Patti Temple Rocks Helps Us Learn to Address Ageism in the Workplace

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In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author, speaker and age inclusivity advocate Patti Temple Rocks on ageism in the workplace, what it looks like and how to address it.

A few reasons why she is awesome — she is a speaker and consultant with 4 decades of experience in marketing, PR and advertising. She is the author of the book I’m STILL Not Done: It’s Time to Talk about Ageism in the Workplace” which was named one of INC Magazine’s 9 Books every Professional Should Read in 2019. And her work and story have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and a lot more.

Connect with, and learn more about, Patti on her platforms:

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KEY TAKEAWAYS 

  • What is ageism and being ageist in the workplace
  • How ageism can impact mental health
  • Misconceptions about age at work
  • Why we need to value older workers
  • Some of the warning signs of ageism
  • The role of ageism and gender

“Ageism is truly the one form of discrimination that will affect us all.”

Patti Temple Rocks

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW

Russel Lolacher
And on the show today we have Patti Temple Rocks. And here is why she is awesome. She’s a speaker and consultant with four decades of experience in marketing PR and advertising. And she’s here because she’s on a mission a mission to eliminate ageism from the workplace and making sure age inclusivity is on every company’s dei be agenda. Her book, I’m still not done. It’s time to talk about ageism in the workplace was one of ink magazine’s nine books every professional should read in 2019. And a working story has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes Wall Street Journal. There’s a lot to list. I’m not going to do it. Go google yourself. Hi, Patti.

Patti Temple Rocks
Hi. Thanks for having me.

Russel Lolacher
Pleasure to have you here. So I have to start before I get into the Asia, ageism conversation, besides the fact I’m going to stumble over that word every five seconds. What’s your best or worst employee experience, Patti?

Patti Temple Rocks
Well, I think it’s both and in a way and so I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s that’s had one that was both I was right out of school first job out of college, very excited to get my business cards, produced my name, you know, you introduced me, my official, My full name is Patricia, which no one ever calls me unless I’m in trouble. And I had vacillated from Patti to pat. And in college, I was more Pat. But when I started this job, I wanted to be Patti. So I put that on my business cards. And my then boss, his name was Phil said, you know, that’s not a very professional name. I don’t think you should go with Patty, I think you should go with Pat. And I, at the time, I didn’t know that he was actually teaching me a very valuable lesson that I would carry through the rest of my career, which was to be authentic to myself. And so I said, No, I’m, I’m Patti, you know, and I didn’t change my business card. And that was what, you know, my entire professional career I’ve been known at. But that whole, you know, authenticity piece is something that I feel really proud of, because I’ve carried it with me my entire career and never molded myself to fit some mold of what somebody thought a woman in business should be, or a person of a certain age should behave or anything, I’ve always just felt super comfortable. Just being myself and living. My true self at work is super valuable and important.

Russel Lolacher
It’s funny, because I’m sure that leader didn’t think they were trying to do anything wrong, I think they were probably just looking out for you. But the biggest problem I always find is the word professionalism seems to always get in the way of people being themselves, people being able to show up as themselves at work. Because of this, what professional looks or acts like seems very stuck in a different century, it seems sometimes, yeah, not the world we live in anymore. So I’m thinking, Oh, I live in that one at ages. And Patti, this is the focus of our conversation, I’m excited to get into it. So the first I want to, so the first thing I always need to do is define terms. I have such a frustration with organizations that love using their buzzwords, like diversity, inclusion and leadership, but never actually defining what those mean. So people don’t have any direction. So from your book, which you you have a definition of ages, and that you pulled from Ashton Applewhite, author of this chair rocks, which is when the dominant group uses its power to oppress or exploit or simply ignore people who are much younger or significantly older. Does this still resonate with you as the true definition?

