A friend confided recently that nary a day goes by when she doesn't expect to lose her job. It isn't just that she's in an industry that has shrunk dramatically during the past decade -- she works for a newspaper -- but that she is in her mid-50s. And as hard as she's tried, she's never figured out a solid Plan B should her fears of being laid off get realized. Underscoring her worry is the fact that should she indeed be laid off, she knows she'll have an uphill battle to find a replacement job. Older workers stay unemployed longer, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Here are five things that my friend and other older workers can do to help keep their jobs:
1. Read the tea leaves and adjust accordingly.
Does your immediate supervisor decline your invitation to lunch? Has she started to act a little cooler toward you? Are there lots of meetings going on to which you weren't included? All these could be signs that something is up that doesn't bode well for you. Being marginalized is never a good thing.
It might be time to volunteer for more assignments. Raise your hand and ask to be part of the project everyone is buzzing about.
2. Keep up with technology because when you don't, it quickly shows.
You need to be able to do it all in today's work force and technology changes things rapidly. One day you are filing an expense report via snail mail, the next day you are using an online form and the next there's an app for that and all you need to do is shoot a photo of the lunch bill via your phone. And now even that feels so three years ago.
The point is, experience alone won't carry the day for you. And one of the more foolish things mid-lifers do is joke about their tech-illiteracy. Not only isn't it funny -- or true -- but it just reinforces a stereotype that hurts them.
3. Don't dwell on the past, but do look for ways to highlight your experience.
This is a fine line to walk but one older workers must learn to finesse. Words that should never be uttered: "This is how we used to do it in the good old days." But as Robert L. Dilenschneider, an author and business leader who lectures older workers around the country about staying relevant notes, "the experience gained over a long career can add an historical perspective [that] younger men and women cannot bring to the table."
The trick is learning how to underscore your value without making it sound like you are still living in a past era.
4. Understand that you will have bosses who are younger than you and resist the urge to parent them.
Do you remember the first time you went to see a doctor who was younger than you and you made Doogie Houser jokes? That's exactly what you don't want to do when it's announced that the guy who was a summer intern a few years ago is coming back to be a manager. Boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day and it behooves companies to fill the management pipeline with younger workers who can one day assume the reins.
There is a difference between being colleagues with younger workers and parenting them. Learn it, because no one wants to work for their parent.
5. Increase your flexibility.
Workplaces change. Job descriptions change. Sometimes those changes impact you. How you respond matters a great deal. Older workers aren't always thought of as being especially adaptable or open to change. But companies that thrive today rely on new ideas and news ways of delivering the goods and services. Be receptive when someone announces a new plan; at the very least remember they aren't asking your opinion of the changes but telling you this is how we are going to do things going forward.