I recently blogged about a group called the Sacramento Professionals Network. The SPN is an organization serving unemployed professionals. While there, I was disturbed by something I observed. There were about 30 people in the room, no one was under 30 years of age, and the vast majority were into their 50s and 60s. What gives?

At first glance I would like to say it was Age Discrimination, but when thought out logically, I don’t think Age Discrimination is the real culprit. If we say that these people were let go just because of their age, I think we’re missing the point. More importantly, if you find yourself over 45, there is a warning here that you don’t want to miss.

Older workers are usually let go because the organization doesn’t see them adding value for the salary they are earning. They become expendable. The question we need to be asking ourselves, is why? Why do people become expendable?

There are two answers here, and both have to do with leadership. The first is a failure of leadership at the organization level. If a company is run well, it has just enough people to accomplish its mission. No more. No less. This is the ideal business model, but what often happens in time of plenty, is leaders grow complacent. People start to get promoted… just because. Positions are created that don’t really add value to the organization. These positions are filled with people who have been with the organization awhile. Older workers now start to become expendable. Ironically, it is their promotion into a position with debatable value that now causes them to be one of the first to be let go.

Organizational Takeaway – Always… Always… Always, be disciplined about what positions are created during a time of abundance.

The second reason for older workers becoming expendable, is a failure of leadership at the individual level. It is a failure of individuals to ensure that they 1) Are adding value to the organization and 2) That they stay relevant and current. Staying relevant? What do I mean by that? Whenever I teach or speak nowadays, I always mention social networking and technology. Why? Because to stay relevant in the future, you are going to have to understand these two things.

As an older worker, you will become expendable at some point, if you cannot lead the young people of Generation Y that are entering the workforce. This means knowing how to communicate with them. Texting, instant messaging, Facebook, MySpace, podcasting, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo, Google, GIS, PDAs, etc… are all going to be somehow integrated into the successful companies of the future. Failure to learn these is going to make you expendable.

Individual takeaway – You MUST stay relevant by staying abreast of technology and social networking.

To sum it up… age discrimination is often more about lack of leadership, than a blatant attempt by an organization to get rid of its highest paid employees. There are a lot of older workers who are still in the workforce, because they are perceived to add value. Make sure you’re one of them.

All the best,
All the time,

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