Glorious Careers Deserve Glorious Endings: Ending Your Career on Your Terms
Patti Temple Rocks, Author of "I’m STILL Not Done: It’s Time to Talk About Ageism in the Workplace"

One of the worst aspects of ageism in the workplace is that when it happens to someone, it is far too often a surprise to the person it is happening to.  Ageism is as sneaky as it is insidious.

Here is what often transpires at the end of one’s career.

Acme Industries needs to cut costs somewhere.  And like many companies and that somewhere is typically by reducing salary costs aka headcount – in other words, a layoff.  Next the hard part comes of determining who to cut.  Unfortunately, statistics show that older workers are often disproportionately impacted with layoffs.


Well in part because the older worker’s salaries do tend to be higher – after all, they’ve been in the workplace a long time and accumulating salary increases whether due to merit or COLA, or both.  As a result, those workers, and their salaries often stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.   The second reason that older workers are more likely to be laid off is much harder to identify and is likely rooted in an unconscious bias. 

Here is what that looks like. The decision maker assumes that since “Jerry” is over 50 he is probably ready to retire anyway so what’s the harm in starting a little sooner?

The harm is as real as it is significant, thank you very much.

First, like most Baby Boomers, Jerry is feeling great.  He is enjoying the longer life expectancy that his generation was the first to enjoy.  And because he is feeling great and loves his job, he had no plans to retire early.  Not to mention that if Jerry is like most of the Boomer population, he is likely not financially ready to retire.  As fabulous as a longer life expectancy is, it also means we need to have more money saved since that savings now needs to last longer.

Another cause of harm comes from that unpleasant surprise factor.

Without even knowing Jerry, or his employer, I can tell you that the odds are very good that his last performance review – if he even got one, was perfectly good, maybe even great.  And I am equally sure that his supervisor (possibly a decade younger) has not broached the topic of retirement in an encouraging, positive way.  If he/she had, it would sound something like this: “Hey, Jerry you’re making great contributions here, but I imagine at some point you might like to retire, let’s talk about a path to get there together.”

Before you accuse me of fantastical thinking, here is that conversation with “Sally” who is in her 30s.  “Hey Sally, you’re making great contributions here, but I imagine you’re thinking about your future here, let’s talk about a path to get there together.”  That conversation happens all the time in the workplace.  Leaders are encouraged to have them and given the training to make sure the conversations are productive.

Those types of career conversations, sadly, just don’t happen very often with older workers.  I’ve talked to HR professionals who acknowledge this and admit they need to be better, but they are simply neither trained nor expected to do so.

The result is that many older workers feel ignored which can lead to feeling irrelevant and not valued.  It can easily become a vicious circle where they respond to this by becoming unintentionally less visible and relevant.

A lose/lose situation.  

Ugh.  That literally makes my heart hurt.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We can ask employers to de-stigmatize the conversation about retiring so both the company and employee can plan for a good transition.  We can expect managers to shed generalizations about a standard retirement age and consider the contribution of every employee regardless of age.  We all (employees and employers) can do a better job of thinking creatively and with an open-mind about what end-of-career jobs could look like – I’ve seen a few companies come up with some innovative new roles.   As employees we must stay current about trends in our industry and taking care of our health, so we remain vibrant – and therefore impossible to ignore! Boomers represent the largest demographic and have amassed unquestionably valuable work and life experiences that can add value to the workplace in so many ways.

As I have been writing and talking about ageism, I have talked to hundreds of people gracious enough to share their own experiences. I have lost count of the number of people who tell me of several decades of a successful, productive, and happy career only to feel marginalized, dismissed and displaced as they reached the final years of their career.   That should make us all sad – and mad.

My hope – and my mission – is to make sure that every glorious career has the glorious end it deserves. 

Over the course of an impressive four-decade career, Patti Temple Rocks has held senior leadership positions in three different sectors of the communications industry: PR, advertising, and client side. She served as the Chief Communications Officer for The Dow Chemical Company and Chief Reputation Officer for Leo Burnett Worldwide. She is an inspirational leader, builder of teams, creative thinker, problem-solver, and agent of change.


About the Author

The author of I’m Still Not Done: It’s Time to Talk About Ageism in The Workplace, Patti is passionate about discussing and fighting age discrimination and helping people understand how ageism stunts business growth and reflects poorly on our society. As a public speaker and consultant, Patti works with businesses that wish to change for the better and implement effective practices to fight ageism in the workplace. During her impressive career in marketing and advertising, her valuable ideas and strategies were implemented by world-class organizations including McDonalds, Unilever, Bacardi, and Walmart. To learn more about ageism and get in touch with Patti, visit


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