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Posts Tagged ‘age discrimination’

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Work can be tough when everything depends on how the boss communicates.  Is it simply a matter of adapting, or constantly bending over backward for someone who’s never going to be satisfied?  See what Esther* and Fern* did.

When Esther* came to me, she was worried.  As an older employee, she felt that starting a job search at her age would be a never-ending task, since she expected to face a great deal of age discrimination.

On the other hand, she told me that she already was, in her opinion.  Since her new manager came on board last year – a much younger manager – it seemed that he wasn’t really interested in hearing any of her ideas when he asked the team for their input.

The new manager made a point over the past year to emphasize that he wanted “everybody’s” ideas, Esther told me; however, although she contributed nearly every time by emailing him a suggestion or two – well before the stated dealine – he very rarely brought her ideas up for discussion during the bi-monthly staff meetings.  In fact, there had been occasions when similar ideas to hers were discussed . . . and other staff members were credited.

I examined Ester’s process of submitting her ideas more closely – particularly when the similar ideas made it to the meeting, asking her, “How did other staff members submit their ideas to the manager?”

Esther discovered that most of the (younger) members actually sent him text messages, rather than emails, much to her surprise.  She also reviewed her emails on the topics and found a couple of responses from the manager, asking her to send him a consolidated version prior to the meeting.

“I thought that I had,” Esther recounted, “But I’m pretty sure that was the month that he presented (and credited) someone else’s similar idea.”

I told Esther that I believed she could Fix It! by learning how to communicate with her Gen X boss in his preferred medium: texting.  Something that would help her become more comfortable and skilled in this area would be to open a Twitter account and learn how to tweet.

Not only does Twitter teach users how to succinctly make a statement, but the 140 character limit forces writers to make every word count.  Clearly, this type of writing is important to Esther’s boss, who just wants the bare minimum when collecting ideas for staff meetings.

Esther applied this new tactic, and within a few meetings, not only did she get her ideas on the agenda, but was complimented on her improved writing skills.  She is very pleased to know that she can continue being appreciated for her talents in her current job, rather than begin interviewing.

Fern* had seen firsthand how difficult the economy was for people.  For the past couple of years, her cousins had been out of work – searching, to no avail – and living with her.

She had a very difficult boss, but didn’t feel she had any choice about putting up with him.  It was obvious to her that the job market was difficult, and she felt lucky just to have a job.  Besides, other people were counting on her – it wasn’t just about her.

Recently, though, the fog had begun to lift.  Each of her cousins had found positions that were permanent, and had begun to save some money.  In several more months, they were planning on moving out, to get their own apartment!

Just knowing that things were going to settle down was making her home life much less stressful, which had the side effect of allowing Fern to really notice exactly how stressful her workplace really was, though – with a kind of laser-like focus.

Fern began to see that the CEO’s odd behavior wasn’t solely directed at her, for one thing, but that others had similar frustrations, not knowing what to expect from him, one day to the next.

She could see that this was the crux of the difficulty, actually:  he was so unpredictable and moody day to day, that his mood swings often greatly affected her mood afterward.

The CEO’s demeanor frequently would oscillate to great extremes, often playing out during meetings, as well as affect policy decisions.

For example, there were numerous planning meetings, where the CEO sat nearly sullen and silent, leading others to speak up more, ultimately heading the project and making the decision on what would happen, because as everyone looked to the CEO, he either nodded or clearly didn’t care, from his shrug.

Later, (often much later) when a great deal of the project was in the works, the CEO would step in, sneer, and either dismantle it altogether, or find so much fault that it ended up getting such a makeover that it didn’t even resemble the original design!

Other times, the CEO was so engaged from the start, nobody could get a word in edgewise during the planning stage, but it was just as well.  Clearly, he only wanted “yes men,” so people either nodded vigorously, or sat silent, waiting for their assignments and watching the clock.

Those who had been through his “mania” before knew that he’d lose interest in whatever he was currently feverish about soon enough, anyway, so there really was no point in volunteering for something that would be altered or shelved, so why bother?

As Fern considered this repetitive pattern, she told me, it gave her a bit of relief.

“I suppose it could have made me even MORE depressed, but I think it was what I needed:  a chance to step back and look at the situation rationally.  My fear of my circumstances had just gripped me before, but now, I could see that it really was him, and not me . . . and that I needed to Forget It!

Without others depending so much upon her, and an indication that the job market was a bit better, Fern decided to start looking for a job for herself.

Although it did take several months, Fern feels that she wouldn’t have been a good candidate before her change in attitude and outlook, anyway.

“I am so relieved to be in a new atmosphere,” she says.  “It’s incredibly different, to be headed to work and think about the tasks I’ll be facing, rather than wonder – with trepidation – what sort of emotional storm lies ahead today!”

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Merle* and Naomi* deal with age gaps in the workplace

Lynn* deals with her OCD manager

Gabrielle* found a way to be more relevant

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Employers have countless applicants per position, so they can be much more selective than ever about whom they select.  When does “discriminating” become “discrimination,” however . . . and what can be done about it?

