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Getting Passed Over in The Workplace Because of Your Age - Office & Career Advice

Updated on June 19, 2010

Dear Veronica,

Two years ago I had to return to work after taking about 15 years off to raise my kids. We need the money so I have to figure out how to make this work out. I'm a 40 year old female btw. Things have changed a lot in the time I was out of the office. I read your hub about email etiquette and tips on what to wear, and also the one about the office chip-in. Thanks for these articles, they have helped me a great deal.

I'm trying to incorporate all the things you've gone over in those and I think I'm doing OK but I still feel like I am getting passed over. I go out of my way to interact socially or with the chip ins and things. I dress correctly and I learned alot form your email ettiquette suggestions that work in other aspects of the job like just taking a moment to cool off. I'm good at what I do but I just don't fit in with this office. My boss is 28, and his boss is in his 30's. A woman that was hired after me was just promoted over me. She was probably 22 or so. Is it ageism? I don't know. There are a couple women my age and a little older that are doing just fine here so I don't think that's it. I am not getting picked for the special teams and projects that get people noticed. I've had to introduce myself over and over to some of the people I don't see all the time when we have meetings. I just feel like I am invisible here. Do you have any other tips or suggestions I can try?



Dear Carolyn,

Thanks for your email, and for checking out my Hubs. I'm glad you've found them useful.

I'm older than you are, so please don't take anything I say as condescending. But the blunt truth is a 40 year old woman can be invisible. It's a little different if you've spent the last 15 years with that company, learning the ins and outs, working your way up. It's hard to start fresh, with the 20 somethings.

The 15 years you lost were pretty dynamic ones. And this is very important to understand. If you've ever read Future Shock or The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler, you know what I'm talking about. Once change began, it began to accelerate. And Mr. Toffler predicted that it would be this way.

For example, there was a time no one had a television. Then, this thing was invented and it was a big deal to get one in your home. People from that generation remember who their first friend was that had one. They remember the first one they got. It was most likely a piece of furniture: a large stationary television that they'd have for years, maybe even decades. If it broke, they had a repairman come to the house.

As technology improved, it moved faster. TV's changed so much it was no longer possible for a repairman to come to the house, he couldn't have with him all the possible parts all the different TV's would have. You'd have to take the television into the shop if you wanted it repaired. Eventually, the choices and options grew and grew, and that would erode the service industry. To service TV's when there's only 1 or 2 kinds out there, is easy. To service TV's when there are hundreds of TV's out there becomes harder. Until, service is almost eliminated as a viable option. That TV that your parents figured they'd be leaving to someone in their wills because it was such an investment, is a complete piece of garbage now. Things become more and more disposable, and specific. There was a time if you wanted a TV there were only a few kinds to choose from. Now, you can have a flat screen that hangs from the ceiling, you can have a portable pink one that plugs into your cigarette lighter in the car. Or, you can watch TV on your laptop or your Ipod or whatever.

The 15 years you were out of the office were from, what, 1993 - 2008 or so? Think about all the technology that came and went. During that timeframe is when everyone got a home computer. Then big monitors became flat. Then towers became dumb and everyone got laptops. Everyone learned email, and stopped using VHS altogether. Right now DVD's and CD's are on the way out and you can feel how much faster that happened, then for example the vinyl record album's demise. WebTV disappeared, Ipods came, Satellite radio, antennas are gone and Direct TV is here, everyone got a cell phone, then everyone got a smart phone. Now everyone is getting a Droid.

Well all this fast moving technology hit the office place too. Electronic invoicing, scanning documents and emailing them. Modern offices don't use snail mail like they used to, and they don't fax anymore. You probably left the workplace during the days of Lotus 123. Software keeps coming, and going, and upgrading. People telecommute and because of their smartphones and laptops they always know what's going on in the office.

Your officemates engage in many social networking methods. From Linkedin, to Facebook, to Twitter, to their various feeds, they are in the know. They create friendlier connections to their workmates and bosses, and to people in other divisions or departments of the company, and with their vendors or customers or even competitors.

This leads me to my advice.

If you want to keep up or compete with the people in your office that are getting promoted ahead of you, try updating your status.

You said you took time off to raise kids. That means, you probably have little tutors living under your roof. Have someone out of the office, like one of your kids, get you going. Do you have a laptop or an Ipad or something? Get yourself started with a couple easy things. For example, set up a blog. Just something fun, like posting some of your favorite recipes. Do not make it about work, just something fun that you like. Plants, music, movies, stories about your kids. Then have your kid or whomever is helping you set you up on Facebook and Twitter. If you're already doing these things, great. If not, then get going. Add your workmates.

