Last Word

Rick Bell

Workforce's Last Word author, Rick Bell.
A Workplace Nip and Tuck
A Workplace Nip and Tuck
I

recently received a story pitch with the subject line, “Do Baby Boomers Need to Go Under the Knife to Keep Their Edge at Work?”

Sure, roll your eyes. Scoff at a pitch with a pandering subject line that cries “Open me!” like a pricey bottle of booze at a five-dollar white elephant holiday gift exchange. Crinkle your nose and sniff a haughty sniff at the thought of someone actually undergoing plastic surgery to keep an edge at work.

Two months ago you were a highly respected senior VP of product development. Now you’re unemployed.
I don’t think it’s a silly question at all.

But you do. Then again you look like an Olympian thanks to that Lagree ultimate strength workout in the corporate fitness center. If Adonis was your co-worker he’d stare slack-jawed at your chiseled body as you passed by in the company cafeteria with your meatless burger, bowl of elderberries and glass of oat milk.

Perfect hair, stylish glasses (not that you need them; it’s just accessorizing to make you look smarter), glowing skin (of course you use product, doesn’t everybody?), and the shoes. Yes, it’s all about the shoes.

You’re at the top of your game. You crush it daily.

Until, well … until you’re getting ready for work one early spring morning and the bubbly yet acerbic TV personality on your go-to morning news program blurts out that your company has been acquired. The deal is just a passing mention following the always informative “Mr. Fix-It” segment but the chill racing down your spine buries a big fat pit in your stomach. Your knees buckle and your cup of freshly brewed raspberry chai tea trembles like a swimming pool in an earthquake.

Your company was acquired by an out-of-state competitor. You’re stunned. And you’re angered because you didn’t hear about the multimillion-dollar acquisition from the CEO via a hastily called all-hands teleconference call, or a posting through the corporate intranet. Not even a terse, one-paragraph companywide email announcing the deal. No, it was a giggly morning news show delivering a body blow that radically alters your perfectly coiffed life.

It’s been your corporate casa for nearly three decades, which makes sense given that its inviting, folksy motto is “It’s our business to make you feel at home!” Sure you’d bounced from job to job early in your career searching for the right fit. I mean, who hasn’t? And after a quarter-century it’s OK to admit that you’ve toyed with the thought of retiring — not immediately mind you. There’s still a lot left in the tank.

Your “home,” however, has other ideas that don’t take into account your distant fantasy of spending part of your golden years mountain biking across the Peruvian Andes. The mentoring of junior executives whom you suspected were already at your pay level despite being half your age has come to mean nothing. The weekends spent hitting near-impossible deadlines, all the sweat equity dripping from that slightly wrinkled brow onto your place of employment — wow, reality sure bites sometimes.

Within a month it’s clear your job is in peril. A week after regulators were pleased and stockholders were paid out you also are out … out of a job. Because you know, as the new CEO proudly boasted on your go-to morning news show, “After any acquisition, there is a duplication of efforts, which results in some synergies, and unfortunately for a lot of people today, we’re realizing those synergies. These synergies will ultimately provide a better experience for the consumer.”

Well naturally. I mean, synergies.

So now you are just another older worker in the job market. Self-doubt creeps in as you realize after your third rejection notice that ageism is a cold, cynical, perpetual workplace cycle that many employers flaunt in their never-ending search for younger, cheaper labor.

Where once you dismissed studies that found more than half of full-time workers in their early 50s were at some point forced out of their job and then experienced long-term unemployment or a huge cut in pay for years after, you now see that you are its living embodiment.

Two months ago you were a highly respected senior VP of product development. Now you’re unemployed, trips to the gym are infrequent and toast with butter and jam has replaced elderberries.

Those kids you mentored, the ones you took under your wing, not to mention out for happy hour? They are the ones interviewing you now. They all look so young and vibrant. You’ll do most anything to get back in the game, because you still have a lot to offer!

And, well, a nip here or a shot of botox there is justified to level the playing field. Going under the knife? Given your life’s new realities it’s not so silly after all.

I mean, synergies, right?


Rick Bell is Workforce‘s editorial director. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.