Ageism In The Workplace

For many people in this country, employment opportunities are being denied because of age…

Should someone now lose their job in their 40s or 50s, the chances of finding new employment in the UK presents a major challenge to even the most qualified of people. The media is now full of stories from older workers telling how they lost their employment through no fault of their own never to return.

Whilst official unempoyment figures may show that some 2.67 million people were seeking work as at mid February 2012, this figure fails to take into account those who may be in low paid part time employment and the many that fail to officially register with the Department of Work and Pensions. Other statistical analysis suggested that there were some 2.8 million people over the age of 45 without paid work in the UK as far back as September 2006.

On 1 October 2006 new laws were introduced to combat age discrimination in the workplace applying to staff under the age of 65. No longer will firms be able to deny an interview, refuse a job offer, deny training or sack someone under 65 on the grounds of age. Sadly this has had very little impact upon the attitude of employers towards the older applicant, yet it is something that is very difficult to prove. So why are so many people in their 50s and 60s without lucrative paid work?

One theory is that people feel discouraged to apply for jobs because of their age, whilst others attribute the inability to work because of health reasons. The older candidate is stereotyped as being inflexible, unable to adapt to new technology, and lacking creativity. They therefore fall outside the demographics of modern business methods. Whilst employers cannot specifically mention age in a recruitment advertisement, subtle phrases such as the ideal candidate will be expected to grow with the young company effectively exclude the older person from applying. In other words, discrimination is being shown but circumnavigates the law.

Another subtle form of discrimination against the older applicant are academic requirements. So many vacancies today specify a university degree, no matter how poor or irrelevant to the job in question that might be. This is fine for the younger applicant as at least 40% of school leavers move into higher education but some 30 years ago this figure was as low as 6%. This means that many older applicants do not meet the basic criteria and are therefore eliminated from the selection process. Potential employers overlook three important qualities here, namely that the older applicant will have considerable business experience, he or she is likely to be professional in their approach to work, and will undoubtedly be more reliable.

How times have changed! Back in the 1970s, nine out of 10 men over the age of 50 were employed. There was an attitude of respect towards the older worker, and in many industries, loyalty was rewarded. The next two decades saw a decline in traditional labour markets as industries closed due to a lack of competitiveness and in a period of rejuvenation, the emphasis on younger staff was born. Those who were in managerial or professional jobs have had most to lose if they were made redundant after their mid 40s.

With so many older people seeking new employment prospects, it is somewhat ironic that the government is forcibly extending the age before official retirement. Whilst this article is predominantly centred on the older generation of unemployed people, it must not be forgotten that there are currently over one million people seeking work in the 16-24 age bracket. Surely it would make economic sense to get some of these people into employment and training instead of prolonging the working life of those approaching retirement age.

Governments fail to acknowledge some of the major implications of long term unemployment. Firstly, people lose their self esteem and motivation as they see little to strive for in the future. In the case of a minority of younger people, this has led to recent riots, as individuals strive to make themselves heard in one way or another. For the older person, the onset of ill health is more prevalent as the mind ceases to function in a disciplined manner. Both scenarios subsequently put a considerable drain on the country’s resources, funds that could be used to support training for young people and, where necessary, paid to companies as an incentive to employ older applicants with the skills, knowledge and experience that are waiting to be exploited.

Anyone reading this who knows me will be well aware that I have first hand experience of age discrimination. Having been made redundant from a middle management position some years ago, I found it impossible to secure another position despite having had several interviews. Even recently, despite attending an interview for a position falling well below my skills and capabilities, the job was offered to a 30 year old! Whilst I am currently self employed and therefore not a statistic in the unemployment figures, I struggle to survive like so many people in a similar situation due to a considerable reduction in my workload over the last two years.

Advertisements

Banned Video

Apparently this video has been banned in Australia and can’t be accessed on the YouTube website

The video suggests that bullying takes place in the University of Newcastle NSW despite denials to the contrary. Bullying in any form must be outlawed and people allowed to live their own lives. The video is reproduced below to endorse my hatred of this outrageous activity.

