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Ageism in the Laboratory

Published May 6, 2013 5:57 AM by Scott Warner

Pardon the pun, but it’s an old story. According to the Hospital Council of Northern & Central California, “The average age of a CLS in California is above 50. There are not enough new CLSs in the pipeline to equal the numbers currently working but planning to retire,” which says it all. We are all getting older.

Our laboratory has a pretty good cross-section of laboratory ages: most of us are in our mid-fifties, a handful are in their mid-forties, one or two are in their mid-thirties. We are fortunate to have a technologist who is in her mid-twenties, a rarity these days.

It’s cliche for “old folks” to be ridiculed and stereotyped for attitudes about computers, technology, work habits, acceptance of change, etc. But the fact is we are the people who created the technology, have the experience, and know what change really means to an organization. Being around the block a few times means finding cracks in the sidewalks, assuming one still have good eyesight and a working memory.

That’s not the kind of ageism this blog is about. It’s easy to deride older workers when they are in a minority, harder when they are the bulk of the workforce. These days, reverse ageism happens more often, I suspect.

Younger workers are more at risk for layoffs, based on a “last one in, first one out” labor practices. Older workers with families may be perceived as getting special treatment. According to a writer in The Atlantic, “That was certainly the case ... 20- and 30-somethings were regularly sacked at greater proportions, despite being generally more productive than older employees and much less expensive due to smaller salaries.”

Attitudes have shifted, perhaps, in the way younger workers are treated in the workplace. As a minority, younger workers may be treated with more impatience than necessary. “She’s too rude!” “He never finishes his work!” “She was out partying all night!” Sometimes, when I listen to complaints about younger workers from much older workers I’ll gently ask, “Aren’t these sins of age?”

We were all young once. How soon memory fades.

NEXT: Ergonomics and Exhaustion

2 comments

Excellent points.  As a manager, I see attitude and approach to workflow problems as more important than what someone knows.  The former can't be taught!  Funny thing is I don't think old timers know how they can come across, good intentions or not.

Scott Warner May 16, 2013 6:18 AM

Ironically, I just had this conversation about generation differences in my profession.  People seem to think it’s either an issue or just hype.  Being young and going to an interview, I was praised for asking questions, for wanting to know why; most young people they said “kept going on about what they know” with a slight sneer to their voice.  At first, I was flattered-then I was appalled and couldn’t accept any job offer from them.  The idea that “you are young and don’t know anything” is defended in this field.  When you are fighting for a job in the current state of the economy, isn’t natural to want to let your employer know what you already know, what you can do?  Other articles have stated how employers hate hiring my generation, because they leave quickly for better pay (can you blame them?).  I have also experience the bite, impatient tone of my twenty year superiors in training and in my career.  I hate it but I suspect I will be no different when I reach that “walker age”.  After all, didn’t your superior/parents do the same to you?  But, with this happening added to the other downsides to this career, why are people surprised about the high turn-over?  Not to excuse my generation, we are NOT perfect or golden children nor do I call for pampering.  But, you can’t contribute to a problem and be shocked at the results.

M, CLS May 14, 2013 1:57 PM

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About this Blog


    Scott Warner, MLT(ASCP)
    Occupation: Laboratory Manager
    Setting: Critical Access Hospital
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