Over 40. Ageing out?

A friend posted this to Facebook a few days ago. I saw it because I was doing some business promotion and her post appeared at the top of my home page feed. Tawnya’s comment with the share:

This explains everything I know to be true about the industry I love. About the industry I never want to leave. [link] — nothing here surprises me. And that makes me sad.

Here was my response, with typos corrected and slightly expanded:

As I look for a job I’ve been curious about whether I’m being passed over because of age. Graduation and employment dates could be detrimental. Yes, I expect to be paid more because of my 20 years of work experience. If I hadn’t jumped around on so many contracts I might have been a Senior Manager/Director by now.

There’s also a couple of jobs I’ve applied for that have stereotypical “millennial” offices with the open concept environments, “free snacks” and games rooms. I’m not sure how I’d do in those environments, but I’m also not sure how my rent will get paid in a few days, so I’m sort of in “beggars can’t be choosers” mode.

Photo by Venveo on Unsplash

On open-concept

(My first draft of this diverted from my “aging” topic so I’ll indulge it and get a longer article out of it.)

From my Facebook response:

There’s also a couple of jobs I’ve applied for that have stereotypical “millennial” offices with the open concept environments, “free snacks” and games rooms.

Open concept environments aren’t ideal for me. They range from uncomfortable to hellish. The latter feeling is when I have no walls and the private spaces are small and dark. The former feeling is when I have at least one wall and a bright, naturally-lit (windowed) room to escape to when needed. Such rooms are often small meeting rooms or larger boardrooms.

Some companies offer this solution:

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Just looking at those walls in the stock image triggers my claustrophobia.

One company I worked at with an open-office plan had rooms that 2 or 3 people could meet in or one person could work in. It had comfy seats with attached desks and large windows. It was lovely. Some rooms were reservable, some weren’t.

An interviewer at one company told me that they had an open-concept office, but what they really meant was that they have cubicles rather than offices. I can do cubicles. Cubicles have walls and privacy. There have been times at which I’ve longed for a cubicle.

It’s funny — some say that ADHD affects a lot of younger people now and yet those open-concept offices are so distracting.

Facilitating Creativity

There’s also a couple of jobs I’ve applied for that have stereotypical “millennial” offices with the open concept environments, “free snacks” and games rooms.

A lot of those spaces are the typical “millennial” spaces with foosball tables. They’re supposed to engender creativity. How can you be creative without focus? How can you be creative with so many stimuli? I know that everyone’s process is different but doesn’t inspiration then need focused work? I acknowledge that everyone focuses differently (hello, ADHD expert here), but shouldn’t offices accommodate for that, to maximize productivity? Teams can collaborate in meeting rooms and Slack channels.

I’m happy with dog-friendly office space, but I don’t need free sugary snacks. Workers don’t need the jitters, they need balance and sleep and proper nutrition. If you need coffee to stay awake, you need to sleep more.

In my younger days, it was Jolt Cola that engineering students thrived on. Now it’s Red Bull and such.

My brain operates best with lots of fat and little sugar.

I can’t be creative or productive if caffeine has left me wired but tired or if my adrenal glands aren’t properly regulating my energy. When the adrenal glands aren’t functioning properly because of long-term stress, it leads to adrenal fatigue. Caffeine makes it worse. The adrenal glands secrete hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone and adrenaline. Cortisol helps regulate metabolism and helps your body respond to stress. Aldosterone helps control blood pressure. Caffeine might briefly help with related symptoms but only proper nutrition and sleep make a sustainable difference.

Sure, there’s a case for being so tired that you’re delirious and creative and many books have been written while the authors were drunk or high, but that’s not healthy.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

[NB: The photo I was hoping to find was a still of an episode of Workin Moms from season 2. There are three or four episodes that are partly set in an open-concept office with bean bags and such. If you’ve seen these episodes, you know what I’m referring to. If you haven’t and intend to, I’ve deliberately kept this spoiler-free.]

Regarding “jumping around on contracts”

If I hadn’t jumped around on so many contracts I might have been a Senior Manager/Director by now.

I like contracts. I like swooping in, making changes and leaving things better than I found them. I like the constant change. I enjoy being stimulated without the ability to get bored for too long.

