Antique pocket watch - closeup on very old pocket watch

I don’t wish a layoff on anyone. I’ve been through one myself, getting pushed out of IBM along with 10,000 others one month after the company announced $10 billion in profits and the CEO described his employees as the company’s greatest asset in a letter to shareholders. But, the stock was down a few dollars that week, so he had to do something. You know how it goes.  We live in a layoff business culture.  A survey from 2012 showed that almost 7 out of 10 Americans know someone who has been laid off.  The same survey found that about one in five Americans felt that it was highly likely that they themselves would get laid off.  It’s a fear that grips many American workers, rightly so.

Layoffs are somewhat inevitable these days.  In some cases, there may be valid, if unfair reasons for letting someone go.  At other times, the justifications used by management are spurious and unfair.  But, they still might affect you if you’re over 40.

  1. Businesses and markets evolve quickly – When industries evolve, they can’t afford to keep people in obsolete roles.  There’s no reason to keep people employed making film cameras, desktop PCs, floppy disks, etc.  If you’re over 40, you need a strategy to stay ahead of this cycle.
  2. If a business can save money laying you off, they might – Corporate managers are in the business of making profits.  If they can make more money without you, they will feel an incentive to get rid of you.  Of course, there’s usually a good profit argument for keeping valuable people on staff rather than outsourcing or downsizing, but we live in a quarterly share price growth culture, so good luck with that one.
  3. Your skills may not appear as valuable as they used to be – Write a good business letter?  Good on the phone?  Skills like that no longer count.
  4. New hires, especially younger people, may appear to have a better attitude than you – This might be painful to hear, but younger people are often more compliant and eager to please than older workers.
  5. You’re expensive to insure – No one will ever say this to you, but the reality is that older workers are costly to insure and the extra money to pay for your premium comes out of profits.
  6. Your network may appear stale – If business is about who you know, your manager might unfairly assume that you know the wrong people after a few decades on the job.
  7. You’re seem to be too highly paid – You probably deserve the high paycheck, but for a manger who is under pressure to cut costs, you’re a target.
  8. You don’t appear to have the right relationship with technology – Younger workers are “digital natives” – they have a completely intimate relationship with technology, a relationship that managers often perceive (wrongly, in many cases) as being useful to business.  You are a “digital immigrant.”
  9. You’re “obviously too old” to be in touch with what younger consumers want – Or so they say…  If you’re over 40, how could you possibly “get” what today’s tweens and teens want from businesses.  The fact that you have a mind, eyes, and ears will not help you win this argument.
  10. You have no leverage or recourse to fight it – The truth is, unless you’re represented by a union, you don’t have much recourse against being laid off.

These sound terrible, I know, but if you don’t acknowledge that at least some of these are true for you, you may be deluding yourself.  There is good news, though.  Hiring is up, and older workers are doing better finding new work than people expect.  The new jobs may not be quite as good, but there are still opportunities.  Bottom line, though, all of us older workers need to find long term strategies for work security. That’s not the same as job security.  There is no job security any more.   Older workers can prosper if they understand that a job is an uncertain, unfair proposition, one where they face a lot of compelling reasons for being let go.  Working, though, perhaps on a contract or “free agent” basis, may be the better path for many of us who are over 40 and trying to figure out the next few decades.