These stories are interesting, but they don’t point toward any clear direction.  I believe the employment figure will turn around only if the manufacturing and service sectors pick up for a significant amount of time.  We haven’t seen that yet.

Posted: October 10, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Chicago Tribune features an article that provides older workers with advice about job fairs.  While job fairs don’t often lead directly to a job, they do give job seekers a way to meet employers and learn about companies.  The advice in this article is good.  Whether you have been in the job game for a while or are a rookie just out of school, take the time to go to jobs fairs and find a way to get the most out of them.

Posted: August 28, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times featured a commentary by Gloria Tobolski Sendelbaugh, who is over 50 years old and unemployed.  She recounts a recent job interview in which an interviewer quickly lost interest because of Sendelbaugh’s age. 

I admire Sendelbaugh’s honesty and courage in writing this essay.  At the same time, however, I question whether the issue is simply that certain job seekers are too old.  Today’s business world is driven by bottom-line, short-term thinking.  Sendelbaugh may be correct when she says older workers will be experienced, hard-working, and reliable.  Employers are looking for other qualities: cheap and fearful.

Many companies hire under the assumption that younger workers will take lower wages because they have less experience.  As a rule, workers younger than fifty are also more easily controlled because they have more reasons to be afraid: mortgages, young families, student loans, large credit card balances.  Many employers (not all) recognize these pressure points and exploit them when hiring.

What can older workers do?  First, they can take heart from the fact that more 50+ Americans are in the job force than ever before.  It’s becoming more common for people to work into their seventies, which means a fifty-year old applicant can offer twenty more years of productivity.  Some employers values the qualities that workers lile Sendelbaugh offer.  Those are a few reasons to stay optimistic. 

It is the challenge facing older workers that Sendelbaugh captures so poignantly: How do you keep going in the face of hearing: “No.  No.  No.”?  My answer is to look around at older friends, relatives, and neighbors.  Many people are getting hired, often in new fields, after they have turned fifty.  How did they make the transition?  What have they gained and sacrificed in their new careers?  The employment market for older job seekers is very difficult.  However, it is not impossible.  As Tavis Smiley says, “Keep the faith.”