Professional Development

Is there such a thing as “too old” for the workplace?

Written by Kate Lopaze

In an ideal world, everyone would be able to work as long as they feel fit to do so. In our unfortunately real world, a focus on ever-younger generations in the workplace and the challenges of age discrimination make the issue of age in the workplace a fraught one. However, with the Baby Boomers working longer than any previous generation (about 35% of the American workforce is expected to be over the age of 50 by 2022), we’re left with a very real question: how long should we continue working? Is there a point where “too old” becomes a factor?

The bottom line is that there’s no magic number. Some people are able to work well into their 70s or 80s with no real trouble, while others find themselves boxed out by age bias or rapid industry changes much earlier. For each person, it comes down to a personal choice. Am I financially ready for retirement? Am I healthy enough to keep working? What are my professional goals at this point in my life?

It comes down to what’s best for you, and only you can decide that for sure. If you’re trying to make the “should I stay or should I go” decision, there are several things to consider.

Facing the money question

Finance is often one of the primary considerations when it comes to deciding when (or whether) to retire. For those who have built a post-retirement financial plan with investments or savings, it’s a decision of when that point comes. For others who haven’t had that opportunity, or who have had setbacks, it becomes more an issue of whether it’s even possible. In either case, it’s important to seek out the advice of a financial planner. They can help you find ways to make retirement feasible, scout out alternative benefits, or map out a schedule for your escape plan.

Overcoming stereotypes

Part of age bias includes stereotypes about older workers struggling to keep up in a changing workplace. In reality, older workers are often better suited to jobs than their much-younger counterparts. Studies done by the AARP and other advocacy groups have shown that older workers are dependable workers: they show up on time, they’re not likely to job-hop, they’re less likely to miss work, and they’re fully capable of keeping up with tech and other trends.

But fighting these ingrained perceptions about older people can be tough. If you’re not yet ready to retire, then it’s important to make sure you’re still building skills, taking courses to learn new things, and staying up on all the current industry trends.

Something as minor as the way you dress can help shift the conversation away from your age. Staying in touch with modern trends (in an age-appropriate way) and “dressing the part” can counteract the idea that you’re not ready to keep up with modern workplace demands. It’s shallow but can make a real difference in perception.

Thinking about alternative careers

If you’re an older job seeker, the job hunt can be incredibly frustrating. Junior positions are far more plentiful than senior ones in most industries, and it can be tough to compete with the salary demands of someone with fewer life obligations. Experience counts, but it can freeze you out in a world where youthful flexibility is one of the most in-demand qualities. If you find yourself stymied by dead ends in your current career path, it might be time to consider something different.

Look at it this way: you have a lifetime’s worth of strong skills that can be applied to other jobs. For example, you might want to consider consulting—it’s a way to use your built-up expertise and experience, but on a more flexible basis. Or freelancing is also an option if you’re interested in starting a small business. It might be that your opportunities feel limited because you’re looking in a too-familiar place. If you think about doing something different from what you’ve been doing, you might find that doors are opening more easily.  

“Too old” is not something that anyone but you should decide when it comes to your career. If you’re ready, willing, and able to work, there are opportunities out there to continue your career as you see fit.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.