Patti Temple Rocks
Absolutely. And it was interesting, as I was telling you the story of my boss, Phil, like, you know, I was, I graduated from college when I was only 22. So I’m 22 starting my first job, that was also a bit of a power play on his part, and using his, you know, age and, you know, role in the company to kind of try to intimidate me. So I love what I love about Ashton’s sort of definition is that it does make it clear ageism, can happen on both ends of the spectrum. It is much more damaging and harmful when it happens at the upper age spectrum, which is why I have chosen to focus on that it’s also important to know that ageism is a legally protected like it is against the law to you know, you can be accused of ageism and lose a lot of money and ageism is federally protected. It’s honestly over 40. But most of the predominance of lawsuits and things like that that happened are over 50. But another term if you don’t mind that I would throw out is ageist and so ageism is it’s not black and white because nothing about this topic is but it is, you know, it is defined legally. What what I find happens more often than not, is that people are just behaving in a just ways with stereotypes or behaviors or attitudes or things that they’re just making certain assumptions about somebody simply because of how old they are. And those are not always those don’t always rise to the level of really, you know, overt discrimination, but in No discrimination starts without sort of ageist attitudes, behaviors. Thank you.

Russel Lolacher
And I want to get into some of those stereotypes in a moment. But first, I want to dig into the definition just a touch more, because it’s just specifies three ways of ageism shows up, which is to oppress to exploit, or ignore. So I was kind of hoping you’d give an example of each just so people have an idea of what we’re specifically talking about and how it shows up.

Patti Temple Rocks
Sure. Well, I’ll start with the one that I think is, you know, the least obvious and the hardest to observe, or even if it’s happening to you sometimes to know it’s happening to you. And that is this sort of dismissive thing that happens. And I call it marginalization. But it is, it was really what sort of woke me up to this issue in the first place. And that was because a friend, mentor happened to be my boss at the time, was started to not be included in meetings that she had previously been included. She was taught over in certain instances, not sort of given a voice or vote and things that she previously would have been. And so I didn’t, I witnessed it. And I wasn’t quite sure I couldn’t articulate it. I wasn’t sure what was happening. It was happening to her. And I don’t think she fully, like understood what was happening. And I was at a work cocktail party with our shared boss, who was the CEO, and I said, you know, I see something going on, what do you what’s happening with someone so and I knew that he was, you know, he’d put her in the job and felt like he was a supporter of her and would advocate for her. But what he said sort of blew my mind, which was, he said, Well, you know, she’s been with the company for a long, long time. Now, maybe she’s just tired. And I knew her, you know, nobody has ever used that word to describe her, like, she’s not tired, she wasn’t tired, then she’s still not tight, you know, like, that was not at all true. And so I thought, what, you know, what is he trying to do, and that’s when I realized that it was a bit of a euphemism for old, older, she wasn’t, you know, she was like, 55, I think, but that, you know, that was sort of his way of creating a situation a scenario where she could kind of be pushed into early retirement, and he, and the organization could feel good about it, but there’s nothing to feel good about that. Because it is had she wanted to she could have, you know, that’s a legally protected piece of it as well. And it also just feels shitty, you know, I mean, it nobody likes to feel invisible or undervalued. And especially if there’s sort of no overt reason, you know, why that would be happening to you. And it often leads to self doubt, which then becomes this vicious cycle of? Well, I don’t, you know, they’re not asking my opinion anymore. So maybe my opinion, maybe there’s something wrong, I’m not, you know, I’m not as as with it as I was. And so then I get quiet. And then, you know, I’m having a review or a conversation with a boss just says, well, you’re just don’t really contribute in meetings anymore, you know, and so then, sorry, we have to let you go, you know, so it really is just this really horrible, horrible thing, the more obvious exploitive things are, when people just sort of say, you know, no, I’m not going to give you this opportunity. You’re too old, or you, you know, this just this is a position that we have for high potential people who are have a longer career track, we’re not saying oh, we’re not going to invest in this training for you. Because, you know, let’s face it, you’re not going to be, you know, hear much longer. Again, people don’t say those things out loud, as often, you know, very often, but it’s usually sort of what is an active thought in their mind. That is definitely, you know, very direct and overt way of discriminating against somebody who’s older,

Russel Lolacher
And how horrible and you highlight that, how horrible it is for their mental health, when leaders aren’t being leaders, not communicating, not explaining why changes are happening. So when, as we often see in communications, if you don’t say what’s going on, people will fill in the story themselves, and all that self doubt all that. So that breaks my heart, but I want to, I want to look at it from a why, why do people get into that ageist ageism mindset to think that this is the right thing to do? What are the stereotypes? What are the myths that people are making assumptions about older people in the workplace?

