Home > Gen Y, Observation > Reverse Ageism

Reverse Ageism

We all know ageism is a sensitive subject in the workplace. When people get a little older, they sometimes get treated differently because they are viewed as out of touch or even incapable of performing their job functions the same way they used to. But it’s not just older generations who are getting discriminated against…It’s happening to the youngest generation of people in the office as well.

Entry-level employees are typically in their early twenties, and fresh out of college. Right now, that makes them proud members of Generation Y. Before I go on I would like to go ahead and get some of the stereotypes attached to our generation out of the way:

  1. We are entitled. We feel like we are getting shafted if our fist job offer doesn’t come with a corner office and a huge signing bonus.
  2. We need you to tell us how amazing we are. We grew up getting a trophy for winning first place as well as for coming in last. We got an “A” for effort so we need positive reinforcement regardless of what we produce.
  3. We are lazy and disloyal. We want to work 8:01-4:59 every day. Not a second more. We demand that our social life not be interrupted by our jobs. After all, it’s just a job, not a career, because we plan on finding another one in a few years anyway!

With this list in mind, it is easy for people to dismiss our generation both as employees and as coworkers. These stereotypes, which may or may not be true for some people, often prevent people from seeing the enormous value we can bring to the companies we work for. I know that I’ve experienced this firsthand and I have a feeling I’m not alone…

So what does reverse ageism look like? Well that is probably different for everyone, but for me it typically involves being the catch-all for everything technology related yet being overlooked when it comes to other aspects of my job. You see, another stereotype of our generation is that we know a lot about technology…and that one is pretty universally true. We grew up with computers, iPods, text messaging and the internet. We don’t use the instruction manuals on our new electronics. We turn them on and teach ourselves. So when our employer switches our e-mail system to Outlook, or purchases a new web-based database to track customers, we adapt. And quicker than our older coworkers, it seems.

Because of this uncanny ability to learn new technologies, we are often taken advantage of. We are the first (and sometimes only) people to learn how to do something so we are forever the “experts” on the subject. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to help. I will even teach someone how to do something if they are willing to learn. What I won’t do is their job for them every time they need to utilize this new technology but don’t know how. All too often our generation is expected to do this because we are the resident “technology gurus,” but when it comes to other areas of expertise, we are dismissed as young, naïve, or inexperienced.

You know something else our generation is known for? Multi-tasking. We can write a report for our boss, text our friend about happy hour and read a blog post about utilizing social media to help the company we work for improve their online presence all at the same time. The information that we are all bombarded with every day is sometimes overwhelming for older generations, but we’re used to it and we are able to absorb a lot of it.

What this means for our employers is that we are willing to learn a lot to get ahead. Our consumption of information did not stop in college and it isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. We want to contribute and be an integral part of an organization but for this to happen, we must first be taken seriously.

So all we ask for is a little bit of credit every now and then! While we are doing everyone else’s jobs as they come to grasps with new technology, we are also learning everything we can about being successful professionals. We are using our technology savvy to connect with people across the world who can teach us more about being the best we can be. Please look past all the negative stereotypes of our generation because if you do, and allow us to become contributing members of your team, most of us won’t disappoint …In fact, you may even be a little impressed with what we bring to the table!

Have you experienced any reverse ageism in your workplace? If so, what does it look like for you?

  1. March 12, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Luckily, I have not experienced this in the workplace, although I’ve certainly had to encounter dubious interviewers. After one interview, the person even told me he thought my experience and skills were terrific for the job, and that he was impressed by my professionalism, but ultimately he went with a candidate who he felt would be able to commit more years in the position – even though I expressed my interest to stay on for at least 3-5 years!

    I think your point about Gen Y REALLY wanting to be contributing, valued members of the team is spot-on, and unfortunately not acknowledged enough by our more advanced colleagues. So many times in my various positions, I have felt my skill set was underutilized or worse, undervalued. With that said, it falls on us to communicate with others that we are willing and able to take on more. And then to perform, and show that we can! I really love the blog, by the way! I’ll definitely be reading more of your posts.

    • March 12, 2010 at 1:59 pm

      Karina – I’ve definitely had my age work for me AND against me at work… One of the tough statistics floating around out there is that Gen Y will only stay at a job for 18 months. Employers are hesitant to hire us for that reason unfortunately.

      I agree completely that it is up to us to illustrate our value, over and over again, until employers understand what we can contribute.

      So glad you like the blog! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  2. CaSondra
    August 8, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I have experienced this. I actually grew up poor without much technology, so I feel as if I belong with the 30-40 somethings. However, it doesn’t help that I also look young for my age. I get called “little girl” and people make comments on why I don’t live at home orhow it’s interesting that I’m self sufficient.
    I’m 24. I live in a 2 bedroom apartment with my dog and fiancé. I have a degree and will earn my master’s this year. I hate getting treated like a child in the workplace, in interviews, and by wedding vendors. 😉
    I have a lot of work experience for my age and I hope that soon I will be in a position that values that experience and looks beyond my height, weight, and age.

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