Age or Attitude

age-attitudeA decade ago, I cheerfully plunged into the second half of my first century on this terrestrial plane. I used to view anyone over the age of 30 as “old.” Today, my more than 60-year-old eyes see very little age difference between myself and my 80-year old parents.While I have the good fortune to be self-employed, I see more and more baby boomers being displaced from the work force. Downsized, right-sized, fired, bumped, replaced, early retired, bought out, kicked out or given the hairy handshake (not many folks seem to get the golden handshake anymore). A slap on the butt and it’s out into the big world.

What do you do with an unemployed baby boomer? I had a fascinating chat with a friend recently who is in his mid-fifties and is competing for a number of management level jobs after 25 years in business for himself and a one year sabbatical. After reaching the very short-list and losing a few major competitions, his question was, “Does age count?”

My observations on this topic arise from being a baby boomer and employing hundreds of people during the past couple of decades.

The all-American dream included working hard, retiring early, and living for many blissful years off the fruits of your efforts. It’s a beautiful thing… when it works. But what happens if life doesn’t cooperate and things don’t work out that way? In my business planning workshops I am seeing an increasing number of boomers falling through the cracks of the dream.

Baby boomers are everywhere! With 100 million of us in North America, we have always been a force to reckon with. Now it appears many of our ranks are in the job market. Productive, intelligent, skilled, highly knowledgeable… and unemployed. But are we employable? More specifically, are we less employable due to our age?

When we attempt to “retire” at any age we need to do something. And if you’re going to live another 40 to 50 years it’s going to cost plenty. From a financial perspective it looks like we had best plan on croaking by the age of 70 or face an embarrassing evaporation of RRSPs, and poverty. Finances aside, most of us will likely be working at something during our graying years, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Is age a sub-surface factor on the interview tally sheet?

Here are a few of the things I look when adding a new member to my team:

1. Attitude
This is certainly an aspect of yourself that you have control over. Keep it upbeat, positive and supportive to those around you. Be a learner. Be open to learning new ways and information. Spend far more time listening than talking. Critical to survival in our organization is one’s ability to serve customers effectively; go the extra mile for internal and external customers. We enjoy working with team members who are committed to our success and dedicated to making a difference for ourselves and our clients. Ideally, each team member is self-directed and motivated. Our workplace culture is a rich blend of work, creativity, laughter, learning and fun.

2. Fit
Our team is comprised of individuals who are team players. We endeavor to create and maintain a fair and fun work environment. When it comes to introducing new members to the team, we think it more critical that the new employees fit the team than vice versa. It is our team that determines whether or not someone fits, not managers.

3. Focus
Do the right things at the right time. Don’t gossip. Leave your baggage at home and avoid badmouthing people or processes. We have a culture and atmosphere to manage here and now. Work with us, don’t hinder or sidetrack us.

4. Integrity
Most of what you need to know about this topic you probably learned in kindergarten. Be honest, loyal and trustworthy. Use your best judgement. Do what you say you will do, keep your promises. Support each member and the team to be successful.

5. Creativity
Know the boundaries and take the time to learn what they are. Avoid wasteful rebuilding or reinventing the wheel. Find out what’s already done in the corporate systems and policies. Once you understand which areas we want you to be creative in, cut loose, take risks and show us your stuff!

6. Work Ethic
Show up on time or early. Be consistent and ensure that your team gets great value from you each day, each week. Understand the corporate vision, mission and goals. Put your shoulder to the wheel and help the team achieve it’s mission. Focus on solutions, rather than dwelling on problems.

7. Communication Skills
Our workplace demands a high level of skill at oral, written and technical communication. This pertains to communicating with each other as well as with external clients. Build on your strengths and draw on other team members for those areas that need more attention.

8. Technical Skills
Can you use a word processor? Are you proficient with a computer, email, the Internet? We can teach these skills, but it is better if one brings some expertise with them. Everyone who works with us has improved their technical skills while working with us and this process continues.

9. Hygiene
Do we have to say it? Personal presentation is extremely important. We tend not to do a lot of ‘suit and tie’ work, but it is important to wear clean, appropriate clothing. The occasional bath goes a long way toward engendering a positive workplace.

10. Adaptability
Job descriptions and duties continually evolve in our business. This applies to myself as much as any other employee. We are required to be flexible and to adapt to new information and changes in our market. We call this morphing. We also refer to it as ‘wearing different hats’. Embrace each new challenge with a sense of adventure.

I believe that many baby boomers, after years of working, have the skills needed to own and operate a small business. If the job search path offers too much resistance, perhaps it’s time to consider starting your dream business.

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