THE BLOG
03/14/2013 08:09 am ET Updated May 14, 2013

Ageism And The Younger Boss

My friend Sally was all but incoherent with indignation on the phone as she tried to relate the story of how she was dismissed from her position as business editor of a monthly newspaper.

"I was fired by email! Do you believe this?!"

Trying to make her feel a little better, I tried my hand at levity. "Well, at least it wasn't a text message, Sally."

My joke fell flat as I knew it would, but I was as at a loss as Sally was about her "being let go." How could this happen to someone with the impeccable credentials of my friend?

Sally is a smart, attractive woman in her early fifties who has been an editor for over 20 years. She covers business deals and mergers with an astute eye, working well with colleagues and supervisors alike.

Her new boss, 26-year-old Mallory, spoke with a sweet voice, but was a "by my book only" type of person who had a contempt for anyone she felt was old school. Sally noticed that there was a difference in this new boss/employee relationship. In the past, employees had been able to disagree with each other and their bosses, feeling free to state their own positions. Issues were discussed and agreements on procedures were made. Now no one dared to disagree. Older employees were beginning to feel like "dinosaurs."

Subtle criticism after criticism was leveled at Sally, all of it by email and yes, even by texts. When Sally decided that she needed to defend herself against what she knew was an unfair allegation of not checking a source, she sent an email to Mallory. It was polite and professional. She assumed that was the end of it. But checking her professional email at home, an early morning ritual she had established so she'd know what needed her immediate attention when she arrived at the office, she was stunned to receive this Mallory missive.

"Sally, I am going to be brief. Your attitude towards my constructive criticism has been concerning to me for quite some time. After careful consideration, I feel that it is best for us both if we part ways. Thank you for your past contributions to the newspaper. I wish you good luck with your career. Please contact HR for information on your benefits package and severance pay. Mallory"

When Sally got to her office she found her computer locked and a security guard waiting for her. He was holding a box with her personal belongings. When she asked to see Mallory, she was told that the supervisor was unavailable. Being escorted to the door by the guard was surreal. It got worse.

She found that all the business codes and contacts on her laptop were no longer accessible.

Incensed she called the owner of the newspaper. He took the time to respond kindly, but said that he no longer held majority vote in the paper. Those in administration had told him that they had complete faith in Mallory and would not overrule her decision. His words that he was more than willing to give her a glowing letter of recommendation didn't make her being told to leave any easier. That was that.

Nothing Sally could do would remedy the situation. An email she sent to Mallory asking, "Can we please discuss this?" was answered with a terse, "No, sorry. Please refrain from contacting me or any other employees of this newspaper. Your only contact should be with HR." Mallory was on a power trip.

A clerk with Human Resources called two days later and gave Sally all her needed info as far as severance went and wished her well. That was it; Sally, at the age of 53, had to look for a new job.

What happened to Sally is an all too common occurrence that has more than just a generational gap at its core. Termed 'abusive youth-power' by market researchers who deal in business statistics, it is a very small percentage of workers in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties in supervisory positions who view older employees as "not as productive as younger ones." Loyalty and face-to-face meetings between boss and employee are rather non-existent for them; e-mail is used for everything including the firing of an employee. Being locked out of the company computer is a common business practice.

If this happens to you there is some recourse you can take. Never hesitate to speak to someone who is above your immediate supervisor. Report what you feel was unprofessional behavior. Even if your job isn't restored, you have stated your case and planted a seed about the supervisor's problematic people skills. You can be sure that if you have had problems with her, so have others. Let colleagues in your field know what happened to you and don't be afraid to name names. It is not unprofessional to let it be known that you were treated unfairly.

While the majority of Gen-X, Gen-Y and Baby Boomers work very well together and respect each other, there are a few in the minority who appear to be on a power trip. Unfortunately that trip causes an adverse impact on capable, talented older workers who they deem expendable and "dead weight." That attitude of the power-trippers will most certainly not help to advance their careers as more and more seasoned professionals are reporting this abuse to authorities.

© 2013 copyright Kristen Houghton

And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First ranked in the top 100 books by TowerBooks.com

Kristen Houghton is the author of the hilarious book, No Woman Diets Alone -- There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut. It is in the top 10 hot new releases at Amazon and is available now on Kindle, Nook and all e-book venues.

You may email her at kch@kristenhoughton.com.

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