Bullying

Much has been written on the subject of bullying but this most abominable subject recently reared its ugly head on none other than Twitter. Fortunately, the matter was dealt with both promptly and effectively but it brought back painful memories of bullying in one form or another for much of my life.

Bullying can take so many forms and is not simply physical. In fact, psychological bullying is probably far harder to deal with. I would be the first to admit that as a young child, I was quite timid and introverted, and these traits were quickly seized upon by others with far fewer scruples. From memory, my first experience of any form of bullying was as a nine year old boy chorister. Now a church is probably the last place one would expect bullying to be present, but as anyone familiar with choirs will be aware, they comprise people of all ages and backgrounds, many of which could hardly be described as Christian. This is somewhat ironic but many youngsters simply join choirs because of parental pressure rather than actually wanting to be a part of the church community.

So what form did this bullying take? In simple terms, I would arrive at the vestry to find that my casssock and surplus had either been purloined by someone else or simply hidden, thereby causing me emotional grief. With a service imminent, there were occasions when I simply had to miss my attendance because I was unable to robe in time for the start. This had further implications because only those with good attendance records were asked to attend wedding ceremonies which paid quite well at the time.

This was only my introduction to bullying which really manifested itself during my years at grammar school. I was one of a few pupils who started the school without knowing anyone, having received my primary education outside the town. Almost from the start, I became a sitting target … again because of my general introversion. As a first year pupil, I looked upon those in the sixth form with awe and a certain degree of fear, especially as they seemed to carry so much authority. On one memorable occasion, the entire class was banned from the classroom during breaks. Unfortunately I had left something in the room and sought permission to return in order to retrieve it. A group of my peers saw this as an opportunity to belittle and humiliate me by preventing me from leaving the classroom. This was possible as the door opened outwards into a corridor.

Knowing that I was likely to be punished for contravening the occupancy ban, I started to bang on the door in the hope that those on the other side would disperse. Sadly this had no effect so I banged even harder and subsequently put my fist through a pain of glass. I was extremely fortunate not to have cut my hand or wrist, and in the commotion that followed, the bullies quickly disappeared. It was necessary to report the incident because of the broken glass, and this only added to my trials and tribulations as I was labelled a grass. This was to haunt me for several years.

During breaks, I would avoid mixing with most of my fellow pupils, clinging to one or two whom I tried to befriend. As I progressed through the school, I used to relate more to the younger pupils … in effect trying to protect them from some of the things I had experienced. The usual subtle forms of bullying continued with false rumours circulating, almost daily humiliation, and often being given the silent treatment. I have always been a tidy and organised individual and I would often return to my classroom desk to find that it had been ransacked. On other occasions, all my textbooks would be hidden. Whilst these actions may seem trivial in isolation, the combined effect caused me considerable distress resulting in illness and even more isolation. Like many teenagers, I secured a weekend job to provide me with some spending money and saved hard to buy myself a new bicycle as my parents could not afford to do so. This was my pride and joy and after a period of using public transport to get to and from school, I began to cycle there. Needless to say, my bike didn’t go unnoticed by the bullies. On one afternoon, a group waited for me at the bicycle sheds and as I approached, they deliberately rocked my bike whilst it was locked in the wheel frame. The result was a heavily buckled wheel and forks meaning that I had to drag my bike home for a distance of nearly three miles and then incurred a hefty repair cost. By the time my sixth form education came to a close, the bullying had more or less ceased but I still carried the scars.

