Eight ways older workers can enhance job security

September 8, 2011

Last week’s dismal unemployment report contained what looks like a glimmer of hope for older workers. The August jobless rate for workers over 55 was 6.6 percent – far below the 9.1 percent national average. The seasonally-adjusted jobless rate for older workers was down from 7 percent as recently as June, and it stands considerably below the 7.3 percent rate in August 2010.

But the August jobless numbers masks broader weakness in the job market for older Americans, because it measures only workers actively seeking employment. Many older workers have given up looking; only 1 percent of unemployed older workers are optimistic about finding jobs in the near future, while 30 percent say they are very pessimistic, according to recent research by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work.

Older workers who do lose their jobs tend to remain jobless much longer than their younger counterparts – if they are able to find new work at all. And those who do find new work most often accept jobs with lower pay and less valuable benefits. So, to state the obvious: the best strategy for staying employed after age 50 is to keep the job you have, if at all possible.

Easier said than done, you say — and I agree. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to boost your odds of staying employed, argues Alan Sklover, an attorney who has represented or coached hundreds of older workers in employment cases over his 30-year career. He also coaches older workers facing firings, downsizings or layoff.

Sklover acknowledges that age discrimination is “rampant” in the workplace — but he also says it is “natural and normal,” even though it’s illegal, adding that “We all make judgments based on age, no matter what anyone says.”

That means it’s that much more important for older workers to “find ways to enhance job security by making yourself indispensable. We’re all wired to be sensitive to our own self-interest, and an employer’s self-interest is to ask, ‘Is this person helpful to me? Can they help me be successful?’ That is always where it starts.”

Sklover offers the following eight strategies for enhancing job security have worked well over the years for his older clients.

1. Be vigilant about appearance
“Sometimes we get a little grayer, gain a little weight, don’t stand up as straight,” he says. “Nature may have these effects on you, but that doesn’t mean you have to cooperate in the process. You can walk a little extra, or take up yoga. Get a little extra sun and sleep — even drink more water. Do what you can — within reason — to maintain a perception of vitality.”

2. Stay tech savvy
If you don’t know the latest software and other technologies, such as social media, that creates the perception that you are over the hill. “You might need to hire a 15-year-old to be your tutor,” he says. “It doesn’t make a difference.”

3. Seek situations where you can have greater proximity to revenue
If there are things going on in your organization that involve revenue production, get involved if you can, because you are least likely to lose job. “And if you do lose your job,” he adds, “you’ll be a more attractive candidate for the next job you apply for.”

4. Build and maintain relationships
This is important within your organization and outside of it. Be active in trade organizations, stay in touch with old customers. “Relationships are critical to organizations,” Sklover says. “Don’t allow them to fall by the wayside.”

5. Involve yourself in critical long-term projects and programs
If your organization is working on a project that will take three to five years to complete, do what you can to get involved, because that probably will keep you on the job for that length of time, Sklover says.

6. Be a reputation-enhancer
“Write an article and submit it to a trade journal,” he says. “Do an appearance on television. In some way, help your organization polish up its perception in the marketplace.

7. Play your strong card, which is experience
Would you rather hire someone for a job who has 40 years of experience, or four? Don’t be afraid to market your experience and knowledge. But at the same time, don’t allow yourself to be perceived as someone who always is looking backward.”

8. Look beyond the horizon to the future
Be someone who thinks about and acts on what might be next big wave in your field.


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Employers like experience as the article suggests, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Younger employees respect older employees who emulate what they hope to become later in life, in health, vitality, weight control, balanced appearance and grooming (not too stodgy but not unrealistically adoptive to inappropriately “youthful” attire), punctuality, all the qualities a younger generation needs to adopt.

It sounds cliche to be a role model for others, but older employees who do emulate success send a message to younger workers, “this is what you can become; you don’t have to become obsolete and chronically unemployed.”

Have a friendly attitude! Go the extra mile to treat others with respect. Some older workers I’ve observed (and I’m in the over-50 crowd) act like being nice to others is a form of kissing up, a sign of weakness, and a statement of fallibility. Those on interviews are spotted a mile away with a chip on their shoulder, and a red flag to hiring managers.

