All hail the older worker
The man who gave me my first job in advertising nearly 35 years ago is now in his 70s. His mind is sharp as ever. His creativity is better than it was when we first worked together. He continually develops his skills in computer graphics and Web technologies. And his work as a digital photographer and graphic designer is as powerful and relevant today as it was when he was in his 30s.But he can’t get a job that pays him a decent living. Freelance projects from large corporations stopped coming years ago. Corporate ad managers and agency creative directors look at him and see an aging relic. Today he gets by on a meager Social Security check, occasional sales of paintings and photos, and a few Web design projects he does for friends.I, alas, appear to be following in his footsteps. Early on, I was told that the working life of an advertising creative lasted only until about age 55; after which you’d better have some savings put away, or start working for a real estate license. At age 65, however, I was still going strong. My creativity was still in demand.One year later, at age 66, I found myself dead in the water. In the past, periods of no work would arrive occasionally and last a few weeks or months. That’s normal. This dry period, however, has lasted the better part of a year, and shows no signs of abating. Some of it may be due to the economic recession, but not all of it.I see that most of my younger friends in the business are working. Even freelancers are busy – the younger ones, I mean.
Youth-worshipping cultureShould I gracefully step aside, happy that I was able to squeeze an extra 10 years out of this business? No. And I’ll tell you why.At 66, I am healthier and stronger than I was in my 30s. I don’t smoke or drink alcohol. I work out in a fitness center for an hour six days per week. I run on a treadmill in bad weather, and ride a bicycle for all local errands in good weather. My waist size is 32. And my creative life is actually richer and more productive now than it was when I was younger.Yet our youth-worshipping culture – ironically, the same culture fostered by the industry that provided me such a good living – disrespects older people, tending to lump them all together in the same stereotypical soup of sweet but generally useless hominids who spend their days on recliners watching Andy Griffith reruns and railing against rap music and tattoos.One might argue that older workers should step aside after 20 or 30 years to make room for the next generation – those more qualified to understand the culture and mores of the present. One would be wrong.The economy is not finite. Opportunity is not a limited commodity. Older people in the workforce do not diminish opportunities for younger people.They actually create more opportunity by raising the level of competition for everyone. Productive workers add to the economy; they cannot diminish it.What I would like is to be part of a culture that respects experience as much at it values ambition – one that judges people more by what they can do and less by what they can’t, that sees age and maturity as a period of life to be welcomed, not one to be dreaded.Until I find such a culture, I have a recommendation for the people in this one: Hire qualified older workers whenever possible. Whether you’re a small-business owner or the personnel director of a large corporation, give 60-, 70- and 80-year-old job applicants the same consideration you give to 30-, 40-and 50-year-olds.What older workers may lack in physical flexibility or strength, they make up for in dependability, skill and experience. Older employees are less likely to move, get married or divorced. What’s more, you can hire and pay them as part-time employees without benefits, because most are covered by Medicare and receive Social Security benefits. It’s like having a government-subsidized labor pool at your disposal.One more thing: Please stop using the “you’re over-qualified” explanation for rejecting older job applicants. After a certain age, there’s no such thing as over-qualified. True, over-qualified younger workers may leave you as soon as something better comes along. But older workers aren’t looking for better opportunities. They are happy to have whatever opportunities are offered.Ted Sink, a freelance advertising copywriter, can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. He’ll send you his resume and portfolio samples by request.