A friend recently told me that he has started counting the months until his retirement, which, if everything goes as he plans, will be in about three years. He has a new boss who is irritating him. He has outlasted quite a few bosses at his job, and he figures he can survive this one, too.
Another friend also has a new boss, and she says that for the first time in twenty years on the job, she is not enjoying the work. She is looking forward to her retirement, if she can make it that long. Other friends have been telling similar tales.
The news outlets report that, because of the tough economy, older workers are clinging to their jobs. Some need the paycheck, and a lot of people need the health insurance that their jobs provide. But the news isn't talking much about the stress and distress that these older workers are experiencing on the jobs. As they near the end of their working lives, many of them appear to be increasingly unhappy with their work. It is as if their bosses and their companies are preparing them for leaving their jobs by convincing them that they really didn't like their jobs anyway.
Although some companies do try to force older workers out, most of the dissatisfaction I am hearing from my friends does not seem attributable to any deliberate plan to make them unhappy. Instead, the unhappiness is being caused by new bosses who do not know or value or respect the way that the companies they are managing have been doing things. They do not take the time to get to know the employees they are assigned to supervise, or to listen to those employees' input about how they have been doing their jobs.
There are plenty of reasons the new bosses act the way they do. Many of them probably realize that they won't be around for very long themselves, and they therefore don't feel they have time to learn from and about the people that they command. Some of the new bosses may look at older employees and assume that those employees aren't planning on staying around much longer, so they are not worth spending much time on.
Whatever the reasons, the effect is that not only are these companies losing the wisdom that their older employees have accumulated over the course of their work lives, they are discouraging those workers, diminishing them, and making their final working years unpleasant. When these workers retire, regardless of any praise they may receive at their going away parties, they will feel that they were not appreciated. Some will come to believe that their work was not useful to society, and that they wasted their working lives.
Some cultures are said to revere their elders. Other cultures may not go that far, but they at least respect older people. But the people I am hearing from are not elderly. They are not even in their sixties yet. They are not old, just older than their new bosses. They are fully capable. And yet, they are not only being discarded, they are being destroyed.
Maybe it has always been thus. Maybe I am just reacting to the way these end-of-career workers are being treated because I know them. But whether this has been going on for a long, long time, or whether the situation is getting worse, it makes me sad.