Fight back against the misconceptions and unfair perceptions of older professionals that still exist in today’s workplace.
Recently, we looked at the importance of addressing ageism in the workplace. Certainly, when it comes to intolerance at work, everyone benefits from facing it head-on and dealing with it in an effective way. But what can you as a professional do to fight back against those unfair perceptions? How do you stop the age-related stereotypes in their tracks?
You know that you’re a hard worker who is of great value to your organization, but it’s frustrating when you feel others in your office don’t respect you as a professional. However, you have the skills and experience to prove them all wrong. Make those presumed weaknesses your strengths and show that you rise above their negative perceptions.
Let’s take a look at how to beat these stereotypes.
Take on group work.
There is a lot of talk about how boomers and younger generations just can’t get along. It’s hard to agree with that assessment, but the age difference between generations who work together can sometimes create friction. That might explain the stereotype of older professionals being less collaborative. Perhaps younger generations assume their more experienced colleagues are unwilling to work with people who they feel are not on their level. However, collaboration is the key to a good workplace and essential for every professional. So don’t shy away from group collaboration, especially with younger coworkers. Your age and experience can be intimidating so seek out opportunities to work with others. Share your ideas openly and be willing to hear from others. Prove that you are a team player and they will see you, not only as a valuable colleague, but a personable one as well.
But be independent as well.
Not to confuse things too much, but while collaboration is essential, being an effective in independent situations is equally as important. Though it might seem contradicting, I’m sure you’ll agree that any effective professional must be able to work on their own and as part of a team. It’s with your independent work that you can fight back against the stereotype of the indifferent boomer professional. Despite long careers to the contrary, some in the business world see boomers as unmotivated now that they are presumably at the end of their career. Show that you still take pride in your work and have a passion for the job. Take the initiative at work. Ask for projects rather than being assigned them. Offer input when appropriate. Above all, keep being a professional. Regardless of when you’re ready to step away from your career, you want to leave knowing you gave your best effort.
Learn new skills.
Another stale stereotype aimed against this generation is the old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. The idea being that experienced professionals think they have all the knowledge necessary for the job and are therefore unwilling (or possibly unable) to learn new skills. Firstly, it would be a rare person so self-important as to think this way. Secondly, boomers are learning new thing constantly in their life, and in fact relish learning opportunities, so any suggestion they are unable should be ignored. Regardless of how incorrect the stereotype is, taking on those learning opportunities at work is how you fight it. Seek out new approaches to the work. Read case studies and articles about your industry. Don’t be afraid to ask others to help you in the process either, as that is one of the most effective ways to learn.
Stay up-to-date with tech.
Yes, we once again must bring up to apparent illiteracy boomers have with tech. Sure, they might be a little behind some of the younger generations, but that’s to be expected. Millennials grew up learning about the latest technological advancements while boomers can still remember when personal computers were a pipe dream. But, as stated above, we must never ignore a boomer’s willingness to learn. It’s been shown that this generation is very interested in the latest tech, regardless of how proficient they may or may not be. In a professional setting, take that interest and run with it. Stay current with the industry’s latest innovations. Take the time to learn this tech for practical use. Again, if you need some guidance with the learning, don’t hesitate to seek it out.
The most important thing you can do to help fight back against those close-minded opinions is to be open-minded yourself. This can be a bit frustrating if it means affording your co-workers the respect they deny you, but it is necessary. Becoming bitter at the situation, while understandable, will only make it worse for you. Instead, approach work and your colleagues in the opposite frame of mind than those who stereotype. Be willing to hear other people’s opinions. Consider approaches to the work that are different from your own. Have discussions and listen to others to gain new perspectives. Be respectful and constructive with feedback. You have the experience and the years in the workforce – use that to show them how a real professional acts.