Over 50? Eight Ways to Remain Employed and Employable

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”

Satchel Paige

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Jack, 58, was lead underwriter for the Syndicated Loan Group of a mid-size regional bank. For thirty-one years, he carefully analyzed business loan applicants’ balance sheets and income statements. Based on Jack’s analyses, and his personal appraisal of each borrower’s management team, he made detailed recommendations regarding which companies or investors should be approved for loans between $10 million and $100 million. He was widely considered very astute, intuitive, insightful. His favorite saying was “Business isn’t just math; it’s chemistry, too.” Though Jack had started thinking about retirement, with his son in college and his daughter about to enter medical school, he wasn’t ready to seriously consider it.

After Jack’s bank merged with a larger Midwestern bank, the two banks’ underwriting staffs were combined. Jack found himself reporting to a recent business school grad. His new boss was a whiz-bang with numbers and spreadsheets, but seemed to Jack to have not a whit of experience or an ounce of common sense. Being who he was, Jack thought that, over time, he could gently mentor his new boss, especially on the evaluation of a borrower’s management team. His new boss didn’t see the relevance of Jack’s concerns about borrowers’ management teams. His view was that looking into the “depth of the team,” as Jack would call it, was nothing more than “old school thinking.” Suffice it to say, things didn’t go well between them. For the first time ever, Jack began to worry about his job security. Jack knew, instinctively, that he had to take steps to protect himself. But, at the same time, he felt deep inside that there was really nothing he could do.

Jack called our office for an in-office consultation about severance: he wanted to find out how much severance we thought he might be able to negotiate. As we always do, we interviewed Jack in depth, to find out everything we could about him, about his concerns, and about his goals. In speaking with Jack and his wife, we came to realize that severance was not what Jack really wanted; instead, he wanted to continue working, to be active, to remain vital. Jack felt that he had a lot more to contribute; at the same time, he needed to work at least five more years.

We convinced Jack that going after what he really wanted – to continue working – should be his first priority. If he did his best to achieve that goal, and it didn’t work, or if his young, new boss managed to marginalize him, Jack would likely be in an even stronger position to argue that age was the issue, and to successfully negotiate better severance on that point, alone. Feeling a little less defensive and downtrodden, and a little more confident and invigorated, Jack agreed to give it a try, to go after what he wanted, needed and deserved.

With the economy deteriorating, and loan defaults rising, Jack set out to make an even better name for himself in the bank, to publicize his special skills and value, by “sailing into the wind” with his strongest points. He proposed to members of senior management who he’d known for decades a new “early intervention” pilot program designed to reach out to struggling borrowers before they went seriously into default on their loans. Despite his new boss’s lack of support, and his new boss publicly expressing reservations, Jack received the necessary authorization for the pilot program. By reaching out early to the borrowers’ management teams he knew, to assess their frank views and honest concerns, Jack’s pilot program was successful beyond even Jack’s expectations in its efforts to (a) secure additional collateral while it was still available, (b) reduce the bank’s rate of non-performing assets, and (c) substantially lower legal and collection costs. Jack’s pilot program proved its worth several times over and, if rolled out on a larger scale, even promised to help keep the bank’s own balance sheet in substantially better shape.

Jack made sure his pilot program’s success was known all the way “up the food chain” to the bank’s Board, and that he was labeled the “innovator” in the department. He even used a spread sheet (for the first time in his life) to show how his pilot program could be adapted by other areas of the bank, with similarly successful results. Despite his age – in a strange way because of it, that is, by using his experience – Jack had been successful in getting himself considered the “new wave” in banking, “ahead of the curve,” and a “definite keeper,” phrases usually reserved for those younger than 40.

Last we heard Jack was put in charge of another new pilot program: this one designed to provide mentoring to younger managers and executives. Yes . . . he proposed that program, too.

LESSON TO LEARN: Those over 50 have no choice but to recognize and accept that they are not commonly viewed to be as energetic, as healthy, or as up-to-date as are viewed their younger colleagues. And often with good reason: in fact, many older employees are not as energetic, as healthy, or as up-to-date as are their younger colleagues. That’s a result, in part, of natural forces: doing three “all-nighters” at 50 is not as easy as it was at 21.

But “older” doesn’t have to mean “less valuable.” “Older” can also mean “more experienced,” “of broader perspective,” and “better connected in the industry.” What nature tends to take away, individual initiative and determination can more than take back. It’s up to each individual to decide, and determine, what “older” means for him or her, and how he or she is viewed by his or her employer, boss, colleagues, and clients. There is just so much you can do to help yourself be viewed as “better” and “more valuable,” and, hence, more employable, even if you are “older.”

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ teaches that “value” is not the truest determinant of success at work and career, but rather it is more a matter of “perceived value.” You can’t completely determine how you are perceived by the workplace-decision-makers in your life, but you surely can make a big difference. The real question is this: “Do you believe you can?” As Henry Ford said, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, either way, you’re right.” If you think you can, there’s only one question left to consider: What are you waiting for?

WHAT YOU CAN DO: For those over 50, here are eight things you should consider doing to keep yourself employed, and employable:

1. Keep Yourself “Tech-Savvy”: Like it or not, technology is advancing into every aspect of work life, and will continue to do so, increasingly. If like many people of “greater years” you are not comfortable with terms like “wifi,” “rss feeds” and “bandwidth,” sit down for a heart-to-heart talk with your children or grandchildren. Ask questions. Take an online course. Perhaps hire a 15-year-old tutor. Every day push yourself a little further outside your comfort zone, a little further inside what’s happening in the tech world. How comfortable you are viewed to be in this particular aspect of office culture is truly important.