There’s also the negative reason I like short term contracts: Occasionally, they allow me to indulge my imposter syndrome. There’s a voice in my head that sometimes says, “By the time they find out I suck, my contract will be over.”

But mostly, I think, “How can I maximize my awesome output in a short amount of time?” I enjoy that.

…I’m also not sure how my rent will get paid in a few days, so I’m sort of in “beggars can’t be choosers” mode.

I hate this. I know that most of our reality is formed in our sub-conscious and that thinking about what I don’t want rather than focusing what I do want — or what I already have — can be detrimental to the process.

I do sometimes wish I’d stayed in one place. It used to be easy for me to get contracts and I was never without work for more than a year. Although I keep busy, I don’t have a sustainable income and each month it gets harder. I just paid my rent. I have less than $500 left in my overdraft limit. I’m expecting $800 on Friday and have already scheduled an automatic credit card payment for that day.

On seniority

Again, “If I hadn’t jumped around on so many contracts I might have been a Senior Manager/Director by now.”

And this takes me to a point made in the original CBC article:

Older employees expect higher salaries

Yeah, I do. I’ve been working for 20 years. As I said in a recent article here on Medium, “Of course I should be going for Senior Content roles! Why have I not been?”

“Grown-up work”

As a child, here’s what I imagine “work” was like: You have a boss, and then when you have enough work experience and age experience, you become the boss. Then again, when I was really young, I took the phrase “making money” literally when my parents used it. For a short time, I thought my dad worked at a place that printed money.

Working for people younger than me has sometimes felt strange, especially when I had more work experience than my manager.

Experience — the sense of entitlement

I know a woman who has been doing similar jobs for several years and used to own a business. She should be managing people and making more money than she is. She basically gave herself a demotion because of her own reasons but is unhappy with how much money she makes and sometimes seems to want to manage people. Being managed doesn’t seem right for her. Her job isn’t the ideal fit.

Not the photo I want to use, but it’s free. There are some great Shutterstock photos of a multi-generational workplace in my memory.

Experience vs. age

I’ve had to wrangle with the fact that overall work experience is not the same as skill experience. My experience as a writer began in grade school, with high marks on English assignments and such. In university, in addition to my academic writing, I copywrote for the theatre company that I was involved in, writing programmes, poster copy and artist bios. I moderated message board forums before “social media” existed as a term.

Years ago, in the context of social media, I often heard variations of “Any kid can run a Twitter account”. My response was, “Not everyone with a Twitter account is a Twitter expert.” Content writing and judgment skills are developed over time. Someone who’s never strategized will have a more challenging time creating a social media strategy than someone who knows what’s worked in the past. Experience — along with analytics and analytic experience — shows what works and what doesn’t.

Companies with a large online following should hire people with experience to manage, and a social media assistant to assist and learn. If a social media professional wants to skip the assisting and go straight to managing, they should start with companies that have fewer or no followers. I used newsgroups for years. I had personal “social media” accounts before Facebook. When I finally went to work for companies as “manager” and “specialist” it was for startups.

When I went to work for a large company as a “Social Media Manager” at the age of 41, I was treated like a “Social Media Assistant”. For the most part, I’m not a stickler for job titles, but there is a difference between “assisting” and “managing”.

A social media manager manages social media. That includes strategy and approvals and might include copywriting. An assistant might schedule and post the words that someone else drafted. At the last big company I worked for, I mostly scheduled and posted. I drafted and presented two strategy pitches for one part of the company. The first failed. The second was accepted. It taught me a lot. As a source in the CBC article correctly pointed out, you learn more from your mistakes than you learn from your successes.

I often quote Mindy Kaling on entitlement:

Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.

From the CBC story:

As agencies battle to retain clients by doing more for less money, it also becomes difficult to keep experienced employees who expect higher salaries.

“‘Can I really afford you? Can I really afford to have this much expertise on my books?’”

If you — a client, a company — want quality work, it might cost you more money. If you want an employee with experience, it might cost you more money. Investing in human resources allows you to get a return on that investment, though.

What hiring an inexperienced employee might cost you is reputation.