Arthur* worked for a large company and had survived a few rounds of layoffs, but it was unsettling to him to watch various people around him lose their jobs – friends, acquaintances and strangers combined.  Perhaps worst of all, though, was the manner in which some of the RIFs were handed down.

Of course, it’s never pleasant to lose one’s job, but Arthur felt that there were more equitable means to select who would be let go than the current methods.  For example, instead of length of time served with the company, relative level of management, or even perceived departmental value to the company, Arthur personally knew of individuals who were terminated after years of dedicated service simply because of a recent minor error in judgment or mistake that could easily have been fixed.  Much of it seemed related more to politics than skill or tenure.

Since it appeared that management was looking for excuses to get rid of various staff, Arthur felt that he couldn’t consider his job safe, and that he had only been lucky thus far.  He thought it was best to begin a job search, but quietly, because one of the “mistakes” that cost others to be let go was visibly job hunting.

Among the staff left behind, it was common for lunch room discussion to be about how lucky the remaining ones felt, not to have to be looking for another job in such a difficult market, and many lamented about the challenge being greater, “at my age.”  When Arthur shared his actual age during one of these discussions, the others were stunned and expressed that they all thought he was quite a bit older.

Arthur has a family trait of being prematurely gray, and upon learning that he clearly comes across as much older than he is, felt that this would hurt his chances while interviewing.  On the other hand, he was concerned that dyeing his hair would be a dead giveaway that he is interviewing, and his head would be next on the chopping block for the upcoming round of layoffs.

I advised Arthur to leave his discount haircut place and Fix It! by investing in a higher priced salon – one that he would have to visit very regularly.  Instead of having a different person cut his hair each time, he needed to build a relationship with a single professional stylist, and have her gradually take the gray out of his hair.

Setting up interviews would likely take a couple of months, I advised, and if his hair slowly lost its gray, it would be less noticeable at work.  Over time, he would probably be perceived as “more valuable” at his office, as well as during his upcoming interviews.

It took nearly a year, but Arthur avoided a couple more rounds of layoffs and kept his current position, while also interviewing, until he found another position with a smaller company that he felt was a better fit.

“It surprised me how many details I had to invest in during my job search — including items, effort and time.  Details that nobody thinks about before they begin, but are actually quite important in helping you reach your ultimate goal,” Arthur recounted.

Blanche* had a long and successful history of recruiting and managing volunteers.  She interviewed with an organization whose identity was strongly associated with community service and outreach, through volunteer service, and they had an opening for a senior volunteer manager position for their main project.

Blanche had made it to the final round of interviews and for this final meeting, she was given a good deal of detailed internal literature to review, in addition to the online research that she had already done.

What she learned while reviewing these materials the week before her final interview was that the site managers (and senior manager, when present) are expected to lead the volunteers at the start of each day’s work in a group prayer, as a motivation.

This disturbed Blanche, since there was nothing in the organization’s website or mission statement to indicate that it was a religious organization.  While she understood the need to motivate the troops, she could certainly see how someone might feel isolated, intimidated or even offended by feeling compelled to begin the day by participating in prayer.

Blanche herself had misgivings about leading a group in prayer as well, and it was clear from these final enclosures that it was part of her job description.   While she expected that she could explain that she wished to abstain and so forth, if this was part of their organizational identity, she realized that she probably wouldn’t be as effective in her job if she began by not participating in something they considered to be so important.  Mostly, though, she found the organization’s subversive tactics to be distasteful.

If they want to identify as a religious organization, why not do so, out in the open?  And, if they want to embrace all faiths, why compel others to participate – without warning – in a ritual that some may not believe in?

Blanche decided to Forget It! and she called the HR Director prior to the final interview, telling her that she wished to withdraw her candidacy.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Rebecca* and Simone* adapt to the boss’ idiosyncrasies

See how Vicki* and Woody* deal with the unexpected

Opal* and Peter* respond when they don’t get what they should

Fix It Or Forget It?

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Merle* lamented, “Racial and gender bias just don’t compare to age discrimination! It’s the worst one of all!” I held my tongue as this older white man vented, and thought, “What you mean is, it’s the first time you’ve ever had to deal with it.”

Merle worked in fundraising for an organization that was a constant source of frustration for him. When he arrived, he felt it would be an opportunity to grow the department and organization; however, what he discovered after arriving, is that the staff and board expected him – and him alone – to raise the funds for the organization!

Almost nobody on the board contributed, and they all balked at the notion of soliciting on behalf of the organization. When Merle suggested forming a development committee, the response was, “That’s your job!”

He also received a similar lack of support when discussing a staff campaign with his Executive Director: “We already pay them too little . . . you can’t expect them to donate, too! Anyway, you’re the Development Director.”

While Merle’s had some mild success in raising funds, it’s nothing compared to what he feels he could be doing. (He’s had his hands tied by management about not being too aggressive with his language in various appeals, not sending them out too frequently, and so forth.)

