OLD AGE FIGHTS BACK:  How to play the workplace game as a mature person

Let’s face it, life’s unfair.  Even though we may feel that we are entitled to more, having contributed our youth and energy to the organization we’ve worked for, our bosses aren’t going to sacrifice what they believe to be the way forward for the organization just to humor us; if they think that youth is the answer forward, there is nothing we can do.  It’s called business pragmatism.

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Life’s unfair because the playing field is not level.  Those of us who have passed the age of 40 would have experienced dwindling levels of energy and memory, and yes, health.  Let’s face it, it’s getting more difficult to fight with the young for that coveted prized piece of meat.  They have youth – beauty, energy, creativity, swiftness of response and an insatiable hunger to go-get-it.

So how do we make the playing field a little more leveled?

May I suggest 5 ways?

  1. Play with the best of them.  Yes, you’ve heard me right.  No use antagonizing the blue-eyed darling of the moment.  Play along with him/her.  Rub him/her the right way, if you can.  Try to push all the right buttons.  Play the PR game by going for drinks and meals with the blue-eyed.  He/She would be an excellent channel to the top, something which you will need for that extra bit of information which will become scarcer and scarcer to you as the days, months and years wear by and as you move further and further from the center.  And there’s nothing wrong with having a voice through the favor of the month.  It’s called having friends in the right places.
  1. Find a relevance for your existence.  Just because you were the darling of your organization in the past, doesn’t quite guarantee that you will continue to be, unless you can re-invent yourself and establish a new relevance.  Face it: the world of work can be as fickle as the fickle world of entertainment.  Learn from the evergreen Cher.  Part of her longevity comes from the fact that she has re-invented herself many times over – singer of a duo-solo act-actor-singer extraordinaire and that killer wardrobe.  I would like to see Kelly Clarkson and Miley Cyrus in 40 years’ time.  All right, your work may not be a fickle as all that.  But is there something that keeps you relevant to your office, which prevents you from being side-stepped, something not easily replicable?  It could be something as simple as your ability to rally colleagues together.  This is especially important in offices where office politics make it very volatile.  You could be the rallying center of things so that when “things fall apart”, the center can still hold because you are there.  Make that relevance as indispensable as you possible can.
  1. Make better use of your assets.  Perhaps it is the contacts you’ve established from your years with the company.  The one who can confidently say, ‘everything you have goes with me when I leave’ has a vice grip hold on the organization.  Make it a common knowledge to your bosses, but of course do it subtly and in style without arrogance and pomp just in case it backfires.  Also unless you are saint who is there to help everyone do well or you really are going to leave for good and don’t mind it, do not give this advantage away to others.  Always keep some parts of this for yourself.  Especially, do not give it to your younger colleagues even though your altruistic tendencies nudge you to.  You’ve worked hard, you’ve earned it….keep it safe.  And seriously, it is common experience for the student to overtake and get rid of their mentor – the ultimate betrayal – something our cruel and heartless dog-eat-dog work ethics in Singapore has produced and encouraged.  Or perhaps, it is your experience at the job which you had painstakingly amassed over the years.  These are things your younger colleagues with all their bravado would not have.  Use it to your advantage without making yourself a fuddy-duddy.  Come in now and again to show that experience is valuable.  The modern workplace in Singapore tends to overlook this in their thirst for instant success.  Mark my words – this is going to be the undoing of many organizations.  Organizational history has many examples and history often repeats itself.  Show your battle scars to younger colleagues once in a while.  Make people respect you for that without appearing to be standing in their way.

The next 2 points are less about office politics but more about mental and emotional wellness of the mature person.

  1. Do not put your eggs in one basket.  One of the worst tragedies of a mature worker is that he/she is identified by his/her job.  The moment the career slows down, the person loses the self-worth and self-respect.  The only way to avoid this is if the person has cultivated many points of identity and self-value in life.  This could either be in the form of a hobby that a person excels in or in the form of altruistic volunteer work, both religious and otherwise.  I know of someone who on top of his day job is a sought after expert on and collector of South East Asian artefacts.  He is a valued speaker for special interest groups and all because of this special and uncommon hobby/interest of his.  Or what about a medical doctor I know who was also a religious speaker at the pulpit on the side.  It became a second career bringing him to countries like UK and Australia when he left his organization at 50.  What’s important is that all these people do not rely on their day jobs only.  They are respected elsewhere, sometimes in areas totally unrelated to their day jobs.

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Remember the proverbial story of the 7 fat cows

followed by the 7 lean cows found in the old testament of the Bible.

Good years are often followed by bad years

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  1. Make sure you have enough resources.  This can be emotional support as in good friends, buddies and family members.  However, I’m going to discuss a little bit more on financial resources.  Often the marked difference between a mature person who is at peace with the world and a worried mature is the money factor.  This is something every mature person especially the single ones worry about.  The key to successful financial wellness is not to wait too long.  While living a miserly life is not something ultimately good, living life as if there is no tomorrow is surely financial suicide.  Trust me, unless you have a bursting bank account, it is a sure road to purgatorial payback time.  The wise mature would have started saving and financial planning way back in the fruitful years.  Remember the proverbial story of the 7 fat cows followed by the 7 lean cows found in the old testament of the Bible.  Good years are often followed by bad years – the age old adage of saving for a rainy day is not something for children only.  Get a good retirement financial planner – you don’t have to follow everything he/she says or even buy any product from him/her.  It is rather that you need to know your options and your directions.

But I digress.  The important point about it is if you are not financially strapped to your work, if you are not held hostage by huge outstanding loans which you have to service through your monthly income, then you are less likely to succumb to work related depression.  The feeling of being able to stop working without sacrificing basic material comforts is priceless.  This is the best personal wellness protection against the hungry youngsters who like vultures are circling the skies above you.

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The young needs a good head start in life.  I would be the first to be glad and to congratulate the young ones who move upwards through hard work and determination.  It is the ruthlessness, the disrespectfulness and the greedy ambitions of the young as they climb up the corporate ladder by pushing everyone, especially the older colleagues, off that ultimately makes Machiavellians of all of us in this workplace struggle.  After all we are constantly being told that we have limited resources in Singapore and the only resources we have are people.  It is precisely in this arena and for this purpose that we are fighting for the limited resources.

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