Patti Temple Rocks
I just don’t think we’ve challenged it in a long time. You know, I think that there are some of it literally, I think is rooted in societal biases and beliefs about age. I mean, not that many of us send greeting cards anymore, but if you go down, you know a greeting card aisle, you will still find lots of cards that To, you know, make fun or poke fun at someone based on their age, you know, there’s 40s and 50s, you know, and these different cards. And so we’ve sort of grown up thinking, well, there must be something kind of wrong with it, if we can make a joke about it. If we look at who we see out there, like in commercials or in everything from like, images, the standard stock images that we can find on photography’s they’re younger people like we are as a culture and society, we tend to worship at the altar of youth, you know, there’s an entire multibillion dollar industry that’s literally called anti aging, selling products, and cosmetics and potions, and all these things to sort of, you know, fend off aging, because aging is bad. And I think that, you know, that’s just flies in the face of logic, if you’re aging, it means you’re not dying. And, you know, isn’t every day that I age, one day that I’ve escaped, you know, it’s just all sorts of crazy. And so I do think that there are just a lot of these biases, but in the workplace, to kind of let people off the hook a little bit. I just think it’s a classic. Like, if you didn’t know it was a problem, how could you solve it or you didn’t really do anything about it, which is partly why I’ve wanted to get involved in this because I think ageism, just kind of went, you know, undetected unreported, for decades. You know, it is by far the most widely felt form of discrimination. If you ask people like, Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your age, or witnessed it happening to somebody else? You know, same survey about, you know, gender discrimination, racial discrimination, the age is way highest. It’s also the least reported. So why is that? What’s going on in the workplace? Well, I just don’t think people were talking about it, like when you do D and I programs, like I’ll flat out ask somebody, what is age? Are you doing a segment on age? Oh, no, we didn’t really think about that, you know. And so, where I get optimistic, in a way about all of this, is that for many of these conversations I have with people when they say, oh, yeah, no, we don’t, they then go on to say, but we should. So I do think that it is a little bit of that whole Maya Angelou quote, which I love so much, when I knew better, I did better. And so I think some of it is just about us helping the workplace, which is my focus, see that you’ve just got some updating to do and you’re thinking and it used to be when a lot of these palaces and things were set that retiring at 55, or, you know, was made sense, because you were probably going to die at 70. So there was this attitude. And I know, like, I wish I could go back in time to career I went to so many retirement, you know, lunches, or things like that, where I wish now I had said, did you want to retire? Because I bet at least 50% of them didn’t, and felt pushed into taking the package early retirement or whatever. But when you’re 30, and somebody’s retiring, or being you know, asked to retire in their 50s, frankly, that seems reasonable. You know, and then until you get there, and you’re 40, and you’re like, oh, that’s only 15 years from now, I’m not gonna be ready to retire by then. And, you know, and so on, and so on. Plus, we’re living so much longer now. And we have to be financially whole, in ways that our predecessors did not because of the lifestyle, the how long that money, you know, sort of has to live it. So companies just need to rethink everything and envision a workplace where they can have five, literally five generations of workers all contributing happily and productively and it will be a much better place.

Russel Lolacher
So I have to ask the why question again, because I know I’m sure there’s some people listening going, Okay, sure. We’ll keep older generations in the workplace. But why should we? What is the benefit of keeping and not being agents not not supporting ageism? What is the benefit of keeping older staff engaged in the workforce?

