Losing your job later in life can be particularly devastating. Once unemployed, older workers generally take longer to find work than their younger counterparts. The average duration of unemployment for those age 55 and older in September was 42 weeks, which is more than nine weeks longer than the average younger person was out of work.
Older workers who are currently employed must take steps to insulate themselves from job loss. Many already seem to be doing this. The unemployment rate for those age 55 and older was 7.2 percent in September, compared with 9.6 percent among the population as a whole. Here are some tips to help you hold on to your job as you approach retirement.
Keep track of your profitability. An employer is unlikely to lay off someone who consistently makes or saves money for the company. "Make sure you are profitable for a company and keep track of your profitability," says Pam Lassiter, principal of Lassiter Consulting and author of The New Job Security, Revised: The 5 Best Strategies for Taking Control of Your Career. "It would be silly to let go of somebody who is making you money." Keep a list of your work achievements on your home computer, including a record of how you contributed to the company's bottom line, any recognition you have received for doing so, and compliments received from customers or clients. "Document your case about why the raise you want and the continuation of work you want is minor compared to what you have contributed during the year," says Lassiter. "It helps insulate you from any decision about cutbacks and layoffs when you keep track of your achievements."
Learn new skills. Taking advantage of any workplace training or tuition reimbursement that your employer offers can demonstrate your ability and willingness to keep up with your employer's changing demands. Getting a book and learning skills applicable to your job on your own or with a coworker can also be helpful. "Learn how to apply computer technology to what is going on in your workplace," says Laurence Shatkin, coauthor of Best Jobs for the 21st Century. Make sure to keep your boss updated about your new educational endeavors. "Ask for an assignment that gets you to use the new skills," says Shatkin. "It's even better if you can come up with the dollars and cents you made using this new skill."
Be a problem solver. Become known in your office as the person people go to for help or for information about specific problems. "You want to make sure people know what you're doing," says Shatkin. Keep your boss and coworkers updated with occasional progress reports through E-mail or on an internal company blog. That way, when company downsizing comes up, your contributions, energy, and enthusiasm are clearly documented. You want your colleagues to think: "We can't get rid of that person. This is the guy who does this," Shatkin says.
Pass your knowledge on to others. One of the biggest assets that tenured older workers have is their institutional knowledge of the company and the career field. "Sure, you can hire a younger, cheaper employee, but an older worker who has been with you for 20 years may have developed long-standing relationships with clients and other people in the field," says Deborah Russell, AARP's director of workforce issues. Be sure to highlight recent successes in addition to your experience. "Longevity is not just saying you have been there for 20 years, but that you continue to learn and add value to the company, which in the end helps fuel their bottom line." Also, consider offering to pass along your accumulated knowledge and connections to younger employees.
Take on new projects. Make it clear to your boss that you plan to continue to work and are not planning to retire in the near term. "Volunteer to work on something or lead a task force," says Lassiter. Come up with ideas for projects that you are interested in working on that could create additional income streams for the company. It would be difficult to force you out when you are actively involved in a variety of essential roles.
Build an online presence. Looking someone up online is becoming standard procedure. "Recruiters and potential clients are very likely to Google you," says Marva Goldsmith, a certified image professional and author of Re-Branding Yourself After Age 50. "If they do not find a digital footprint, they will make an assumption that you may not be current, that you may lack computer skills, or that you are not a player in the industry." Creating a profile on social networking sites or setting up a personal website can help offset fears that older workers are uncomfortable with technology. Says Lassiter: "If somebody sees that you are on LinkedIn, it's a good sign that you are already aware of technology and are connected."