The ensuing years saw me grow in emotional strength so that I could more readily deal with the potential nastier sides of life. Like many, I’ve experienced some bullying in the work place but have generally been able to shrug it off. However, at the last company for which I worked, there was a complete change of senior management in my division. This happened following the departure of a managing director who bullied everyone in his sight. The new team was regarded as a breath of fresh air by almost everyone, not least because they were prepared to listen to the staff. Unfortunately, there was a single fly in the ointment. A person had transferred from the parent company, Argos, and it was apparent from the start that he was both incompetent and hostile. Some quick research and conversations with staff at Argos soon ratified this. Suddenly, after over eleven years service, I was being told of rumours circulating the company that I was incompetent at my job, a troublemaker and treated my fellow workers with disrespect. I was dumbfounded to say the least, but then discovered that some colleagues were distancing themselves from me. I eventually traced the source of the unfounded allegations, it being this one new member of management. Even with the help of loyal colleagues who knew the rumours to be totally untrue, it took several months to clear my name and to finally get the bully to confess that he had no grounds on which to base his statements. It was simply because he had taken an instant dislke to me which is no reason for bully boy tactics.

This brings me back to the recent bullying I experienced on Twitter. One of my long term followers, whom I had mistakenly regarded as a friend, decided to criticise me on several occasions for some of the people I followed and effectively said that I shouldn’t be tweeting with them. It would have been a simple matter for this individual to block those persons from appearing in his stream but alas that was far too easy and a major disagreement ensued. Needless to say, this person no longer features in my life as I will not be bullied or controlled by anyone!

I’m sure many of you reading this will question how I could ever be described as introverted. All I can say is that my life experiences have made me a stronger and more resilient person although I still retain a high emotional side to my character. Many will probably say that I talk far too much … indeed I am known to be confined to Twitter jail on occasions for exceeding my hourly limit! That is simply because I love talking with people, communicating generally, and learning from people’s different cultural backgrounds. Maybe that now makes me something of an extrovert!

Most of my experiences happened many years ago at a time when bullying was effectively denied by all in authority. Nowadays it is finally acknowledged but sadly, this appears to have made very little difference. Bullying of any kind, whether that be in school, the workplace, or even on social media sites, is evil and in my opinion should be treated as a criminal offence.

Onwards and Upwards

The early trials and tribulations of life in the slow lane…

September 2003 saw the fourth month of unemployment after my redundancy with life becoming something of a struggle as developments on the job front were virtually non-existent. Despite having registered with countless employment agencies, progress with potential vacancies was painfully slow. In fact, the cynical side of me began to wonder whether many of the advertised vacancies actually existed as job sites still advertised potential vacancies which were at least three months old! The daily monotony of not having a strict routine was enough to drive me mad and provided plenty of time for self-analysis and reflection.

Not all was doom and gloom though. After suffering from a particularly virulent chest and throat infection for over ten days, I decided to make the most of some unexpected but superb weather and met up with a friend in the city of Salisbury. It had been several years since I was last there, and not surprisingly, quite a lot had changed. The city now has a European feel about it; several streets are traffic-free enabling customers to sit outside bars and restaurants and simply watch the world pass by. However, I feel that there is still room for improvement in relation to the centre’s pedestrianisation as one can suddenly emerge from traffic-free areas on to main thoroughfares without warning! Maybe seven years on, some improvements have been made… I drove round the city recently but avoided the main city centre!

Salisbury, of course, is dominated by its majestic cathedral. Nearby, grounds and parks adjacent to the river are well-maintained, and provide pleasurable walks. Yes! Salisbury is well worth a visit except for one thing…trying to find somewhere to park the car! Driving around the city centre, an absence of car parking signs became very apparent. Eventually, a multi-storey car park was located, but this was designed for short stay use with prohibitive charges for stays in excess of four hours. A central car park in the market place was charging £1.40 (€1.65) for each period of thirty minutes! Whilst walking around, more car parks were discovered, although from where these were signposted is anyone’s guess. Passing buses also advertised Park and Ride but no signposts for this facility were evident on my approach to the city. Heaven knows what the parking charges are now in 2010.

The car park I used operated a pay at machine prior to exit system. There were ample signs telling drivers about this, so why on earth do some people try to leave the car park before paying and validating their ticket? Needless to say, this was just the scenario I encountered upon leaving, as vehicles queued behind a car which could not proceed beyond the barrier. Eventually, this queue was able to pass by exiting via a second barrier whilst the dumb driver simply looked bemused as to why his barrier would not lift. I have a simple suggestion for inept drivers like that…read the bloody signs first!!