Patti Temple Rocks
Well, a couple things. First of all, you set a key million dollar word when you said engaged. So I this is not I am not here to argue, never will never have never will, that it is a entitlement to keep a job until a certain you know, my mission, my goal would be for everybody to work as long as they want to, and to be able to set their own and date, but only if they’re contributing value. This is not a charity, like we don’t get to keep our jobs out of charity. So you have to stay in the game and you have to stay engaged and contribute. But the main reason that we need older people in the workforce is because we have older people in the world. And so anyone’s workforce is going to be better at delivering a product or service, if they are represented by a cross section of who is out there in the world, and older workers have, you know, wisdom and experience. And that’s not nothing, you know, that can be incredibly valuable, you know, I ended up after I wrote my first book, I ended up going back to work, and at the time, didn’t know the pandemic was coming. Of course, none of us did. But I would say, I’ve probably never worked harder in my life than I did during the pandemic, I was consulting and working with clients and all the rest of that, and I have never been more grateful. For every tough thing I went through in my professional life, whether it was the.com, bubble, you know, 911, we, you know, like, all of these things that at the time, we felt like, how are we going to survive as a business? Or what are what do I say to my people to make them not feel so scared, or, you know, what are our customers expect from us, all of these things, none of us had seen thought about them, relative to the pandemic, but I had thought about them in many other somewhat similar types of experiences. And so when you have people in your organization, that have, you know, sort of been through things, they can be just such an asset to the younger people in the organization, who just want to learn, you know, and in my experience, by the way, it is not the, the 20 Somethings and 30 Somethings who are ageist it is the ones that are right, bumping up against that next age group, and they want them out of the way. So they use sort of ages practices to get them out of the way. So I just think, you know, I was I call it the special sauce of youth and experience can produce absolutely tremendous results in the workplace.

Russel Lolacher
You brought up the pandemic, and that it might not have been the best thing in the world for older baby boomer staff. How did you see the pandemic impact ageism?

Patti Temple Rocks
Yeah, and it’s interesting, because it was definitely a spectrum of things that ended up with a Great Resignation, which I’ll talk about in a second. But I think that, you know, the early days of the pandemic, as you remember, and I’m sure all of us remember, we didn’t know what the hell was happening, you know, what, is this going to? last forever? Is it going to, you know, is it just nothing? What is it, you know, and we certainly weren’t getting a lot of consistent solid, you know, things that were sort of helping us to understand it. But the one thing that seemed to be the first piece of news that gave us oddly, a little bit of comfort was its word, it seems to be hitting older people. And so, you know, the nursing homes and all the rest of that. So, number one, in the positive way, it sort of helped us to learn and understand and maybe mobilize and motivate to sort of help that I know, I was much I was vigilant about everything, but especially vigilant about my mother, you know, and making sure that she was not exposed to things and all the rest of that. But the downside of that was, of course, we later learned that, you know, it could impact everybody, but the downside was, in a really callous way, there were some attitudes that were like, well, they’re old, they’re gonna die anyway. And so it just kind of fed into this narrative about old people being frail, weak, lesser than so I think it it was very damaging for the image and value that we placed on being older. And then the second sort of damaging piece about that was then when, in the early days, businesses thought it was going to be a much more damaging thing to their business than it was obviously was hugely damaging, hospitality sector, you know, things like that, but a lot of businesses thrived, you know, the more people needed one of my clients was a beer company, you know, more people were drinking beer wanted more, but you know, and so there were certain companies that are that literally had no more business than ever, but before they knew what was going to happen, a lot of companies just sort of laid people off out of, you know, a preponderance of caution for their bottom line and all the rest of that, well, disproportionately any layoff affects older people more than younger people. And that’s exactly what happened. In this case, there was the percentage of older people that were laid off during the pandemic was higher. Interestingly, another thing that nobody sort of predicted or knew was coming as a result of the pandemic was, I think it and I’m still waiting for the true positive of this to happen because it hasn’t yet but nobody predicted that we were gonna have this great resignation that we were going to kind of have this universal reset about what is important to me and what what the role that we’re should play in my life. And, you know, a lot of people, particularly millennials, and younger, were sort of saying, This isn’t worth it, like I’m not, you know, I don’t want to do this anymore, I or I only, you know, I want to move here and do this. And if they’re not gonna let me I’m not gonna do it, I just kind of created this mass resignation, you know, this unprecedented job openings vacancy. That was, you know, and it’s so interesting to have this conversation, because already things are changing, you know, things just are very fluid in our world today. But, you know, for a period of time, the biggest problem that business had was they couldn’t get talent, they couldn’t get help. And so that’s when I wanted to wave, you know, my banner as loud. And broadly as I could about, don’t forget the people that you let go, that were really valuable and good, that might have been over 50, bring them back. And a lot of companies did that. In fact, I talked to an advertising agency that did exactly that. They went back to everybody that had left or early retired, or whatever, over a certain age and went after them in a very specific way, and said, you know, we want you back, we need you back. So like I said, there hasn’t been a broad, I would love to say everybody did that. And now we’ve got all these opportunities for it’s not quite that broad, but it did, it did in the end have a little bit of a positive effect for some older workers,

Russel Lolacher
Ageism, and the effects of ageism in the workplace, can happen without people realizing it until it’s too late, where you suddenly have a package on your desk. And you don’t know why. Are there any warning signs at all that people can or should be looking for that they might be wanting to go, Hey, am I be minimized? Is something going on? Is there anything we can look for?

