By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
Have you ever been shocked when managers or co-workers took you for older — or younger — than you think of yourself?
Whether or not 60 is really the new 40, age perceptions are confusing and not aligned with the perceptions and realities of decades ago. Not only do many boomers have no perception of themselves as “old,” but the old rules, assumptions and expectations of age increasingly don’t make sense.
Age can be defined in various ways aside from chronological, all of which have valid meaning and add to the richness of a multi-generational work environment.
A thoughtful list of defining categories, “The Prism of Age,” was presented by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work in 2010. I found this concept so intriguing and potentially valuable that I’ve developed the “Authentic Age” assessment tool to help describe a person’s more realistic and meaningful age.
8 Facets of "Authentic Age"
Here’s how boomers can use eight facets of age to help explain and advocate their value when negotiating for a promotion, a raise or new job — or are in danger of a layoff.
1. Career Stage (or Occupational) Age describes the experiences that represent your accumulation of knowledge, competence, skills and social capital related to a type of career or line of work.
Many boomers are so strong in those areas, due to their decades in the workforce, that they’d represent a serious loss to their team or employer if they left their jobs. They couldn’t be easily replaced. In many industries, people in their 50s and 60s are in the prime career stage with solid client and customer relationships that are the focal point of the business.
Some boomers are in an encore career stage. Rejuvenated with exceptional enthusiasm and few competing family responsibilities, they’re doing purposeful work in their second careers.
2. Organizational Age (or tenure) is the number of years you’ve been with a particular employer or in a particular job or profession. Scholarly research and studies by consultants have shown that boomers tend to be more loyal to their employers than younger generations. What’s more, employee loyalty has been linked to customer loyalty.
Boomers serve as the cultural glue for their organizations. In fact, many firms and nonprofits are trying to lure back their recently-retired boomers, at least part-time, for their competencies, knowledge transfer and mentoring.
3. Life Events Age pinpoints where you are in life vis a vis milestone experiences such as marriage, the birth of children and raising adolescents. Boomers can use their life events age to advise younger colleagues (including their managers) on how to navigate such transitions.
You can also use your life events age to your advantage by developing team rapport and in social situations at work, which can reduce stress for your fellow employees.
Also, many customers and clients feel more comfortable with people who can share similar life experiences.
4. Generational Age describes the economic, social, political and cultural influences that have a sustained impact on the way people see the world and make meaning of their experiences. Boomers have a long perspective to see the continuum of these influences and to understand how what they’ve lived through is likely to affect the future.
Your generational age can help your employer better understand the wants and needs of the 76 million boomers — a generation which continues to have significant economic and political impacts and will for the foreseeable future. You can provide valuable input for developing new products and services aimed at the boomer and older markets and for understanding the worldviews of clients and other stakeholders in their 50s and 60s.
5. Physical Age reflects your ability to carry out your daily work based on your health. Many boomers are very fit, after working out for years, and are much stronger than the stereotypical perception of their chronological age.
If you’re one, you can mention your fitness routine and sports activities in casual conversation with your bosses or co-workers to ensure they know. You could also participate in company sports teams as player or coach to demonstrate your stamina and competitive wits and combat misperceptions.
Three other descriptors of age are a matter of mindset. They are:
6. Relative Age – How old you feel comparatively in a group or team setting
7. Subjective Age – Your sense of your own age
8. Social Age – How old “society” perceives you to be
Negative age perceptions can come not only from employers, but also from how you see your own Relative and Subjective Age. You may be discounting your potential more than others do.
So, make a point of being outwardly confident about your abilities and value. Convey energy, enthusiasm and flexible thinking to dispel any preconceived notions. This way, you can help others at work see you as a “young soul.”
A candid and careful assessment of your “authentic age” is “valuable ammunition for anyone eager to stay relevant and happily employed.