The ‘hightlight’ of the month was a 13-week interview at the Job Centre. According to their official bumph, the purpose was to review what an individual had done with regard to finding employment, and to explore further ways in which they might help to secure a new job. As I anticipated, I was confronted by a clerk who simply followed a virtual check-list, and she was completely thrown on the numerous times I interrupted and challenged her. When she asked me what I expected, I suggested that a little empathy would be appreciated. This was obviously a stupid thing to say as she did not understand the meaning of the word. Instead, she kept saying ‘sympathy’ which was not what I was looking for at all. She then said that a search had to be done for possible vacancies that would match my profile. I lost count of the number of times I had tried to explain that my profile was not very accurate, but it appeared that their systems can only fit people into certain categories. The result of the search was two low-paid positions, both of which they had referred to me some four weeks ago!

I make no apologies for admitting that I almost lost my temper with the clerk. All she was interested in was following set procedures and she failed to acknowledge or even comprehend what I was trying to say. The only positive comment she made was that my records showed me to be highly proactive in my search for new employment, although proactive was not the word used…I imagine it didn’t feature in her limited vocabulary!

All in all, a humiliating and demoralising experience but c’est la vie!

Nightmares

Just another month in my life several years ago…

Way back yonder in August 2002, I was brave enough to challenge members of management on their hypocritical policy towards certain people regarding performance, attendance and overall commitment to the business. It was quite apparent that there was one rule for some and another rule for others, and despite giving the company loyal service for many years, I was treated with general disdain and very much taken for granted. Those who took lengthy absences due to alleged sickness, put in minimum effort at other times, and generally showed mediocre commitment, appeared to be the winners in the pay stakes, not to mention being the first to be considered whenever new positions were created. Having suffered for long enough, I was prepared to stand up to some of those dubious management decisions and asked for explanations. I wondered just what plausible excuses management would invent as the company had a clearly defined set of values to which everyone should have been working!

To add to my work frustration, I suffered nightmares when trying to switch suppliers of gas and electricity. Since legislation was changed to eradicate the monopoly situation for gas supplies and the regionalised electricity supply companies, we are constantly being bombarded with the option to change supplier. Whilst previously, I had not experienced many problems when changing, this occasion turned what should have been a simple operation into an administrative feast of incompetence.

I lost count of the number of telephone calls made to my chosen company, during which time I supplied all the relevant information both verbally and in writing. Despite assurances that everything was being processed, I subsequently ascertained that this was not the case. In fact, my then existing fuel supplier gave me a very obvious clue by sending out bills! Needless to say, this meant even more telephone calls plus further assurances that the situation was in hand, despite it becoming apparent that nothing had been done.

Finally, after almost tearing my hair out in frustration, I wrote to the Customer Service Manager outlining the fiasco. Whilst still awaiting a reply, I was forced to make another telephone call after receiving yet another request for information from them, all of which had previously been supplied!  I was eventually assured that my supply would transfer to the new company in the October, nearly three months after my initial request to switch.

Back to the present, and earlier this year I switched my supplier once again, and thankfully the procedure went almost without a hitch. Hopefully companies have finally become more efficient!

In my then continued search for new employment, I also had nightmares over the total inadequacy of Job Centre staff. I suspect nothing has changed to this day, as I often receive snippets of information from people currently in their firing line! Anyway, it would appear that their sole objective is to place people in work, irrespective of skills, experience, suitability and salary. They show no empathy towards people and treat them as third class citizens. The basic skill needed by employment agency staff is that of communication and most fail miserably in that area alone! In fact, I still wonder how they manage to get their jobs in the first place!