This situation led Merle to Forget It! and start looking for another position; however, between the tight job market, the economy and his age, he was startled at how this perfect storm made job hunting so much more difficult than it ever had been before.

There’s no question that all job seekers are having a more difficult time in the last couple of years. Merle and I worked together to boost his odds of being taken seriously as a candidate, because he discovered that once he arrived at an interview and the employer saw his age, his chances reduced drastically. It’s an unfortunate reality that organizations assume older workers lack current skills.

Merle and I have been working on other tactics to increase his chances, such as networking within organizations, events and social functions, so that others within the profession get to know his name and face, in the event of a position becoming available. In addition, he is making a point to maintain training in current trends, not only to keep himself marketable, but also to combat the notion that older workers are not technologically savvy.

It is taking longer than he anticipated to find another position, but he is also researching which companies are more elder-friendly, to see what other industries he might consider expanding his search to, since many of his skills are transferable. Working mothers have often done similar research when job hunting, as well as African Americans. There are also many reference pages tailored to various professions.

Merle realizes that his search will take more time than before, but he wants to be well-prepared . . . not just for the interviewer, but for himself, too. When he does get the next position, he wants it to be one that is right for him, and not an unpleasant surprise like this last one has been, where management’s fear and ignorance prevents him from being as effective as he could be. He plans to work hard at his next job, but wants it to work for him as well.

Naomi* was working on a marketing internship during her last semester of college, and it was going very well. She had arranged with a nonprofit organization to manage one of their signature special events, and most of her activities kept her out of the office – either on campus or in town – promoting it in person, or publicizing it online.

She was very effective at gaining support and participation for the event, as well as raising funds, and the publicity increased from the previous year, too. Naomi felt that her senior project was a success, and spent the final few weeks of the semester at the organization’s office, finishing paperwork, filing reports and other duties, to satisfy the conditions of her internship.

Prior to these final weeks, she had only checked in once a week, to make some phone calls and attend a meeting or two, since her assignment was “out in the field.” Most of the staff knew who she was, but hadn’t really spent any time with her until her daily attendance in the office, and she noticed that the reception toward her was quite different than the initial friendly one.

When she was a volunteer who stopped by occasionally, everyone was very cordial, but now that she had been assigned an office of her own for a few weeks, nobody seemed to have the time or inclination to even eat lunch with her, other than the person she reported to, but she was often “in the field” as well, and not always available.

Naomi’s requirements for the intern credits mandated that she fulfill “office hours,” but she frankly didn’t have enough work to do, and often sat idle at her desk. She decided to write up some additional ideas – beyond her assignment – that she thought would be helpful for the organization, and created some color charts to depict how she projected the ideas’ results would fare.

She sent her final report to print on the good, color printer, so that she could present it to the director she reported to upon her return the next day.

Several minutes later when she went to the copy room to retrieve the report, the office manager was there, waiting for her, with a stern look on her face, and asked if Naomi had used the color printer.

Naomi explained that she had, since she included some color charts for a particular report. The office manager practically interrogated her, especially upon discovering that what was printed wasn’t “her assignment,” and went into an explanation about how this particular printer was expensive, had been restricted to certain personnel (“I didn’t know your computer had access!”), and was very sensitive, recently had repair issues, etc., etc.

Once Naomi got over the shock of being reprimanded for simply printing a document, she realized that she was dealing with a technophobe, and tried to assuage her fears, rather than go on the defensive. Naomi offered to help with some of the problems they’ve had with the printer, and explained that her part time job at school was working in technical support, and ––

“That’s fine,” the office manager interrupted her, handing her the printout, “Just don’t touch it!” and she walked away.

Naomi had been considering the possibility of working at this organization upon graduating, but this latest encounter made her think otherwise. Having nobody to eat lunch with, and needing to justify printing a document did not bode well. This is when she approached me about her job search.

First, though, I suggested that she show her ideas to her contact at the organization. It turned out that she was very impressed, not only with Naomi’s performance the entire semester, but also with her forward thinking abilities, to see what could come next.

We were able to Fix It! and line up a position for Naomi with the organization . . . at one of their satellite offices. Her contact was pleased to recommend her, and that particular office location didn’t have an opening at the time, anyway.

Naomi was happy to have a position with an organization that she was already familiar with, yet also pleased not to be working in the location that seemed to judge her strictly on her age. Unfortunately, too many people assume that all younger workers aren’t to be trusted with anything worthwhile.

Because, unfortunately, there are still so many instances in which initial judgments are made in the workplace based upon superficial (and often erroneous) attributes, it is all the more crucial that candidates take additional measures to network and seek to promote other means of setting themselves apart from the competition.

Unless you have a way of distinguishing yourself, most interviewers will have difficulty not viewing you as “one of the pack,” whatever pack they may decide you fall into.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share? Send it to me, and it might help others. Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

 

Starting in 2011, blog posts will alternate weekly, and the Annual Giving columns and the Fix It Or Forget It? columns will appear on Wednesdays.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown

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