Patti Temple Rocks
Well, the example that I shared earlier about, you know, sort of being distant cluded, or, you know, not being as in volved, as you felt like you used to be would be one sign. The other thing that I think is, is really important to do is just observe what’s going on, you know, and like I said, I wish I like when someone is leaving, we tend to not like, oh, you know what happened if you know, but I think that it’s good to understand, you know, what did happen. And then if you start to notice that, boy, my organization seems to have a pattern here of people when they reach a certain age. I mean, I will say my own industry, you know, which is the advertising marketing world, you don’t see a lot of people over 50. And so I started to notice that in my 40s. And I was I would say a little bit my spidey senses were up. And so I think that you can just kind of look around the organization, and see if you’re not one of those over 50s yourself, like how many other older 50s Are there? And if there is, you know, if there are any, and you happen to have a relationship, like taking a lunch or like go have coffee, ask them what their experience has been like, have they felt valued? Do they feel part of it? Do they feel like they have a future notice if the other thing is, and I don’t have hard and fast statistics about this, because it’s you know, proprietary with individual companies, but of the people that I interviewed, who were surprised by that package, most of them had not had a, a meaningful review in yours. So their reviews were cursory. Like if they were in a company where you sort of had to do on hand to put one on file, it was clear to them that not a whole lot of time and effort had been put in their final score, so to speak was fine or even good. So it’s not like there would have been any clue in the review that said, you know, you got a performance problem. But the clue that you should look for in a review is just not being very thorough. And if we think back to the reviews that we have in our 30s, it almost always has a conversation about what’s next for you, like, where might you go? Or what, you know, here’s some development things or where do you see yourself in five years, here’s where I see you in five years, that those conversations stop happening when you hit a certain age. You know, I understand because sometimes, and this is just a word of advice that I have for all of the older workers who want to stay working and engaged as long as they can, you can’t expect a promotion, every all the time, like there is a certain point where you may not there may not be another level for you. But if you are still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for you. And so if you love what you’re doing, and you value the paycheck and you value the benefits, and you want to stay in, you know, just like make sure that you’re communicating that that you’re not always in the market for a huge pay bump, or, you know, a next opportunity that you would actually be very open to considering something that might look and feel very different than sort of the traditional career trajectory that you’ve been on. But the key is, make, like force that conversation if it’s not being brought up to you, you bring it up and make it a comfortable conversation for everybody to talk about. Let’s talk about my next 10 years, even though I know retirement is out there for me, like I know, um, you know, it is out there. I don’t know exactly. You know, I might not know exactly when I want it to be. But you know, when it’s this big, dark secret that I don’t articulate, the company doesn’t know or is afraid to ask or doesn’t talk about. That’s when all this uncomfortable. Surprise, here’s your package, you know, these kinds of things can happen because we haven’t just sort of had direct and honest conversations.

Russel Lolacher
I want to touch on something in your latest book that you seem to be how do I put this hemming and hawing seems like the worst way to phrase this, but not as comfortable talking about which is ageism and gender. Which I love your intro to the chapter in the book. Like, I’m not saying that I’m not saying I’m gonna Okay, fine. I’m saying it. And just talking about how ageism is much more impactful for women.

