Want to do well at work? Don't get old

senior engineer training a newly hired

A fifth of all UK workers say that age is the biggest factor getting in the way of career progression. We are among the worst in Europe for ageism - with only people in the Netherlands and Switzerland citing it as more of a problem than in the UK.

See also: Over-50s still facing discrimination in jobs market despite equality laws

See also: Quarter of 60-somethings feel treated differently to younger workers, study says

See also: What are your chances of working in retirement?

The study, by ADP, found that as workers get older, they are more likely to say that ageism gets in the way of their career - with 46% of the over 55s and 27% of those aged between 45 and 54 feeling this way. It's the most common obstacle UK employees come up against, with lack of opportunities with their current employer second at 7%, family needs third (6%), and favouritism and lack of qualifications in joint forth place (5%).

Part of the issue is that as employees get older, employers show far less interest in supporting their career development. While 79% of those aged 16-24 think their employer is very interested in development, this drops to 60% by the time they reach the age of 45.

There is an assumption that someone at the age of 45 has reached their peak, and only has a few good years left at work. It means employers will focus their attention on young whipper-snappers who they hope will be the next big thing.

It reflects findings last month by Nationwide Building Society that older workers are not treated in the same way as other employees. Respondents to that study said that older workers were given the worst jobs to sort out, their opinions were not respected, and they felt ignored.

Arguably if your employer is holding you back at work, you can simply move on. However, as you get older, this gets more difficult too. A study in February found that a 50-year-old applicant was 22% less likely to be invited to an interview than a younger applicant with the same qualifications. This trend was discovered despite the fact that the researchers included details on the CV to demonstrate that the applicant remained mentally and physically active - including mountain biking, learning languages and working with computers.

Missing a trick

This is incredibly short-sighted, as the days of people reaching 45 and counting the last few years to early retirement are long-gone. Nowadays, an employee at the age of 45 might well want to work for another 25 years. They are likely to remain in excellent physical and mental health for the vast majority of this time, so an employer who supports their growth now can secure some of their finest decades of work in the future.

Fortunately, not every employer is so blinkered to the potential offered by older workers. Some will particularly target older workers, and will ensure they receive ongoing training to meet their potential. We reported last month on Robert Brown, a 67-year-old former police officer from Canterbury, who recently went to work for Co-op Funeralcare. They invested in training him up as a funeral care operative and a funeral arranger - and as a result he became what may be the country's oldest apprentice.

And Robert is not alone. Co-op Funeralcare says that one in three of its apprentices are over the age of 50. The life experience they bring to the role is an important advantage when working for clients who are going through an incredibly difficult time, and need someone who can offer strength and support.

Over time, the government is pushing for more opportunities for older people. Andy Briggs, the Government's Business Champion for Older Workers, has called for every employer to increase the number of people aged 50-70 that they employ by 12% by 2022.

But what do you think? Will this make any difference? Or will getting old remain the biggest hindrance to your career? Let us know in the comments.

Advertising's most ageist ads
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Advertising's most ageist ads

It's not clear how old the Italian Mediterranean woman is at the helm of her elderly convertible. But clearly by using an olive-oil based spread on her ciabatta, she can still drive at a good clip.

The ageism is more subtle here. Imagine, an older lady still able to drive quickly and competently! And actually enjoying the experience. Sure, it's not offensive as some ageist ads, but it's a tad patronising. Welcome to ad-land.

In the 1930s, anyone more than 40 was definitely middle aged and in need of Phyllosan. Fortifies the over 40s was one of the taglines. Phyllosan ads had the job of informing consumers their pills would restore "digestive and metabolic tone strengthening the nerves and energy."

There's an implied sense of threat here too. The grim-faced doctor won't have much time with a 40-year old male who hesitates to buy this "life-changing" medicament. Be responsible; you're officially middle aged. Buckle down.

Here's another ageist piece of marketing. The hugely cash-generative insurance industry makes a lot of its money out of our own insecurities - and this ad is true to type.

But a few wrinkles are part of ageing. It's not necessarily about being worried. How about laughter lines? Not a pitch that wouldn't have gone down well in a client planning meeting, though given the financial crisis we've been through, some lightening up would have been a useful corrective.

However dreary becoming 40-plus might be, imagine how dire it was to be female and 50. Here, Mrs Georgina Weldon is truly verging on old maid-dom. However thanks to Pears soap, the ad claims her skin is like a 17-year-old.

How many 17-year-olds dressed like that, even in the late 19th century? Mrs Georgina Weldon was, in fact a "real life" case study. She was also a well-known litigant and fighter for female conjugal rights. A clever women also known as 'Portia of the Law Courts'.

But Georgina, that hat...

Now roll forward 120 years to this Dove soap (made by Unilever) ad; it caused a lot of chatter in the US, with the authorities even part-banning the ad. The woman here is not caked in make-up or soap. Although there's probably some touching up done, it's remarkably natural-looking.

Message: it's still okay and attractive to seek older people with no clothes. Too radical for some shocked Americans, though.

Yet some older women - even late middle age, even older - remain beautiful, vigorous and attractive, as in this Age Concern ad. But though you can see Age Concern's point, many old people look old because they are old. Not all older women would want to wear just a black satin bra on the front page of a newspaper.

Does it make us think about age or ageism in a different way? Or is it more she looks good considering she's 60-odd? Age Concern's grey boob.

Or how about this Lucozade ad aimed at older men? You might be pushing 80 but you can still pull if you drink sugar-loaded Lucozade. Pretty crude. This ad apparently was originally shot with an older woman flanked by two semi-naked males.

However the editor of FHM didn't think his mag would appreciate the grey-haired older woman - and asked her to be replaced by a man. Ageist and sexist!

This Spar ad is just awful, isn't it? The husband has lost his wine gums (gums). The wife can't find her ball of wool. But a quick trip - or hobble - to Spar and back and everything is okay. Note husband's gummy smile and wife's dowdy get-up.

The first is a neat little bit of clever reverse ageism from Elizabeth Arden. The woman in the picture is not just married (well, divorced) but dating a man younger than her son. She's independent, confident and apparently in control.

And confident enough to admit the current romantic arrangements.
You could criticise it for reviving the cliche of the fast older woman more interested in sex or shock value. A positive image? Sort of. And some way from the overweight bespectacled country bumpkin we started with.

Lastly, an older, grey-haired woman happy in her own skin complete with studded belt, (hand?) knitted top and punk-style tartan trousers. Let's hope Samsung sold a ton more washing machines through this ad. A confident, modern, energetic older woman. A rare find.


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