Diversity and inclusion – they have to be the two biggest “buzz words” in HR circles these days. Every company seems to have adopted a mantra of “diversity and inclusiveness” with the total belief that it cannot succeed unless it fosters a genuine culture that embraces these two ideals. Okay, I get it. In fact, I agree with this relatively new corporate mentality. But, there is one group that seems to be being totally ignored when it comes to discussions about diversity and inclusion. What about employees whose age is 55 and older? Yes, I am talking about people born between the years of 1944 and 1959 who are today anywhere from 55 to 70 years of age.
Anyone who thinks age discrimination is not prevalent in corporate America must be living with their head in the sand. Corporations across America have for the last 10 to 15 years dismissed en masse aging employees in pursuit of one thing – increased shareholder value. I know; I was one of them. In August 2016, I was one of 14,000 IBM employees who was let go as part of a “resource action.” That’s not to mention some 5,000 other IBM employees who were let go in May of that same year. And, ironically, IBM’s Board of Directors had voted in January 2016 to change the company’s severance policy for IBM employees to one month pay regardless of years of service. Clearly, these RA’s were made to eliminate many seasoned veterans (20 to 30 years of experience with the company) with plans to replace them with younger employees who could be hired at a much lower salary. Well, that’s how CEO’s and Boards of Directors justify such moves – it’s all about increasing shareholder value.
Sadly, being let go when you are even 50 years of age or older can be both difficult and traumatic. For many people in this age group, their work is much more than just their source of income; it is their way of life! Where “loneliness” is now classified as a serious mental health condition in the U.S. for our aging population, these kind of corporate actions often contribute to the that very issue.
Now, when I was let go, I was 65 years old. I knew I wasn’t destined to work at McDonalds (do you want fries with that?) or being the greeter at Walmart. After all, I was a Hybrid Cloud Sales Specialist at IBM at the time and even today I can still get up to the whiteboard and explain cloud technology to senior executives who can spell
C-L-O-U-D but can’t go much further than that when it comes to understanding private clouds, public clouds, hybrid clouds, SaaS, AI, etc. In addition, I am old enough to understand the evolution of “data processing” and how legacy applications written in COBOL (many of which are still being used on IBM mainframes in production environments) were developed and what we need to do differently in our development environments today so we don’t re-create the same mistakes we made in the late 60’s and 70’s. But I can tell you, no one came knocking at my door.
Interestingly, I’ve done just fine since being laid off from IBM. As the author of three books and numerous articles and blogs, I have continued to do speaking engagements and guest lectures on leadership, performance improvement, life issues and coaching philosophy. I help coach an NCAA Div. III college football team every fall and also serve as their Team Chaplain. I also am a certified official with both USA Hockey and US Lacrosse and I work out regularly to keep in shape. So, please don’t tell me that people my age are tired and too lethargic to keep up with today’s pace. I and many of my aging friends are high energy individuals anxious to contribute any way we can. Unfortunately, few companies take us seriously or think we can add value.
I happen to believe that many companies are missing the boat by not taking advantage of some of the talented seniors who are in the job market and still have the drive and energy to contribute in a very positive way. For example, this past week I met for two hours with a 37 year-old financial services sales professional. He had found my contact information and after a brief e-mail exchange, I agreed to meet with him. It was amazing. After we spent time getting to know one another and me asking him what he was really looking for, he told me he needed a mentor to help him. In his words, “My boss is so busy building his practice he has little time to mentor those of us working for him.” So, we spent the next hour discussing everything from prospecting opportunities to how to build relationships, how and why he needed to qualify each prospect “ruthlessly”, how to ask open-ended questions and handle objections. For me I thought much of our discussion was Sales 101 stuff but he took voracious notes and seemed excited by everything I was sharing with him.
At one point in our meeting he said, “I sometimes don’t like to think of myself as a salesman.” I told him, “You aren’t” and I shared a basic philosophy I have come to believe over my 30+ years as a sales professional. “There is no such thing as a sales cycle because in the end, really, no one ‘sells’ anything to anybody; people make decisions to buy.” I then explained that when we view the sales cycle from the buyer’s side of the table, it becomes a buying process and transforms how we think and behave as salespeople. I basically told him he needed to start thinking of himself as an educator and more of a “consultative” sales professional. I cannot tell you the excitement I saw in his eyes when I shared this with him.
I am just one of millions of people 55 and over in this country who still want to be productive and contribute in the most positive way we can. Unfortunately, it seems that HR professionals have forgotten to include us in their discussions around diversity and inclusiveness. Maybe it’s time they re-visit their corporate objectives and see how some of the older, more experienced professionals could add value to their company and/or organization. For many of us, the word retirement is not part of our DNA.