At work, these little efforts will aid you in several ways. For one thing, in the coffeebreak room you can comment on someone's Storm or iPhone. You could ask if there's an app for a calorie counter. When you mention a coffee you just tried you can say someone posted a comment about it on your blog, or you saw someone tweeting about it so you wanted to try it. When you walk into a meeting, you can casually say to your boss you liked the pics he posted on FB of his new dog. These icebreakers show you have a foot in the technology doorway, and they are friendly and familiar in a completely appropriate way.

Sounds inane? It's not. These little things make you a little more memorable, so maybe the next time one of those projects comes up, you'll be fresh in the minds of the organizers.

Now for the real benefit. 15 years ago when you learned a software program for work, you memorized each stroke as if this would be the only piece of software you'd ever need for the given task. But technology doesn't work that way. It's ever changing. Using some personal devices and some of the social sites that are ever changing, you'll be smoother about those upgrades when they happen at work.

When a promotion comes up different things are considered. Your job performance is only one of them. How you click with coworkers and the company is another. And another is your perceived ability to keep moving into the future with the company. If you are one of those people that makes fun of Tweets and gadgets, if you roll your eyes when someone says text me that info, if you get upset or visibly nervous when a systems upgrade or change is implemented, if you don't use the proper terms, if you don't know what a Droid is, these things will be considered when that promotion is being filled. You want to appear to your bosses and coworkers as if you are current, up to date and moving forward. If things come up in conversation like Dooce, or Wikipedia, or the new changes on Facebook, or a specific Youtube video, it would serve you well to be able to get in on the conversation. If you can't, then smile and pay attention so you can check it out later. 

Be careful of your attitude toward these things. It reflects badly on you if you are at all negative about technology or things you don't know. Don't pretend to know anything you don't know, but always show interest, and positiveness.

I realize this isn't easy. If you had been out of the workforce from 1970 - 1985 this wouldn't be as hard. But as Alvin Toffler said, technology excellerates. You've missed a hunk of crucial years. I'm taking a stab at this, but I just have the feeling this is the area where you need to sharpen your skills and the way people at work perceive you.

And hey, it may be fun for you to have this special time you spend with your kids. They may be excited to show you videos, or how their friends tag them in pics on FB or Myspace. Maybe a field trip to Best Buy would be fun. They can show you different gadgets and things that are out there, and get to spend time with them doing something that they're into. 

I hope you'll keep in touch and let us know how you make out. You can do this. Good luck.


Submit a Comment

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    I'm the guy that would pass this woman over at work for a promotion because of her attitude and lacking skills. This is great advice Veronica.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY

    Thanks ladyjane1. Great way to keep ontop of the kids and loved ones that you don't get to talk to every day.

  • ladyjane1 profile image


    8 years ago from Texas

    Great advice and I used to hate texting and now thats all I do and I am 46. I just hate talking on the phone and its easier to comunicate with my husband through texting because he isn't supposed to be on his cell phone at work and it works great nfor us. I do twitter and facebook and I dont care for myspace but I go on there anyway to say hello to my kids who never call ha. Thanks for some great advice. Cheers.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY


    Great news! I'm so happy for you. A 14 year old son is the perfect guide to all things referred to here. Yeah, I had the feeling this was the issue. It's so easy to roll your eyes and not like the new technology, but you need to get that in check at the workplace. Even just the attitude change will make a big difference, you're right. Show interest. If a coworker has a new iPod or iPad or something, ooh and ahh a bit. Ask to see it. Remember to ask your son about it when you get home. And bravo to him for teaching and sharing, and enjoying the time with you.

    The photography blog is the perfect vehicle to learn more about social networking, to start interacting more with officemates, and to stay appropriate. You know what I mean - no off color jokes, no politics, no bikini pics, and definitely no work talk unless you're sure it'll be ok with your boss.

    Good luck! Keep us posted!

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    You are the talk of my house today Veronica. Yes yes and yes, you hit the nail on the head. I AM that person that rolls their eyes about new cell phone talk. I thought since it wasn't work-related that it was ok. Now I understand the message I was sending. I had a small blog a while ago with some of my photography. I am going to resurrect it and I have asked my 14 year old son to help me set up a twitter account. My entire office is on Facebook, so that will be next. Even if I can't catch up, just being aware and adjusting my attitude is going to make a big difference I think. You were also right about my kids wanting to help. My son and I don't have a ton of things to talk about. He was very happy to help me with this. You are a life saver!! Thank you!!

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY

    Thank you Granny's House!

  • Granny's House profile image

    Granny's House 

    8 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

    Great advice. Well researched. Will rate.


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