I've been temping for almost a year now and I've noticed some patterns. One pattern I've been noticing is the generational divide in the workplace. The thing about temping is that you meet a lot of people and in this economy, more of them are older. Some are in their late 50s and 60s, suddenly displaced from jobs that they held for twenty years. I can only imagine how terrible it is to suddenly be laid off or outsourced after twenty years at the same job. I've noticed some, perhaps invisible barriers, that might be holding this generation from getting back into the swing of things. I have no delusions that I'm perfect or that I know everything about anything but I do notice some things. I especially notice the generational divides and how they sometimes work against an older generation. So I've compiled a list of things that I think could help older workers integrate more easily into new workplaces.
1. Don't talk about being older, unless absolutely necessary (and when is it really absolutely necessary?). Don't self-deprecate about your age. In a way, you're discriminating against yourself. You're also putting a younger person in an uncomfortable situation, one which they will want to avoid. What are they supposed to say? "Yes, you're really old"? No, that's age discrimination and that could get them fired. It quickly creates an unnecessary wall.
2. Check your rhetoric. Words, phrases and certain facial reactions that may have seemed acceptable thirty years ago or at your last job may no longer be. Younger generations have been brought up in a PC culture and as such are especially sensitive to homophobic, racist, sexist and yes, even age-ist comments.
3. Don't talk about being computer illiterate. This is probably the most important piece of advice I want to express and I hope it might benefit someone somewhere. The best thing you can do is go take a computer class at CCAC or at the library. I've heard older people tell me that they were unemployed for almost a year. Then they tell me that they can't type quickly, don't know their way around a word processor and back in the day the internet was a ticketing machine. That's not helping your cause. Use your time when you're laid off to take classes or in the evenings or on the weekends-- they're cheaper than you might think and some libraries and foundations offer them for free. I believe that CCAC offers scholarships and assistance for laid off workers. Also, you can take online classes from home which can be really convenient.
4. Don't pass judgement on lifestyles. Someone once told me after only knowing me for 30 minutes that I shouldn't start a family with my boyfriend because he's a freelancer. Not only had I not asked for her advice nor discussed a family or marriage, but I found myself calmly explaining something that she had no response for. I explained that one of the benefits of being a freelancer is that many of the men he works with have been able to spend more time with their kids, some taking off a year to be a stay-at-home dad. The only response she had was a quiet,"Oh, a stay at home Dad." Yes, indeed. Don't ask co-workers when they're thinking of getting married, having kids or buying a house. It might have been endearing back in the day but it's a quick path to trouble.
5. Don't try to be the boss. You were a manager for 30 years and had people working for you? Well, as tough as it can be to deal with, now you don't. Your boss may be 30 years younger than you but they're looking for the same respect that you are. Use this opportunity to learn, they know what the economy has done to people and you're not the first person they've met in your situation. In fact, sometimes I think they make a special effort to try to help and/or hire you, even if you may think that the workplace doesn't want older people. Unlike people my age, you're more unlikely to quit a job one day after 6 months and just say, "I've decided to go back to school....sorry. Bye."
6. Don't show hostility about differences in responsibility. I've felt judged at times because I was spending my expendable income on stuff just for me whereas the person judging me had a family to support so the idea of dropping money on something non-family related seemed irresponsible or extravagant. I'm sorry that you are in the situation you are in, but I'm not judging you. I don't have a kid and that's a decision we both made. I'm not judging yours, don't judge mine.
7. You don't have to be the same to fit in. It's no surprise to me that we don't go to the same bars on weekends. I will still respect you if you don't watch the same TV shows, aren't on Facebook, or stay in on the weekends. You don't have to be a twenty year old to fit in, just be nice and it can go a long way. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.
8. Make it clear to your boss and anyone training you that you want to learn more. Often the trainings for computer applications can feel overwhelming and are usually going too fast for everyone involved, no matter what age you are. A great way to handle this situation is to ask the trainer and/or your boss for additional reading materials and/or the manual. I've found that they often have written training instructions and sometimes extra detailed manuals tucked away in their desk drawer that they forgot about or forgot to offer to you. It may feel like you're showing your weakness, but I think that it actually shows that even if you're struggling, you're willing to do what it takes to learn more.
9. Read the directions and/or the manual. So you were able to get a hold of the manual, good work! Now, it's time to read it, probably more than once, take notes and come in prepared with questions. Trainers are actually relieved to have concrete questions. They need to show that they are great trainers and the proof is in the pudding. So the more you know and are able to do after the training, the better it makes them look. A win-win for both sides. This can also show that you are able to read manuals on your own, an important skill for an employee to have. I've been handed a manual, told to read it in the next 20 minutes and then start implementing right before the client walked through the door.
10. Don't talk about your outside life unless it comes up. From what I understand about the workplace of the past, it's that you often got a job with a company who you might have stayed with for the rest of your life. Your co-workers were like a second family and you knew all about them, their spouse, their kids and their weekend. Nowadays, lifestyles can be very different and comments about them that may seem innocuous, can land everyone in trouble and really fast. A nice, "oh, your kid is adorable" never hurts. But asking them additional questions before you really know them isn't necessary. Plus, you may still be bouncing back from depression. It could sound negative and depressing. Instead, try to have something positive ready. "How are you doing?" can be answered with a simple, "Great, and yourself?". Also, many people don't want to talk about their lives at work. They just want to focus, eat lunch, focus some more, check Yahoo news, finish their work and go home. Don't interrogate and don't overshare.
Please know that no one is looking down on you. The workplace and the economy have changed dramatically and my generation has been brought up with the word 'outsourcing'. We know what we're up against and it's scary. We're not against you. Get trained, get focused and try to deal with the negative feelings that you may be experiencing.
Wishing you all the best,