Patti Temple Rocks
Yeah, probably why you felt the hemming and hawing I that was a very initially in my first book, that was a purposeful choice. Because, you know, ageism is truly the one form of discrimination that kind of will affect us all has the potential to affect us all, regardless of our sexual preferences, our race, or gender, any of those other things. And I frankly, wanted people to get good and mad about it. And so I thought, the more people that I could get good and mad about it, the better. And so if I don’t, you know, if I don’t alienate a group, or you know, spend too much time talking about one group, then, you know, we have this big army that can go to war against ageism, and that probably is a little bit of a statement that reflects my sort of age and coming up when I did you know, I’m 63 years old. So I did come up in my career at a time where gender was an issue, you know, and being too much of a outspoken feminist, you know, might you might have lost allies or support all of us. And so I, I checked my own unconscious bias at the door and realize, I was afraid that if I was to female about this issue, I might lose the support of men, which thankfully, I think we’ve come a long way. And so I think that, you know, more men are really great allies. But more candidly, I heard from a lot of women who were like, What the hell, you’re a woman, you know, what’s worse for us? Why aren’t you talking about this, it’s worse for us. And then I also this job that I mentioned to you where I went back to work during the pandemic, my team, then my leadership team, then happened to be 90% women, and they happen to be women in their, probably late 30s 40s, who had kids and families, and we’re trying to get through all of this, you know, homeschooling all of what we had to do, and their jobs, all the rest of that. And not that there weren’t men that were also struggling and suffering. But the fact is, those home duties do tend to fall more to women. So women dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic, at a much more significant rate than men. Which is actually true in general, it just prior to the pandemic, women who tended to drop out of the workforce did a little bit more by choice than in the pandemic, when it was just sort of like enough already. And so I just watched these women that worked for me. And I was, you know, an empty nester at the time, although like a lot of empty nesters, my 20 Something kid was back home. But, you know, that was different, they were dealing with much more different issues. And I just thought this is just so hard for them. And if they leave the workforce and come back and want to come back, which you know, they should, because they’re really good at their jobs. Now, they’re going to be 10 years older, they will have missed some of that experience that others will have. And there just are these biases out there. And the look I talked about look as them in my book, there is no doubt that women are held to different standards about looking old, the same company, not the same boss. I happen to be early, great person and they said, Oh, you’re gonna call your hair. Right. And I did for a while because I thought well, yeah, I’m only 30 I you know, but then I realized later in life, I’m just, it’s natural, like I look better than I do in a fake black hair, you know, and so I didn’t I didn’t do it. But a lot of women don’t make that choice because they don’t feel like they can I wrote about a woman who literally couldn’t quantify it but felt like her hair she had a cancer. It’s even worse reason her cancer scare really badly and literally hair went white like overnight as part of her treatment and she felt like when she went back to work. Everything was different. And she attributed obviously some of that to people being worried about her health and all that but she said a lot of it was people just assumed I was older, and just started treating me differently. So I do think that, you know, men never get told you should dye your hair, you know, unless they’re maybe Hollywood or something. But so I do think that, you know, you’ve got this combination of luck ism choices that women have to make and higher numbers that than men that may force them out of the workplace temporarily, and then entering it back as an older person. I wrote a little bit about menopause, which I had never even I’m ashamed to admit, the first time around, I never even thought about it. Like it just wasn’t in my, you know, set of considerations. But I realized, after doing a little bit of research that for a lot of women in their 50s and 60s, they’re dealing with this very natural normal, everybody goes through a health condition in a workplace that isn’t allowed to even acknowledge or talk about it. So So yeah, so if I hadn’t been hard, I think it’s because I’m still feeling guilty, that I didn’t dress it more head on and more directly in my first book, because it’s real. It’s definitely real. It. But I always feel like I just have to say this, because I’ve, I’ve known many men who I care deeply about and have gotten to know through the course of my book, it is not just women, men can be unfairly treated as a result of their age as well.

Russel Lolacher
No, and I found it a really interesting chapter. And I’m glad you took the time in this edition to add that and add that to it as well. What do we say to those and you highlighted that most people that are ageist or ageism in an organization are those on the tear? If we’re looking at a hierarchical organization, the tear just below? So I’m in their head going, Well, how am I supposed to advance if the people above me Don’t ever retire? I’ve seen it in organizations where they’re like, I can’t move up because that person loves their job so much, or they never want to, you know, just looking at that as it’s almost a ceiling based on people not leaving, what do you say to those people that are ambitious, and see that as a barrier?