In their futile attempts to find me work, I was told to ‘tone down’ my CV so as not to be rejected for positions on the grounds of being over-qualified. I was absolutely horrified by this suggestion and left the clerk in no doubt as to how I felt. I hadn’t worked hard for years and gained all my qualifications and skills simply to discard half of them down the toilet. I had to restrain myself from smacking the clerk across the face for her impudence and lack of common courtesy.

Sadly, this behaviour is indicative of the state of this country today. So many people no longer extend basic human courtesies to each other, and believe solely in their own selfish existences for greed at any cost. Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I’d do anything to turn back the clock some twenty-five years or so when this country still had some standards of which, justifiably, we could be proud.

I share a short anecdote with you which had so much relevance to circumstances that occurred at work way back in August 2002. If I were not so cynical, I would suggest that it had been written especially for the occasion, but obviously I know better than that!

Once upon a time, in a nice little forest, there lived an orphaned bunny and an orphaned snake. By a surprising coincidence, both were blind from birth. One day, the bunny was hopping and the snake slithering through the forest, when the bunny tripped over the snake and fell down. This, of course, knocked the snake about quite a bit. “Oh, my” said the bunny “I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’ve been blind since birth, so I can’t see where I’m going. In fact, since I’m also an orphan, I don’t even know what I am.”

“That’s OK” replied the snake. “Actually, my story is much the same as yours. I, too, have been blind since birth, and also never knew my mother. Tell you what, maybe I could slither all over you, and work out what you are, so at least you’ll have that going for you.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful” replied the bunny. So the snake slithered all over the bunny and said “Well, you’re covered with soft fur; you have really long ears; your nose twitches; and you have a soft cottony tail. I’d say that you must be a bunny rabbit.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” cried the bunny, in obvious excitement. The bunny then suggested to the snake “Maybe I could feel you all over with my paw, and help you in the same way that you’ve helped me.”

So the bunny felt the snake all over, and remarked “Well, you’re smooth and slippery, and you have a forked tongue, no backbone and no balls. I’d say you must be either a team leader or possibly someone in senior management”.

The reason for all this? A senior manager, having decided that someone should be dismissed on grounds of pecuniary, subsequently relented and allowed the person to remain in the business. Had it been anyone else, then the situation would almost certainly have been entirely different. Once again, a case of double standards which reflected badly upon the business and demotivated honest and hard-working staff!

Quad Biking and… BT!

More ramblings from the archives showing that some things don’t change over time!

The summer solstice is fast approaching and within a few days of this event, shorter daylight hours will become apparent, ironically at the height of the holiday season when most people stand to benefit. Still, that is nature and there is nothing that we can do to change it…or can we? It does bring into question the matter of extending our summer time by one hour and bringing us into line with most of mainland Europe. Not only would this provide more daylight in the evenings, but it would also contribute to energy savings and make international business trading easier. Food for thought, perhaps!

Way back in June 2004, the division of the company for whom I had previously worked was sold to a venture capitalist group. The major redundancies were made to facilitate the sale in an effort to disguise the fact that management lacked the ability to drive the business forward. It was later revealed that directors were prepared to close down the business had a buyer not been found. It therefore came as no surprise to discover that the overall situation regarding trading performance was far worse than employees had been told. Despite the newly-introduced cultural change policy of openness and honesty, this demonstrated the old culture of misleading staff and effectively telling lies to cover up management incompetence! Looking back over the years, it is a great relief not to be a part of such operational practice. Am I becoming ever more cynical in my old age, I wonder? Still, I’m a realist and accept that these behavioural patterns are a fact of life so far as some people are concerned, even though I do not condone them.

quad1Prior to the demise of my position at work, I was lucky enough to experience the excitement of Quad Bike riding, as part of a so-called team building seminar in the South Wales countryside. Now, if you’ve never had the opportunity to do this, I would strongly recommend it as a challenging and fun exercise. Having experienced the thrills and survived a relatively easy course, I subsequently tackled more difficult terrain, sometimes struggling not to be defeated by wet and muddy ground! I also had some instruction in basic archery, which was certainly as difficult as it looked, but nevertheless quite rewarding. At the time, these new challenges stimulated the mind and provided personal achievement rewards, helping to detract from the daily routine of normal work and sleep.

