As you approach retirement, think of your career as an airplane on the final approach. This is one of the most dangerous parts (besides take-off) of the entire flight. Unlike the airline industry with a pretty good safety record, over half of people at this stage in life will crash and burn! You can prevent or, at least, minimize the damage with a strong personal brand and a back-up plan.
Understanding Forced Retirement
The practice of eliminating older American workers has become widespread. According to ProPublica and the Urban Institute, 56% of employees over the age of 50 experience job loss before they were willing to retire. In addition to taking months to find a new employer, about a third of these people will lose their next job. Even more alarming is that only 10% will ever find a job with comparable pay!
Expanding upon Investopedia’s definition above, think of forced retirement as an involuntary separation that wouldn’t be your preferred choice. For example, the company might sugar coat separation offers to incent select employees to leave. It’s not really voluntary if you believe they will get rid of you later, with little or nothing. Unfortunately, some organizations target older employees and have decided it is time to part ways.
Mandatory retirement based on age is illegal except in certain select professions (such as airline pilots or military personnel). Thus, companies cannot force you out just because of your age. Instead, they are more creative offering incentives or downsizing through lay-offs, cutbacks, and shutdowns.
Why Does Age Matter?
The corporate mantra seems to be “Do more with less”. The goal is to increase profitability by reducing costs. Everyday we hear of layoffs, outsourcing, and shutdowns. While this impacts the entire labor force; it particularly hurts older workers who will find it more difficult to obtain new employment.
As a rather crude analogy, let’s say your company operates a fleet of delivery vehicles. As they reach a certain mileage or age, they are replaced. This makes good business sense as it decreases operational expenses. Management further determines that they’ll save even more if they contract out delivery service. Now, they have eliminated all those expensive vehicles and drivers. Sadly, a lot of companies focus on the dollars and cents, rather than on quality and customer service. In management’s eyes, older workers are seen as more expensive and less productive than their younger counter parts. While this is ageism, it’s justified as necessary to remain competitive and cost effective.
What is Your Personal Brand?
At this point, you probably realize you need to think about upping your game. Your professional reputation is your personal brand and determines how others think of you. This includes your boss, management, co-workers, customers, suppliers, and even other people throughout your industry. The fundamental reason for creating an awesome personal brand is for job security either with your existing employer or for future opportunities.
When you were first hired, you were likely thought of as a go-getter. You had a positive attitude, probably got to work early, and tackled whatever challenges were thrown your way. So, after all these years how are you perceived today? The best way to find out is to ask those you trust for constructive criticism and how you can improve. For most of us, this can be a little humbling and bruise our self-perception. Try to set your feelings aside and strive for open honest communications.
To be candid, there are lots of people out there doing uninspiring jobs they could almost do in their sleep. It’s pretty hard to get fired up doing the same thing day after day. They’re probably highly competent and believe they are valued employees. They might even assume they have job security and will remain employed until they retire. Unbeknownst to them, the company may be planning layoffs and their heads will soon be on the chopping block. Not a good position to be in! What are some of the things you can do to bulletproof your job?
Boss Management 101
It’s up to you to manage your relationship with your boss. Accept you’re not going to change them and then adapt to their management style. Pay close attention to the things important to them and deliver in spades. Strive for open communication and become the “can do” person.
It might sound counter-intuitive to state that your job is to make your boss look good. After all, this is supposed to be about your brand and no one wants to appear to be “brown nosing”. This can be a fine line that you need to manage. It becomes even more difficult when you have a bad boss. To be successful, somehow you need to create a win-win relationship. It doesn’t mean giving up credit for your contributions, rather finding a way that also allows him/her to look good. They need you as much as you need them and you want them as your ally (not your enemy).
When it’s time for your year-end review, present your story of accomplishments and how they add value to the organization. Hopefully, your boss has been aware and is supportive of all your endeavors. Any praise or recognition received is also powerful.
Being considered a team player is a vital part of your professional reputation. If you tend to be a loner, make the effort to interact more. Start going for coffee or lunch with the people you work with. Be genuine and show you’re approachable, supportive, and willing to help others. Be part of the team and contribute to the group.
While this may sound basic and even common sense, almost all of us could improve our effective listening and conversation skills. It’s often said that we have two ears and only one mouth. Many people tend to listen with the intent to respond as quickly as they can. Often, they don’t have the patience to even hear out what someone is trying to say. They interrupt and throw in their two cents worth. At times, they can be downright rude and disrespectful. Some examples include:
Politicians might get away with bald-faced lies, back stabbing, and never following through with anything however that should not be your mantra. Follow your moral compass and rise above any such inappropriate behaviors that compromise your integrity.
Spreading Your Brand
Okay, it’s time to take things to the next level with networking. You may have heard the term your reputation precedes you. Probably, you’d be surprised how many people are aware of or may have heard something about you. That can be either a good or a bad thing. If a prospective employer Googles you, what will they find? Hopefully, not pictures of a drunken weekend.
Attending company functions and events are a good way to enhance your brand. It shows you are engaged and provides the opportunity to meet people from different departments. If your organization supports a charitable event, volunteer and get involved. Can you attend any conferences or trade-shows? These can keep you abreast of technology while meeting others in your industry.
If you have a flair for writing or are willing to give it a shot, write about something in your field of expertise. Possibly on a product, service, or process your company might put on their website. If you learned something at a conference or trade show, document it. Publish it on LinkedIn to share your knowledge. This can elevate your value within the organization.
Keep your profile current on LinkedIn and continue to add contacts to your network. Join any groups or associations related to your field. Another good option is to contribute on Quora, a question and answer website. Develop a reputation for helping others.
Bulletproofing Your Future
The million-dollar question is how secure do you feel with your current employer? Even with your enhanced personal brand, there might be signs that you are a prime candidate to be the next victim. Dealing with forced retirement goes into greater detail on some of these signs and how to cope with dismissal. It’s a whole lot easier to be proactive than picking up the pieces later.
Realistically, does your current employer value your skills and expertise? If not, perhaps it makes sense to upgrade to a new position. For example, they could be hiring in project management, safety, or quality control. If this is something that interests you, they could be supportive of your endeavors.
If the writing is on the wall and your options are limited, you need a different strategy. It’s a lot easier to get a new job while you are still working. Either, it’s time to start circulating your resume or consider upgrading.
For those with more of an entrepreneurial spirit, starting a business on the side could be the ticket. Now that the kids have grown up and moved out, you have more time and space. It has never been so easy to set-up a website and many options to make money on-line. Plus, you will have the satisfaction of working for yourself and never reporting to a boss again.
The only way to avoid forced retirement is to provide such value to your organization they can’t afford to lose you. While a strong personal brand strategy reinforces your worth, it still doesn’t guarantee your employment. Everyday companies restructure, outsource, and downsize to reduce costs. The worst thing is to appear like you already have lowered your landing gear in preparation of gliding until you retire.
Those final years of saving are immensely important. In the event things go sideways, a robust professional reputation positions you to recover more quickly. With an expansive network of contacts, finding your next employment opportunity becomes much easier.