Patti Temple Rocks
Well, part of the reason that I wanted to focus my book on the workplace is because I would actually like to have the conversation with those people’s bosses, you know, or they’re like their management structure. But what I would say to them is like, Look, you got to work with your management, because I get it, I totally get it. And I have always believed as a, you know, I pride myself on the fact that I think, you know, I care more about the people working for me than I do myself. And so I have always believed that sometimes you have to get out of the way, you know, just sort of make room for somebody else. But what, what I came to understand as I get older is, but that doesn’t mean that they’re that the organization shouldn’t work really hard to find something meaningful and valuable for a lot of us to do. So that we can make room so that we can go do that and make room for these people who might want our title or position or something like that, I’ll, I’ll use my own personal example. I had had a really good job was running the agency that I’d worked at for, you know, a couple different times, but for many years, I loved my job and loved the people that worked for me, I was like in it every day up to my eyeballs and p&l and people management, client issues and all these things. And my then boss came to me and asked me to take another job. And it it could have it could have all been the happy ending that I just alluded to, but it wasn’t because the job wasn’t very well conceived. It didn’t sound like a real job. You know, I went from having like lots and lots of people working for me to like nobody with no real but you know, it was just like, you know, and so I said, No, thanks. You know, I’ll say no, I’m gonna say well, you know, I like my job I will I’ll stay where I am. Well, I didn’t know at the time that he had actually promised my job to somebody else already who would had been given another job offer so you know, sort of like to get this person not to leave. Oh, well, you can you can run Chicago. I’ve got something else in mind that prepared it you can let Chicago Oh, great. I’ll stay. So this other person says so when I say I won’t leave. I don’t know anything you know about that. And he was all of a sudden had a problem and was like oh shit now what am I gonna do? And out of I think frustration and anger said to me well, this is a good job I’m not I’m not ducking your pay how much longer do you want to work anyway? And that was the first time in my life I had ever thought oh my god, this ageism shit is happening to me like I am being he thinks I’m not going anywhere. You know, he thinks I’m done. And it you know, that was ended up sort of being the long way out. I ultimately sort of left the company. But how that could have been handled is exactly what I think companies need to do today. And I’ll go back to my review. I was another one of those people that, you know, reviews were cursory. but not a whole lot always got a great review, but never really any sort of discussion about what was next. And I wasn’t really, you know, worried about that. But if he would have said to me Look, so and so I really want to develop that person, they’re great, don’t you think they’re great, we really need them in the company, your job, this job running this office is sort of a key thing that somebody needs to do if they’re really going to advance. But you’re doing a great job. And I know, this is what you’re doing. So can we like, what else would you like to do? Let’s figure something else out. And then and by the way, Patti, how much longer do you think you want to work? Like, you’re really good, you’re really valuable. But how much longer do you think, you know, how old are you? You know, the whole thing could have been different. And I might have said, well, gee, I hadn’t really thought about how much longer I want to work, but probably at this pace, or level, maybe another five years, but then I’d like to, you know, it could have been this happy ending, instead of me feeling pushed out undervalued, you know, it was awful. It was just awful. So that’s what I would say to this person who’s waiting for somebody to step out of their job is like, they’ll step out of their job as long as they’ve got someplace good to step into. So why don’t you be a part of the solution to sort of tried to create these jobs, and I came up with a list one time of like, a bunch of different things that I thought people with experience could do inside of corporations that just require a little bit of creative thinking and thinking differently. And it’s not always like, you know, like you said, this linear progression, like in my first year, an assistant account executives and you’re in accounting is that you know, that like, you know, let’s think not about titles, but about value that can be created inside of the organization. And I guarantee you, if you think about it, that way, you’ll come up with some opportunities that somebody who’s over 50, and isn’t going in for their next promotion would be great at, you know, would really be great at.

Russel Lolacher
So let’s fix this problem, Patti. How do we, how does an organization embrace their older employees? How do we avoid the path of ageism in an organization give a few examples you can provide?

