toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

April 07, 2008

old dogs and young bosses

When Rowena, 48, heard her young boss using the 'you can't teach old dogs new tricks' cliché she saw red.

"Firstly, it was derogatory to refer to senior women workers as dogs," says Rowena, "and secondly it was ridiculous that anyone could put forward the notion that only young people have the capacity to learn. What a load of crap!"

When employers or recruiters use this cliché, Rowena feels that what they really mean is that senior workers cannot look young.

Rowena believes that in a culture increasingly dominated by youth, anything - even worn out old clichés - that can be used to discriminate against older workers will be flogged to death.

"The truth is," says Rowena, "that older women workers have a lot more going for them than younger workers. Experience is something that only age can confer upon people."

She feels that younger workers, even her young bosses, basically feel inferior to senior workers.

"Deep down in their psyche they know that they will have to live for at least thirty years before they have a clue what it's all about," says Rowena, "so they use what they do have at their disposal to try to get an advantage - even if it means stooping to dirty tricks."

What young workers do have going for them is youth, and that’s all.

Rowena believes that most of the new ideas they come up with are nothing more than old ideas dressed up to look new.

"They even take the music of my generation and dress it up to make it sound like their music," laughs Rowena. "It is so pathetic, and sometimes I feel sorry for them because it must be mortifying to be young and have to admit that a geriatric group like the Rolling Stones is better than any group of their age."

"Being good at something has nothing to do with age," says Rowena, "and I really resent my age being used unfairly against me."

"I can't sing so I won't try to compete against anyone - young or old - for a spot in a group," says Rowena, "but I'm very good at what I do and I believe that the best person should be given preference, not the youngest person."

"Give a new trick to a senior worker and a younger worker," says Rowena, "and generally there is very little difference in the time both will take to figure it out."

If, however, the new trick involves knowledge of another new trick that the younger worker knows, and the senior worker doesn't, then the senior worker is at a clear disadvantage.

It is this sort of trickery that Rowena abhors.

When senior workers are proved to be less capable of learning new tricks she believes that a disadvantage was built into the experiment.

For instance, in the computer world a new program is developed every few months if not every day. A clever way for recruiters and companies to opt out of promoting or hiring older women is to require previous working experience with a particular program.

"Naturally," says Rowena, "even younger workers would not have the luxury of that type of experience, but nobody notices that."

When Rowena was transferred to a branch office position she was confronted by a totally new application. She felt awful because the younger woman who was transferred with her had worked with that particular special application before.

Because the other woman was younger, she was deemed to be smarter than Rowena.

"Hey," laughs Rowena, "the shoe could just have easily been on the other foot, but nobody notices that, either."

"All they notice is your age," laughs Rowena.

"I sometimes wonder whether any of these young things have a conscience," says Rowena. "I wonder whether they sleep well at night, and I wonder whether they worry like crazy that one day some young thing is going to pull the same dirty tricks on them."

"To be fair," adds Rowena, "it's not just the young things who pull dirty tricks on older women workers. There are a lot of old guys in positions of power who want us replaced with younger women and are not beneath playing dirtier tricks to make us look incompetent and stupid."

"I hope they get their just desserts, too," laughs Rowena.

"Right now, though," says Rowena, "I'm stuck in this branch office with a bunch of kids and even though I've learned the new application in probably half the time the younger woman learned it, I've been branded as an old fool."

"Well, if nothing else," laughs Rowena, "I have shown them that an old dog can learn new tricks!"

"I know I shouldn't treat this matter lightly," says Rowena, "but sometimes I feel an overwhelming urge to show them how pathetic they are - maybe I should buy myself a studded collar and some dog food and go in one day to do some barking and growling at them!"

This story first appeared as
old dogs and new tricks

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