Last week I had lunch with my accountant and a friend of his who was laid off a year ago (at 62) and is now starting his own business because he can't find an employer who will hire him. We spent much of that lunch talking about how many people we knew who were in this situation.
For the past year, I've been facilitating the Speedy Startup--a 12-week program to help people who are unemployed start up their own businesses. With only a few exceptions, everyone I've been working with is over 45, laid off and unable to find new employment. I'm recruiting for a new Fall class and finding that the trend continues.
I also do a lot of program work with "unemployment programs" in the US. Their biggest challenge is helping the 45 and over crowd find a new job. If these people do find new work, it's often part-time at a substantially lower salary with responsibilities far below their capabilities.
50 is the New 65
The reality is that when it comes to the workplace 50 is the new 65 and we're seeing a lot of people who in other eras would have been at the peak of their careers, getting booted from the job market with very little opportunity to find comparable work once this happens. It's a phenomenon that's particularly pronounced in certain industries (like tech), but it's pretty widespread.
We spend a lot of time advising new college grads on how they should manage their careers, recognizing that this s a period of transition. But I would argue that in our new normal, another period of transition we need to plan for is the 45+ transition.
I know you're thinking this won't happen to you--you work hard, you're flying high in your career. But I'm telling you, that's what all these other people were thinking too.
You may get lucky and have a healthy, satisfying career right up until you decide that you want to retire. But I wouldn't count on that.
Planning for 45 and Over
Because lay-offs seem to heat up for people in their 50s, the time to start planning for it is in your 40s.
This is also when a lot of people start looking around and thinking "Is this all there is?" If they've had dreams of working for themselves or making a career change, this is when those dreams become more insistent.
So what should you be doing?
1. Start Saving Up
Make sure you have a cushion of cash that's readily accessible, not socked away in a 401k, where you may have to pay penalties to get at it. This may be easier said than done, so that why you need to. . .
2. Start Creating Multiple Income Streams
The best time to work on developing new income streams is while you are still working at a full-time job that gives you some level of security. It can take a few years to begin generating enough revenue and you will be much less stressed if you work on your side hustle when you don't have the pressure of replacing your previous income.
3. Nurture and Grow Your Relationships
Your relationships are going to help you grow and access new opportunities and provide you with support when you are laid off. Start paying attention to them now.
Start making NEW connections. A lot of people in their 40's have settled into a pretty closed circle. But closed circles keep us from becoming aware of and accessing new opportunities. We are less likely to see new trends or possibilities. Broaden your connections and you will be better positioned for success.
4. Develop New Skills That Are Relevant to Today's Market
If you haven't learned something new in the past year, you're already stale. You need to start working on a personal learning plan where you are developing new, relevant skills.
Don't rely on your company to tell you what training to go to. Look around. See what skills are in demand and start working on them. You can do this as part of developing your side gig or by working on side projects that interest you.
5. Be Alert to Signals That You May be "Aging Out" of Your Job
Monster has an excellent article on the signs to watch out for with your current company, things like promotions going to younger people and supervisors saying "You've been here so long!"
Also stay alert to shifting trends in your industry and occupation. If you start feeling like you're on the outside, start getting nervous.
This is NOT a time to deny reality. You can't (and won't!) do anything if you aren't willing to see what may be coming down the pike! Again, it's tempting to hope that this won't happen to you, but believe me, you need to acknowledge and deal with reality.
6. Start Keeping a Career Journal
Reflect on what is happening in your career--what you enjoy, where you're having success, etc. This will help you clarify what is going on at work and give you ideas for future direction and action.
7. Document Your Successes
Create a portfolio and start keeping track of work products and projects. This can help you in job search. It can also be a great reminder of your competence and capabilities on bad days.
8. Work on Your Layoff Plan
I posted about this awhile ago and it's worth a revisit. Note that these are strategies that will help you jumpstart your job search if/when you are laid off.
9. Acknowledge and Work With Your Emotions
I've been focusing on more "practical" things, but there's a BIG emotional component here. If you are starting to deal with some of the signs of aging out of your job, then you will often encounter anger, anxiety and sadness. There is often a sense of shame, especially in a society where we put such a high value on youth.
If we don't acknowledge and deal with these feelings, we can find that we are taking things out on our families, our friends, our colleagues, etc. This, then, interferes with our ability to grow and maintain our connections, so it can be a pretty negative cycle. Use your emotions as a guide where you can. Try not to block them or deny that they are there.
Use Your 40's To Create Opportunities for 50 and Beyond
All of us are working in a "new normal," where old rules are changing and the usual guideposts for our careers are shifting as well.
Although it's tempting to see your 40's as a time to just sit back and enjoy what you may have created, in reality it's a time to start planning for that next major phase of your career in your 50's. It's all about resilience and to craft sustainable careers for ourselves, we need to be alert and responsive to the new types of transitions that are likely to come our way.
There ARE opportunities and we can create them. But to do that, we need to be alert, responsive and most of all proactive.
Manage your career before it manages you.