Monday, 26 January 2009

Age Discrimination

It is an odd subject to blog, but someone brought this up....and I pondered it a bit today.

For fifteen years, I've been living in Germany, where they've taken age discrimination to a level of being a science. There is this expression called "mobbing". Basically, its where members of a organization or the management...pile on the individual involved....who might even be in their mid-40s....but typically mid-50s, and get them out of the company. Usually, they will line up tasks that the individual simply can't do (usually involving technology), and document the problems. Then they offer up a year of salary to leave the company. The guy originally thinks its a good deal to leave, but later finds that no one will hire them at 54 years old. Court cases? On some cases, it can happen, but after you accept the money to leave, its practically impossible to get a real case out of this.

German state workers are famous for being retired early because this "mobbing".

When I first got German-taxed in 1999....I had to visit the county tag office and German-tag my vehicles. When I walked into the county tag office....I came to discover a dozen employees....all in their late 40s to late 50s. No computers, no automation other than typewriters at each clerks point. I came to discover quickly....none of the folks were helpful or cooperative. They wasted ten minutes discussing my paperwork and then determined it wouldn't pass.....I'd have to leave and redo it....and come back again, this after 45 minutes of waiting in the outer hall. When I did come back, it took almost 30 minutes to process two simple pieces of paper.

In 2005, I returned to the tag office.....shocked at waiting barely three minutes.....then walking in to find not a single person over the age of 25. They took my paperwork.....found an error but fixed it there on the spot, then took the keyboard of the computer and input the data in three minutes. I paid the fee, and left seven minutes after I had entered.

I made this comment to my mechanic a few weeks later and he laughed over the change. He explained....sometime in 2004....the German federal government came out with a computerized system and required everyone to switch over. They were totally prepared to provide all the training necessary, and even offered it months ahead of time. The local chief of this tag office thought all would go ok. As training came and went....the trainer basically came over and said that the old employees simply weren't cooperating and most showed no enthusiasm for this change.

Eventually, the office was in turmoil with "change" coming. So the older guys near 60....were offered some kind of early pension deal, and the ones in their early 50s....got some type of position that required a move to another office (with no computers). The second group was upset over being moved....wanting to be paid off to retire or else stay there in the tag office. There wasn't any discussion over the matter.

So the entire office left, and the young replacements came in. There was a total attitude change overnight....they helped to fix paperwork and adapted quickly to simply getting people in, and getting out.

Failure to change.....failure to adapt....failure to accept a new landscape.....all were problems that they simply couldn't recognize.

I've spent the last ten years associated with the military, after my retirement. They have a preference for older guys. We had skills and the ability to quickly bring people up a notch. I have become a "reverse coach". Basically, the players come to me, and ask for help, guidance, or advice on how to conduct a project. I spend ten minutes, an hour or even an entire day....helping a guy understand the big picture and develop his project. I probably adapted the opposite attitude of most....accept all changes, learn to adapt, and agree to new landscapes. I will rarely turn down a class, unless I see zero value.

I have to agree with the concept of new careers....new training....new directions. I'm not of the mind that entire new bachelor's degree is necessary, and I would imagine this is a pretty drastic selection with relative little value attached to it. I'm more of the mind of what a community college offers....with a 1-year certificate program....probably revalues a career, and shows more value to a employer.

The truth is....even if you had adequate funds to retire at 55 years old....most of us probably don't want to retire. The hobbies and free time might be great, but we'd really like to keep ourselves occupied for 8 hours a day.