Patti Temple Rocks
Well, yeah, and one I love because it was actually a company that was in an agency that was in my first book, anonymously as a negative example. And then in my second as a positive example, and they realized that they might have an issue, and one of their leaders in HR read my book, I might have suspected, you know, that they were one of the stories I was telling, but they invited me to come and speak and I spoke at they, you know, would do this annual event, something like diversity and inclusion days, or I can’t remember, but for the first time in their history, which was over like 60 years included age as one of the topics. And so prior to that they did, what I recommend every company do was they just do an employee census to just sort of understand the ages of the people that work for you. And they realized, Oh, my God, we are so waited here. And we hardly have anybody that is in this older cohort. And by the way, we have clients who are selling products to this older cohort. So it would really behoove us to have more people in the stages. So that was the first thing they did, like, Okay, we got a problem. And then by inviting me in, they were willing to say, we have a problem. And you know, here’s somebody that’s got some expertise that can help us to do it. And then the next thing that they did was that I am starting to see a few more companies do it, but they actually created, you know, and they have lots of different names and organizations, but it like employee resource group, or a cohort, a group of people, they call it sages. And it was intended to be for 40 and over workers to sort of come together and talk about the organization and the issues that they face as an older segment of the workforce at this particular institution. And what I love most about it is then it became open, it was always open to everybody. But then it became truly this cross generational group representing everybody from their 20s. You know, the NSA, I think I said at the outset, there’s five, we could potentially right now have a workforce with five generations of employees. So you had people representing every generation coming together. And one of the stories they told me that I loved is they would say, like, explain why your generation thinks Citizen Kane was such a great movie, or explain why I mean, and so they would, you know, sort of have fun with some of the different life experiences they had, but also mentor each other up and down. And so I think that that’s like, just a quick and easy to quick and easy things companies can do is just look around, be open and honest. Do we have a problem? Are we mostly you know, geared towards a younger workforce and can we do better, you know, create an employee resource group. The other thing is, you know, we talked about this too, like it is this feeling of being marginalized. is like I had a lot of people literally use the word invisible to me, I started to just feel invisible, that literally hurts my heart when I hear that because I’m like, none of us want to feel invisible, you know. And so, I would also just say, if I was a leader in an organization or any, you don’t even have to be a leader to do this, if you see somebody in you know, that’s, that’s an older worker, and you can define that with whatever number you want. Just sit down and talk to them and make them fit, you know, and learn, learn from their experiences, share yours, just make them feel welcome and part of the organization.

Russel Lolacher
Are you still optimistic, Patti. You are certainly an optimist. But you mentioned at the top that people are… ‘oh, yeah, it shouldn’t be part of the diversity conversation.’ But is the needle moving enough for you to still be optimistic that we’re addressing this properly?

Patti Temple Rocks
Well, that’s a tough question. I mean, it is moving very slowly, for sure. But I am optimistic because I do think that it’s like the old airport security. If you see something, say something, I think just the more that we are getting people like you to do, you know, who focus on workplace things to focus on this topic. We’re just slowly but surely, we’re gonna get it. I’m also optimistic because I did a interview with two graduate students right before the holidays, who are doing a unit and DNI issues in the world of marketing. And so they appropriately you know, were directed by their professor, you should consider age, and you should read her book and talk to Patty. And so we did this, and one of them’s mother was going through something like this, and this young woman was outraged. And, and, and so like, couldn’t imagine how her mother who she knew had been, you know, worked hard and valuable, and all the rest of that could sort of end up in this place in her career. And I thought, you know, we have a whole generation now of people, several generations, I think, who are working, who had who grew up with working parents, career oriented parents. So they see and saw, like, how much these careers meant to their parents. And so I just think it will, like they will just sort of maybe approach it with this. Of course, everybody should have the right to work as long as they want, as long as they’re good. So so I’m, you know, I’ve know, nothing other than maybe some gut intuitions, a few conversations I’ve had, but that I do think that this generation, this newest generation that’s entered the workforce, maybe will help drive some change.

Russel Lolacher
I’m going to finish it all up with the last question, which is, what’s one simple action people can do right now to improve those relationships at work?

Patti Temple Rocks
Make sure that you are building relationships with people who are not like you. So I think it is human nature and natural that we tend to form groups with the people that we are most alike. But I would say, you know, go out of your way to pick somebody who, in on the surface seems the opposite of you and build that relationship and I guarantee you will learn more and be more fulfilled as a result.

Russel Lolacher
That’s Patti Temple Rocks. She’s the author of I’m STILL Not Done: It’s Time to Talk About Ageism in the Workplace. Thank you so much, Patti, for being here.

Patti Temple Rocks
Thank you, Russel.

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