2. Seek Greater Proximity to Revenue Production: “Show me the money.” Then, follow it. Revenue to a business is like oxygen to a person: necessary for survival. To the extent that you are counted (a) among, (b) close to, (c) supporting, or (d) aligned with, those who produce revenue for your company, you and your position are less likely to be “eliminated.” If and when you have the opportunity to gravitate in the direction of revenue production, make the move. Likewise, being a pure “cost-center” is like walking around with a target painted in red paint on your back.

Every employee needs to do his or her own “Personal Brand Marketing,” because smart “marketing” is necessary for successful “sales.” Consider using our Model Memo “Request for Value-Proven Letter, with Four Samples.” It shows you “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ To get your copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

3. Involve Yourself in Long-Term Projects and Programs: When decisions are made regarding “who goes – who stays,” two important factors that are always considered are: (1) “What is he/she working on?” and (2) “Is it important?” It’s for this reason that those employees who are actively engaged in long-term projects and programs are often spared the axe during a downsizing. Especially if your company has already invested considerable resources and prestige into a long-term project, and thus would be less likely to halt it, you may do well to consider seeking out and volunteering for such projects.

4. Build and Maintain Your Company and Industry Relations: Keeping up the professional friendships in your work life, both internal and external, can help you tremendously during difficult times. First, your opportunities for bringing in business clients, business revenues, business ideas and business “intelligence” (that is, information on industry trends) are increased by doing so. Second, the perceptions others have of your value to your company are enhanced by the number and quality of your associations and affiliations. Third, you will gain confidence inside you, and thus portray value outside you, by knowing that your chances of re-employment are good if you are downsized. As the childhood nursery rhyme goes, “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”

5. Play Your Strongest Card – Experience: In turbulent seas, we all want a steady hand at the ship’s helm. It’s for this reason that “experience sells” especially well in difficult economic times. But having experience won’t help you unless you “play that card,” that is, make sure people with workplace decision-making authority know and remember that you have the best, broadest and most valuable experience. Offer to share solutions that worked in the past. Offer analogies to previous difficult times. Suggest that a seminar be arranged by the “more experienced” team members to acquaint the “less experienced” team members with appropriate means of dealing with layoffs, hiring freezes, expense account reductions, advertising cutbacks, and the like. And remember that your message is not “this is what we did when” so much as it is “these are the lessons we learned then, that might be useful today.” Bear in mind that in corporate crises a commonly used phrase is “Call in the gray hairs.” People look for experienced colleagues to guide them in difficult situations: be there, and be known, when they come looking.

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6. Look Beyond the Horizon; Surf the “Next Big Wave”: Everyone wants to know what is just “over the horizon,” and destined to be the “next big thing.” That new development might be a rocket boost for your company’s success. Or, at the same time, it might just be a freight train barreling right toward your company’s plans. Things in every industry change so quickly these days, perhaps quicker than ever. Some people are known to focus more than others on what lies ahead, and what the future portends; those people are deemed valuable, and are even sought out, more than ever. Be one of those people, and you’ll be seen as a definite “keeper.” Look beyond your industry’s horizon, and your company’s potential position there, and be one of those who has an idea – an intelligent idea, based on observation and insight – of what’s next. You’ll undoubtedly amaze people that “at your age” you’re a “new wave” person.

7. Be a “Reputation Enhancer” for Your Company: SkloverWorkingWisdom™ posits that companies have three (and only three) categories of interests: (a) Revenues, (b) Relations, and (c) Reputations, with the last “R” being the most important. A company’s reputation for honesty, or innovation, or success can be its most precious asset. If you are one of those employees who are seen as “reputation-enhancers,” you’ll be far more likely to survive a downsizing axe. For this reason, seek public speaking opportunities, chances to be quoted in newspapers and magazines, television and radio appearances, etc. Pursue opportunities to become known for your special expertise and understanding, and don’t forget to publicize such exposure internally, so that your “workplace decision-makers” are aware of them.

8. Be Vigilant About Your Physical Appearance: Of all the ways you can keep yourself employed and employable, this is both the easiest and the most difficult, at the same time. It costs you little to maintain the attire and grooming that wins respect. Likewise, maintaining your weight and physical appearance so that it exudes vitality is mostly a matter of diet, exercise and rest. While nature has its inevitable ways of making you look older as you grow older, there’s no law that says you have to voluntarily cooperate with the process. To the contrary, there’s every good reason to fight it. Simply walking an hour every morning, getting your hair cut and styled more frequently, and dropping five pounds over the next few months, can make a big difference in your appearance and, hence, your job security. A vision of vitality sells; the picture of poor health does not. Only you can make the difference, and only you have so much depending on it.

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SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation of work and career issues requires that you take honest stock of your perception, your position, and your potential “plays.” Older – excuse me, “more experienced” – employees have to take careful note and increased initiative to overcome the effect of nature and the common perceptions around them. But older -sorry, “wiser” – employees also have certain natural advantages at their disposal; they’ve got forethought, patience and prudence – advantages more commonly found among those of us in our 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and beyond. The only thing necessary is the will, and that’s simply up to you.

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.