BIRTHDAYS: BAD FOR BUSINESS?

So, it looks like the days of having a glorious career and then collecting your gold watch at a special luncheon held in your honor in the break room are over. It all culminates with a few heartfelt slaps on the back after that delicacy known as delivered pizza is gone. Retirement has taken on a whole new meaning in the last decade. As a matter of fact, I checked Wikipedia and their definition of the word ‘retirement,’ now looks like this:  retirement (ri tir’ment) n. no longer applicable, outdated, antiquated. A nice idea once, but no more.

Economists and prognosticators say that people have to work well beyond typical retirement age just to be able to sustain themselves and their families. Then, the bigger question might be why on Earth do companies look to shelve people who are in their mid-fifties? Once you reach a certain age do you automatically become a liability? What’s the logic in that? Do they feel that you’re more prone to illness thus causing their insurance premiums to rise? Do they feel that the number of birthdays you have is inversely proportional to your productivity scale? Is it the infamous ‘Half/Half/Half’ syndrome where they bring in someone half your age to do half the job you’ve been doing for half the salary?

Let’s use the example of Jim. Now, of course, the name has been changed to protect his true identity, which is James. Jim has gotten up early every morning for the past thirty years to make donut holes. He was good at it, too, really good. Jim might have been the best donut hole maker in the entire state. He could make donut holes that would have you believing that you’re actually eating something good for you. It was with blissful delight that he hopped on that bus every morning. He loved the fact that he could eat while working and then rub these as yet scientifically unknown sugary substances on his apron without getting yelled at. Then, came the big mistake: Jim announced that he was turning fifty-five. With that one seemingly innocuous proclamation, his world would soon be turned upside down. A short time later, Jim was asked to remove his apron and turn in his key. He also had to sign a sworn, notarized statement that he would never, ever reveal the secret ingredient in donut holes. He then grabbed his autographed picture of Mickey Turdowski, Head Chef and owner of The Cows Udder End, and found himself being escorted from the premises.  Why? One too many birthdays.

Jim was replaced almost immediately by a young woman named Deshaniqua whose only experience with quasi food was a server for six weeks at Denny’s. She ended up leaving that job because as she so eloquently put it, “The people were mean and made me wash my hands.” By the way, this is something you might want to keep in mind before running off to World of Donut Holes.

Jim became bitter, angry, confused and lost without his apron. With each passing day, his spirits dimmed, his hopes faded and his disillusionment grew. We caught up with him in his modest half bedroom basement apartment where he told us that he still feels like he’s “at the top of his game.” He is confident that his skills have not eroded. He says with conviction that he could still add a few more Golden Blender Awards to his mantel if given the chance. For the purposes of full disclosure, we looked around and never saw a mantel. In fairness, perhaps he was talking about his card table.  He told us that birthdays should convey experience and pride and not something that anyone should have to hide from an employer. In the meantime, however, he has a message for managers everywhere:  “Don’t sell experience short. If these stupid jerks want to put out a good product, there is no substitute for knowledge and dependability.” Then we detected some slight agitation from Jim as he started throwing cans of Schaeffer beer. Protecting our heads, we made a bee line for the door but not before we heard him yell, “Santa’s old too, ya know, and he still gets it done. In fact, you invite him back every year to break into your house. What’s up? Hey, come on back. I’ll tell you the secret ingredient.”

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