The “AGE-OLD” Dilemma!

The “AGE-OLD” Dilemma!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

I choose not to invest if the founders are older than my threshold age,” an investor commented to me recently when I asked about his financing philosophy on start-ups.

On another occasion, the CEO of a start-up told me that he is adamant on hiring a HR Head who is younger than him; and mind you, the CEO is 35 years old (or young!) and aspires to build a youthful organisation.

“I am 51 years old and finding it difficult to find an appropriate senior level job,” wrote one of my LinkedIn connections.

“He hardly has 2 years of experience and yet he is resolute in becoming a manager,” whispered my HR Manager sometime back in the office.

I’m sure you hear these as often as I do at work. And it does seem apparent that age is not just a number at the work place as it is in life.

Let’s reflect on the most telling factor of age at work – is your boss older than you? Or on the contrary, are you younger than some of your direct reports (DRs)? Or do you personally prescribe to the adage that “age does not matter”? Hmm… you’ve got to be kidding! Age, as I’ve come to experience, is one of the most obsessed about aspects at work as much as it is in life!

I was 24 when I was promoted to be a manager with 6 DRs – 2 of whom were older than me. While the younger ones addressed me as “sir”, the remaining 2 seniors would call me by my 1st name – “Kamal”. I recall feeling nervous, especially in collective settings at work and during crucial discussions, when these gentlemen subtlety refused to acknowledge my seniority with the simple act of addressing me by my 1st name.

I always felt when people called me sir, I had an edge in the conversations and felt like a boss 🙂 But more than being addressed that way it was the individual conversations where I felt a lack of control. I sensed a bit of imbalance in our relationship when senior people in my team talked to me and many a times felt they were undermining me as I was young. But maybe it was my lack of experience which made me feel that and made me over exert at times. But I am sure age was a factor in our relationship, either in my mind or theirs, we never got to talk about it though.

With ageing, I have got over my baggage on age influencing my evaluation of my equations with my DRs and bosses, I think. But I tend to argue that if the boss is older, we tend to accept him relatively easier to start with. Our own need to check her/him out or to evaluate them reduce considerably. I tend to believe that we always have this nagging doubt about younger bosses and take more time to accept them. And since not accepting is not a choice, we choose to rationalize her/his capability before settling down or moving on.

Why isn’t age just a number, we spend all our life living it, remember the consistent famous question throughout our child hood, “what’s your name baby and the follow up with , how old are you??”. We lived with this question long enough and it plays on our mind in the work equation too.

We also club our age card with our experience. You must be familiar with the following “age-old” claims:

  • I have a total of 20 years’ experience in HR
  • I have spent 5 years in the APAC region
  • I have been in leadership roles for 10 years now

One way or the other, we bring our age and the “experience that comes with age” to demonstrate our superiority at work and in the context of our job. This actually gets played out when we work together as boss and subordinate and we equate our relationship matrixes through age, experience and not to forget, gender. Sigh…I wish it was about common goals, mutual facilitation, trust, and the space we give each other.

In recent times, start-ups have definitely given a new spin to the age factor – the younger you are, the more “zing” you get. Our kids at home are redefining that phrase that “age is just a number” by being totally oblivious to the “power” that was once associated with age. I guess if we can live with this at home, workplaces will soon have to change to adapt to the same!

Strange that I’m discussing this as for over the past 2 decades of working, I’ve rarely had a boss younger than me but who’s not to say that I’m prepared for the eventuality?

Ripe mangoes are always tastier, but many raw mangoes have their own tingling impact!

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