Photo by Julián Gentilezza on Unsplash

Targeting Millennials

From the CBC story:

In this digital age, clients are constantly looking for what’s new and fresh…They especially want to target their advertising at millennials, so are more likely to hire an agency staffed by younger people to do their marketing.

Um, hello, us Gen Xer’s and those older than me are customers too. Older people often have more money to spend, too.

Don’t assume that we’re not engaged in the digital age.

Want stats? Luckily, I bookmark useful articles when I come across them, and I have a few from HootSuite that I’ll share here:

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Facebook Demographics

According to HootSuite: With the exception of people over the age of 65, more than half of Americans in every age group say they are on Facebook.

Aside from YouTube, no other social channel has such a broad take-up range across age groups.

However, a Facebook account doesn’t mean engagement. So, older people have accounts, but I don’t know how engaged people of any age are.

And yes, Facebook is most popular with millennials:

This is good news for marketers, since this 25 to 34-year-old age range is often their target audience. The same poll found that 82 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds and 79 percent of 30 to 49-years olds have Facebook accounts.

Hey, I’m part of that 79%! Maybe that explains why 34% of teenagers think Facebook is “for old people” (source: Same).

NB: This was last updated in May 2018. Anecdotally, I’ve seen a lot of people leave Facebook. I still have an account but mostly use it for business.

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Twitter Demographics

40% of U.S. adults who use Twitter are aged between 18 and 29 years. That’s more than any other age group. Usage decreases as age increases. Still, considering the number of overall users, the smaller numbers are significant: 27% of users are between the ages of 30–49, and 15% are between the ages of 50–64.

Twitter users have above average incomes overall. People with above-average incomes have money to spend on your product or service. These are not only millennials. Younger people don’t necessarily know how to speak to older people, especially as society is becoming less formal. (I have a blog post about that on my topics list.)

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Instagram Demographics

In September 2018, Hootsuite reported that users under 35 make up more than 70 percent of Instagram’s more than 800 million active accounts worldwide.

However, that report goes on to say this:

It isn’t just the younger demographics logging into Instagram, though.

In the 50- to 64-year-old demographic, 21 percent say they’re using Instagram, up from 18 percent in 2016. And 10 percent of Americans 65 and older say they’re using Instagram today, up from 8 percent in 2016.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Practice makes perfect, or progress

So, companies are hiring younger people because they cost less money and because they can speak the language of younger people, and yet they’re potentially neglecting the older customers and the older potential employees that have the necessary experience. That necessary experience comes from doing over and over again (10,000 hours, some say), from failure and from success.

Practice makes progress, and practice can make perfect. (Though we’re all human and make mistakes.)

There are many activities that I’m not an expert in and would never attempt professionally, even if I’ve tried it once or watched a YouTube video about it. My lack of cooking expertise is among the reasons I don’t work in my partner’s kitchen unless I’m doing basic work such as tossing coleslaw, baking cornbread or washing dishes. As a server, I’m mediocre. I do it, but it’s not my forte.

Companies would do best to hire people of all adult ages and pay what they’re worth.

“A young person’s industry”

One of the sources interviewed for the CBC article said that advertising is definitely a young person’s industry. Few industries should be “young person” industries. Advertising should not be a “young person” industry.

Another source is worried that getting rid of older workers will come at a cost and points out, “Your quality of work goes down, your experience goes down, the expertise — there’s a lot of knowledge [lost],”

Of course. All this to save money and to “appeal” to younger people.

The same source who said, “They especially want to target their advertising at millennials” as quoted above also said, “When you go into service sectors like law and consultancy…the grey hairs mean more value.”

Wrapping Up

As I look for work, I wonder if my age is holding my back.

Getting interview feedback a little over a month ago from an interview that didn’t result in a hire was tremendously helpful. I realized that I’d forgotten how to be professional.

After all my months away from an office, I hope that I can still get back in. I hope that my experience and my age are benefits and that the dates of graduation and employment on my resume don’t hold me back.


*This article is my attempt to write at least 10 minutes a day and publish daily I missed yesterday, April 1, and have spent three hours writing and editing this post of over 2,700 words. As I do, I’ll possibly edit more after publishing.

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