Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 22;   May 28, 2003:

Enjoy Every Part of the Clam

by

Age discrimination runs deep, well beyond the hiring decision. When we value each other on the basis of age, we can deprive ourselves and our companies of the treasures we all have to offer.

When I was 18, I moved from Ohio to Boston, on the US seacoast, to attend MIT. My dietary history until then was typical of the US heartland — I knew much more about beef than seafood. Within two weeks, a fellow freshman, a Bostonian, introduced me to the Fried Clam Dinner.

Clams

Ocean Quahog (Arctica islandica), left, and Atlantic Surfclam (Spisula solidissima), right. Photo courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Watch out for the soft parts," he warned me. "They're the guts — not good to eat." I followed his advice, and enjoyed the clams. And the french fries, too — but I already knew about them.

Weeks later, I returned to the "clam shack" with another group, along with a different native of Boston, who this time warned me: "Watch out for those long stringy parts," he said. "They're tough, and not very good to eat. Eat the bellies."

And so I learned that you can enjoy every part of the clam. And I have, from that day to this, with no ill effects.

People at work come in a variety of ages. In different organizations, one age group or another might be favored. In some, youth confers status and years can be a liability — opportunities are offered to the young, and their contributions are valued most. In others, years confer status, and youth is a liability.

Valuing people by age can be as silly as avoiding one part or the other of a clam. People of different ages
are different. And those
differences are all valuable.
By rejecting or limiting those of the "wrong" age, we hurt both those we reject and the organization, too.

Here are some common stereotypes, and some alternate ways to think about them.

Older people aren't as committed
As our lives progress, they can become richer. Work becomes a smaller part of our lives than it was in young adulthood. But with that richness comes perspective that can enhance performance. Commitment becomes a more reasoned choice, especially for those who have previously committed to ill-fated efforts. Experience tempers the passions.
Younger people are too brash and impulsive
Since younger people tend to have less invested in the way things are, they're more comfortable with upsetting the status quo, which often needs upsetting. And we're indebted to the many who just didn't know any better than to attempt the impossible — and succeed.
Older (younger) people don't understand (are hooked on) computers
Many of us use the computer to divide us — we see different approaches to its use as failings. We believe that older people don't understand email, or that younger people are email addicts. The truth may be otherwise, of course. Some of us try to use email for things it cannot do, while others avoid it even for things it can do. We can all learn from each other.

Ageism at work can be difficult to detect, even when we're committing it ourselves. But reminders do help — keep a clamshell on your desk. Both halves. Go to top Top  Next issue: Figuring Out What to Do First  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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