Q: After 20 years of "excellent" performance reviews at the same company, I was laid off. Six months before that day, my boss wrote me up for being incompetent; then he said I didn't work well with my team; then he said there was no longer enough work so he had to let me go. Guess what followed? He called me the next Monday to ask me to work as an independent contractor. I fought back using all my reviews and letters from clients and suppliers thanking me for such good servicing of their accounts. Tell employees to save everything. There's nothing like hard evidence to dispute an unethical boss and a company trying to write its own laws.
A: Twenty-two years is a long time to save records, but it saved you when you most needed it most -- once you reached the age for caution in the workplace. It's sad when employees with great work histories and current accomplishments have to protect themselves from age discrimination situations, but it's a reality employees must face as they age.
There is another side to age discrimination that no one discusses, though it doesn't sound like it applies to you. Every person ages differently, but there are ailments and health conditions that older adults commonly face such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and the many problems that can result from morbid obesity. There are also less apparent health problems that can seriously affect one's job performance. And the potential of these health problems discourages many companies from hiring and continuing employment for people over 50 -- insuring those in the over-50 category costs more and weighs heavily on companies offering paid health coverage. In addition to the medical conditions mentioned, dementia and Alzheimer's disease can creep up slowly on individuals. Though the full picture may not be immediately apparent, the onset of the symptoms of dementia affects a person's ability to perform with the same efficiency as employers and colleagues were used to.
According to HealthLine, impairments in memory, language, communication, focus and reasoning are areas affected by dementia. The symptoms may seem minor when first noticed, but all symptoms can directly affect one's work performance. The subtle changes can be experienced and recognized by forgetting the reason for entering someone's office, missing a scheduled meeting, misplacing an important document, grasping to find the right words needed to correctly communicate a message, mood changes that may appear as depression, apathy displayed by flat emotional responses and a loss of interest in activities that had once excited or inspired the person.
A more serious symptom of dementia and Alzheimer's is the difficulty in completing complex tasks or learning new routines. The inability to properly perform tasks can have serious consequences for a company if the affected employee's job requires him or her to analyze or interpret important information. Not only can the symptoms slowly overtake the employee, but the person's co-workers, colleagues, and bosses may not be aware of the extent of the mistakes made until it's too late to correct.
Confusion and challenges in following a line of explanations or reasoning can also present problems at work when effective communication and understanding is required. Another symptom is a failing sense of direction, revealed through the person's difficulty to follow directions, including not to remembering how to go from one location to another. Repetitious behavior may also become noticeable to others. Due to memory loss, an employee affected by dementia may repeat routine tasks without being aware that he or she had just been completed those duties. A similar problem can show up in conversations -- simple questions previously asked are asked again. These behaviors may seem typical at first, but as they become more common in a worker, it's easy to see why companies hesitate to hire older individuals or continue an older person's employment.
Keeping performance records can prove useful to prove one's value to a company, but sometimes those documents are simply a record of the past that cannot be repeated. If you're having trouble receiving job offers, think out-of-the-box for an interview. Experienced and educated interviewers hold back on asking unlawful questions, but nothing is stopping the job candidate from offering information he or she thinks would be helpful in getting the job. The key to interviewing for a new job or for keeping one's job is to show what you've done lately. Companies can't ask all they might like to know, and they can't test or treat interviewees in different age groups differently, so it's up to you to prove you are bright, flexible, high-energy, and a quick-study.
Email LindseyNovak@yahoo.com with all your workplace experiences and questions. For more information, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.