Unfortunately those who have no discipline in later years, who are fat (to put it bluntly, which I’m allowed since it took cast iron discipline to lose over 50 pounds), have condescending attitudes, arrive late (and leave early in many cases), project an “I don’t give a damn,” and refuse to go the extra mile to “fit in” (which means becoming attuned to a younger generation’s way of thinking without lowering one’s standards), face a future of diminishing returns.

Value health as highly as you value your house, for without health you have nothing.

Posted by DisgustedReader | Report as abusive

I’m about to turn 65 in three months. I work in a small call center with a contract with the feds. Been with the same contract for nearly 12 years. The other three, three workers, 3 years. The oldest person aside me, is a 30 y.o. idiot who just can’t stand me for knowing more than her. I have been passed over for promotion, raises, etc., and “invited” to resign a number of times. But I work double hard than anyone here; put in extra time w/out pay, do any project that I can get my hands on, (hard to do when the young managers spoon-feed their younger colleagues with extra projects) and I’ve developed a huge loyal following of clients. Still, my employer ignores me, leaves me feeling I am just decorating the office. All I know is this work. If I lose it, I will lose if for sure bc I have a 24 y.o. wife and a 18 month daughter (my first child). See the reason I am desperate to stay?! Otherwise, I’d shove this job up their nostrils and work for a contractor in Afghanistan or Iraq. Sad that the USA treats us seniors like lame dogs, even after serving in 3 armed conflicts for my country.

Posted by SSAlpha | Report as abusive

There absolutely are certain things EVERYONE can do to improve their job security.

There are a number of powerful sterotypes that work across nearly demographics.

In work, the most powerful sterotype anyone can embrace is one of utmost professionalism.

You should dress professionally, you should arrive early, you should keep records of your pending tasks and the tasks you have completed and keep it visible, you should be humble, polite and unflappable, you should always have a happy demeanour, never ever take offence of criticism. Keep a clean car and a clean desk. Shine your shoes.

The above will get you professional respect.

Congratulations you’re halfway there, now you need to be quasi-useful. This is easy.

You should always offer an opinion on every topic (“oh I don’t know” is of no use to anyone, ever), learn how to pose your opinions as questions, such as “what’s the reason we don’t…”, in the event that there’s an obvious answer it will look like you are inquisitive and learning, if there’s not an obvious answer then it will look like you’re making a good suggestion or making a pertinent point. It’s win – win.

Make constructive suggestions on improving the way the company does the things with which you are familiar, accept simple additional responsibilities such as first aid, fire marshal, point of contact, etc, etc.
If you command professional respect (see above) this will come easily, and you will distinguish yourself from your equally skilled peers.

Job security is often something that is won at the margin. You don’t have to work 14 hours a day, offer up your weekend or surrender your holidays (if you need to do that then the whole company is going down). You simply have to maintain a visible margin between yourself and the bottom 1/3rd of your colleagues.

Being different is an advantage. It makes you more visible, use that visibility and dress it in a sober and professional light.

Then imagine how difficult it is to complete all of the above when you’re 24 and live with your folks.

Now who’s ageist?

Posted by Stu_ell | Report as abusive

Nonsense. Try those suggestions e.g. in the restaurant industry. If you’re not able to do a 19 hours shift without a break or something to eat, then faster then you imagine you’re sidelined.
In all my work experience it’s not the older employees who have trouble coping with demanding work situations but the younger ones who cannot cope with older colleagues or integrate their suggestions. When incompetence and inexperience combine with pressure to cut cost and lower quality, it’s the older colleagues who are made to leave first.
Important is not that older employees try to accommodate to changing work conditions — they did this their whole career, and succeeded — but that young employees learn to incorporate and put into use a variety of expertise and perspectives. Most of them are not good at that, and the older colleagues pay the prize.
So the only answer a 50+ year old job seeker should give when asked how he thinks he fits into the team is this: “Is your team able to integrate and put to use my experience, or is it so streamlined that everything I offer will be dismissed as a source of trouble? Are you smart enough not to make me a scapegoat for what will show up as your onesidedness?” Of course, they are not, and therefore no-one will answer thus.

Posted by homsa0 | Report as abusive