Regular readers of this blog (that’s right… you!) will no doubt think that most entries have an element of complaint within them. Whilst I will not try and deny this, everything written here is the truth and therefore reflects life as a whole. Having moved to South Wales in early June 2002, I had cause to contact British Telecom and experienced unbelievably abysmal customer service. Upon dialling their free number, I was confronted by a menu with at least five options. After hearing all of those, I selected what I believed to be the appropriate option, only to be challenged by a further four options. I then selected the relevant route, and yet again had two options from which to choose. Eventually, a ringing tone was heard and this went unanswered for over 10 minutes!

After speaking to an operative who was unable to resolve my problem, I was transferred to another section and guess what? Yes! I had to navigate the options again before another operative answered my call. To say the very least, this individual did not want to listen to what I had to say and the conversation became quite heated. I threatened to refer the matter to Oftel, at which point the operative told me to go ahead and hung up. After recovering from the initial shock of such ignorant behaviour, I called BT once again and referred the matter to a senior Customer Service advisor. In fairness, this person could understand my frustration and anger, but the problem about which I called remained unresolved. Has BT customer service really improved in the ensuing years? Recent experience says ‘no’ after talking at length with a call centre in India and not being able to make myself understood!

Common Courtesy

Another brief trip down memory lane…

Exactly seven years ago this month, most days seemed endless and extremely boring. I was in the early stages of living life without gainful employment and even though I would often grumble about the daily routine of work, it does give a purpose to each day. With typical dull, cold and wet British weather, I had little incentive to venture out of doors, thereby exacerbating an already strenuous situation. Almost daily, my life was taken up with searching for new employment. For anyone not over familiar with this task, it is an extremely time-consuming and wearisome occupation, endlessly scanning the plethora of job sites available on the internet. One of the most frustrating things I discovered was that jobs were not classified under sufficient headings, so in order to find potential opportunities, it was necessary to search under almost every category. Once the slowness of page downloads was taken into account, the hours of the day quickly passed by! Of course, this was in the days before ADSL broadband connectivity was widely available!

In order to try and numb my boredom, I participated in the National IQ Test 2003 via interactive television. This was the one bright spark in a gloomy month… Normally, I’m not one to blow my own trumpet (perhaps that’s where I have been going wrong in life!) but I achieved an IQ of 136 which compared very favourably with the national average of 105! This was also in a period when the average IQ had been falling.

With only twelve days of employment remaining, it was very evident that certain people were keeping their distance. It never ceases to amaze me just how many individuals see a person for what they do rather than for who they are; indeed, inconveniences such as a period of unemployment (through no fault of my own, incidentally!) can prove to be a real test of true friendship.

Looking back, I made one of my final day trips to France. This was predominantly for the purpose of stocking up on some cheap booze…I anticipated being in need of copious quantities to drown my sorrows! There was also time to enjoy some of the local scenery in close proximity to Calais and the weather was fine, in marked contrast to that in Britain at the time. I stated that it was one of my final day trips for several reasons. Firstly, the costs of such day trips are now much higher since the abolition of cheap day ferry tickets. Secondly, the cost of alcohol in this country is now comparatively lower than several years ago, and thirdly, I no longer live within reasonable travelling distance of Dover for the short crossing to northern France. The trip from my local port takes in excess of 6 hours and lands in Brittany!

A final word on the subject of seeking new employment. I found it both frustrating and extremely discourteous that companies seemingly ignored applications and correspondence. Even jobs applied for via e-mail failed to generate a response, despite the fact that it takes but a few seconds to acknowledge a communication with minimal cost. Incidentally, nothing has improved with regard to replies from companies as recent experience will testify. Perhaps I am old fashioned and expect too much from people, but if more common courtesy was extended between human beings, then the world would be a far better place.