Workers over 50: how to adopt a new attitude about your job
Recently, while attending the Retirement Coaches Association conference in Ann Arbor, Mich. where I spoke about retirement trends, I heard a fascinating and insightful presentation I wanted to share.
Life and retirement transition coach, therapist and author Dorian Mintzer and corporate trainer and adjunct professor Gillian Leithman (aka “Dr. Gill”) presented what they called “a new, courageous mind-set” for midlife employees.
Mintzer and Leithman, of Boston and Quebec, respectively, believe that too many people in midlife accept employers’ stereotypes that older workers are tired, afraid to learn new things and technologically challenged. These men and women in their 50s and 60s then adopt these behaviors themselves, worsening their chances to get hired or promoted.
“A very bad loop happens,” Leithman, who teaches leadership development at Concordia University and offers skills training workshops, told the 75 retirement coaches. “If I [the employer] don’t give you the opportunity to move ahead in your career or give you access to professional development initiatives, you start to believe in a self-fulfilling prophesy: ‘Maybe I am old and I can’t learn anything new. Maybe my time has passed.’”
Leithman heard exactly those kinds of self-defeating words when she interviewed older workers for her Ph.D.
Mintzer, co-author of “The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle” and founder of Revolutionizeretirement.com, said older workers often have an unconscious, internalized bias that “sucks the life out” of them. This feeling then prevents them from asking for promotions or to be assigned to special projects.
Also see: You’re likely to be out of a job in your 50s — 4 ways to prepare and minimize the pain
Instead, Mintzer and Leithman said — based on the research they’ve reviewed and conducted —midlife employees need to entertain new possibilities about working beyond age 65 with the three P’s: Presence, Performance and Possibilities.
Presence, the speakers said, means understanding the “mind/body connection.”
Here, Leithman pointed to the work of social psychologist Amy Cuddy, best known for her self-improvement body language technique of “power posing.” According to Cuddy (whose research has been questioned by other researchers), standing in a power pose can increase testosterone, decrease cortisol and lead to better job interviews.
“Your body can influence your mind,” said Leithman, acknowledging that Cuddy’s research is “somewhat controversial.”
Related: Age discrimination is still a major obstacle for older workers
Mintzer’s advice to midlife employees: “Stand tall and be proud” of who you are and of your life experience because “our body language influences how others think and feel about us and it determines how we think of ourselves.” She urged the retirement coaches to talk about this with their clients because “if you go into a job interview feeling defeated, you will be defeated.”
Performance, the speakers said, is about knowing how to “fake it until you become it.” Leithman called this “probably the most exciting part of our work research.”
Here, she credited Herminia Ibarra, an organizational behavior professor at the London Business School known for her Authenticity Paradox TED Talk and her book, “Working Identity.” “Her work goes against a lot of things we’ve been taught and conventional wisdom,” said Leithman.
Midlifers considering what they’ll do next are usually told to think about what they want to do. “The problem is,” said Leithman, “when you move into a new arena or a new role, you can’t rely on your old mind-set. Ibarra says: go out and do something. Act your way into a new way of thinking.”
This is hard to do, Leithman acknowledged, offering an example from her own life.
Read: The good and the bad of Americans working longer, retiring later
She gives her students a personality assessment tool that tells them what “color” they are. The color reflects someone’s personality: For instance, red might mean a goal-oriented power wielder; blue might mean do-gooder. “Red is not who I am or how I work,” said Leithman. But she realized she needed to cater to students, some of whom were Reds.
So she began teaching like a Red person “even though it was not natural for me” and at the end of class, asked the students what color they thought she was. They replied: Red.
“I had to act my way into a new way of thinking,” Leithman said.
Her advice for midlife employees: Try new things. Get curious. “You have to have data to reflect on your new experiences,” said Leithman, even if you’ll have some trial and error.
Finally, possibilities translates to “engage in play.”
Said Leithman: “Transitions require adoption of a playful mind-set. Play leads to possibilities. And exploration allows space for emotion, intuition, creativity and a leap of faith.”
The “play” advice for midlife employees? “Don’t be afraid to try new things,” said Leithman. “Overreliance on our strengths means we are not exploring our opportunities.”
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