Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Grow old at your own risk !

Gender or race discrimination at the workplace has received a lot of attention and any organisation that overtly does this is in for serious trouble. But a different form of discrimination has become widely prevalent in the last ten years. Age discrimination. The corporate world favours youth and tough luck if you are an older person. The problem with this is that everybody has to get “older” sometime or the other.

The dice is loaded against you if you are considered too old. The inflexion point comes suddenly on you in the early forties. If, by then, you haven’t “made it” you are on a slippery slope. You get passed over on the grounds of being “too old” and that a younger person is a better future bet. And then by 50 you are a prime candidate for being laid off.

Therein lies a profound sociological problem. By the grace of God, on an average we’ll live longer. Perhaps for 75 years or so. So if you lose your job, or leave when you are 50, you have another 25 years to go. In countries where there is a well defined social security system, this becomes a huge drain on the working population. In countries which have no system, and where the traditional support system of the family is crumbling, what could you do ?

Consider the plight of a 50 year old who’s been laid off, or has been forced to leave. Chances of getting another job are extremely low (does anybody hire a 50 year old these days ?, a sure sign of age discrimination). For many, their very being is defined by their job. When that is gone, self confidence, respect and social standing take a beating.

In the rich world, there’s a clamour for people needing to work longer and not retiring early and claiming their pensions. But the problem is that few people can keep their jobs until they reach retirement age. They’ll have to leave well before that. How many retirement parties for 60 or 65 year olds have you attended in the last couple of years ?

What can be done ? I am not sure at all. The greying generation can do a few things to help themselves. Constantly retrain and update skills. Price themselves competitively against younger guys, taking salary cuts rather than salary increases. Maintain, and demonstrate, that priceless combination of experience and dynamism. Do all this well before reaching 50. But none of this is any foolproof insurance.

This post comes after I read a report in The Telegraph that a High Court in the UK has ruled that compulsory retirement at 65 was valid in law. I think that its an irrelevant judgement. Forget 65; you're lucky if you can hold your job at 55. It’s a scary thought.