February 11, 2010
Scared employee vs. daring entrepreneur: The two faces of older workers
Gene's story is by now a familiar one. A reader of this blog in his late fifties, Gene was laid off from his creative agency job last spring. After looking for work for a year, Gene came to the disheartening conclusion that "corporate America just isn't interested." So rather than continue to beat his head against the wall, Gene reinvented himself as a self-employed communications professional and has been doing project-based work for several months now.
Last spring, the New York Times reported that laid-off workers over age 45 made up "a disproportionate share of the hard-luck recession category, the long-term unemployed -- those who have been out of work for six months or longer."
Given such headlines, it's no surprise that midlifers who still have a job are feeling a tad insecure. In a November survey conducted by work-life services organization Workplace Options, more than a third of U.S. adults over age 46 polled said they didn't feel secure in their job. By contrast, 80 percent of Generation Y workers polled said they weren't worried about losing their current position.
Again, not entirely shocking. Those of us forty-something and up have a mountain of retirement savings to try to recoup, courtesy of the 2008 stock market crash. Twenty-somethings, on the other hand, have time on their side.
Still, I wouldn't have expected to hear that older Americans (those ages 44 to 99) significantly increased their entrepreneurial efforts in 2008 while their younger counterparts (ages 18 to 44) shied away from entrepreneurship. But according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a study developed by Babson College and Baruch College, that's exactly what happened, despite the fact that younger adults are usually the ones more likely to step into the entrepreneurial ring.
None of this is to say that older workers are doomed to total marginalization the traditional workplace and will be forced to strike out on their own. Much has been written about how many sensible employers recognize the value of experience when they see it. And the Web is rife with tips about how to win over a new employer or change careers midlife or later.
If you're approaching AARP age or have already celebrated spending half a century on the planet, what's your take on the topic? Are you keeping your head down at work and hoping no one notices your 40th birthday was almost a decade ago? Are you getting the respect you deserve on the job and in interviews? Have you decided to chuck corporate life altogether and go into business for yourself? Do tell.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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