3 Tips to Overcome a Bully in Late Career

3 Tips to Overcome a Bully in Late Career

Chances are, if you’ve worked or volunteered on a team, you’ve witnessed someone being bullied (or been on the receiving end of it). Criticism is a normal part of work life but criticism meant to intimidate, humiliate, or single someone out without reason is considered bullying. The Muse defines it as “a repeated health harming mistreatment of one or more people. It includes verbal abuse, intimidating, threatening or humiliating the target. It can, and often does, interfere with the target’s ability to get their work done.” When bullying happens, it throws us off. Our brains go haywire because it’s unexpected and typically we’re unsure how to respond. According to The Balance, more men (70%) are bullies and women are the most frequent targets of bullies (60%). Female bullies most often target other women (80%). And if you think you’re off the hook because of working remotely, bullying has actually increased from 30% to 47% during virtual meetings in 2020 according to the Workplace Bullying Institute.

A few years ago, a friend told me about an unsettling meeting she’d had with her manager and team. The discussion was about how their compensation was structured. The conversation wasn’t about salary - it was focused on how people were incentivized. Her new manager didn’t understand why a salesperson would push revenue to a month where they needed to achieve their number. As my friend started to explain why it’s beneficial for a salesperson to move revenue to a different month (hint: they get paid more), he became extremely agitated. He threw up his hand in her face and yelled, “I did not give you permission to speak!” What? Everyone was stunned and silent. She asked to speak to him privately after the meeting and never reported him to his boss. Why? She was 54 and was concerned about being retaliated against by him and she was concerned about finding another full time job. She knew his behavior had more to do with control and a sense of power than anything she said.  She learned some valuable lessons that day. Here are three tips on how to respond.

  1. Take a Meta Moment: Pause and don’t respond at all - even if your heart is racing. When you DO decide to respond, do so in a calm manner. This not only reflects how rational you are - but it also tends to highlight how irrational the other person is being.
  2. Confront it Privately or Report It: My friend addressed it immediately and asked to meet him privately. Although she didn’t feel reporting his behavior would help her in any way, asking him directly why he reacted that way felt empowering. Taking this action also set a boundary so he wouldn’t verbally harass her again (and he didn’t). At the time, she felt reporting it to the HR department or to his boss would have exacerbated the situation. Whatever you decide, do something instead of nothing. If you don’t say anything, the power imbalance and bullying behavior will continue. The Muse suggested the following ways to address it:
    - Call attention to their values: Try “I know that you really care about everyone feeling valued, and when you do X, it undermines that intention. Maybe we could try Y in the future?
    - Explain why it’s a problem: Try “I notice you X, and when you do that it makes it hard for us to foster a team environment.”
    - Say their name a lot: “John, I hear what you are saying but John, I need you to stop doing X. I treat you with respect, John, and I need you to do the same.” 

    Side Note: Some people have questioned whether or not his behavior was legally actionable. It wasn’t. The law does not require that your boss or coworkers be nice or fair. But such harassment might be illegal if the harassment is based on an illegal reason or motive. It’s only if you can prove that the person singled you out because of age, gender or race that it would be actionable. This could be changing, however, with the Healthy Workplace Bill.

  3. Compassion Builds Resilience: One thing that helped her get through the hostile encounter was compassion. She thought, “Wow. Something is really off with this individual. Maybe his wife asked for a divorce right before the meeting or maybe he learned he has cancer.” It sounds funny but it was her way of reframing the situation because she knew it was about his own mental state and low EQ. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review “One of the most overlooked aspects of a resilience skill set is the ability to cultivate compassion — both self-compassion and compassion for others. According to research cited by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, compassion increases positive emotions, creates positive work relationships, and increases cooperation and collaboration. . .Compassion and business effectiveness are not mutually exclusive. Rather, individual, team and organizational success rely on a compassionate work culture.”

So if it happens, pause, address it and then reframe it. A few months later, that manager was fired. While it would be great if all bullies experienced the same fate, it’s always good to build resilience and be armed with different ways to respond.

Reviewed & Recommended:

Workplace Bullying: How to Identify and Manage Bullying

How to Deal With a Bully in the Workplace

Your Complete Guide to Dealing With Workplace Bullies

What's Shame Got To Do With It?

What's Shame Got To Do With It?

Turns out a lot. Shame about age and being recognized as someone who happens to be older. If it’s regarding age and searching for a job – shame is especially egregious. What’s interesting is that we shame ourselves. When we admit that maybe age was the reason we did not get that interview or land that job, then we’re admitting that we are a victim. And being a victim is not who we identify with if we are ambitious and want to do interesting and challenging things even - god forbid - in our 50s, 60s and beyond. 

 It’s time to swap age shame for age pride.

                                                                            -Ashton Applewhite


A few months ago, I went on a hike with someone who had been looking for a position in marketing - for two years. She had an amazing background working for big tech companies in the Pacific Northwest. You know what else she had? Beautiful gray hair. Perhaps she’s a terrible interviewer or didn’t prepare well before speaking to a hiring team - but I doubt it. She talked about the shame she felt and the word “embarrassed” came up several times when friends would ask how the job hunt was going. When I asked several people if they’d consider signing up for a career matching platform for people with 20+ years of experience, their response was enthusiastic at first and then lukewarm. They did not want to self select as someone who needed help landing a job because of their age. 

When I went through Founder Institute last September, one advisor said after my pitch, “I don’t believe it. It’s not a thing. Ageism at the hiring level is not a problem to solve.” I could feel my face burning but since we were not allowed to respond to an advisor’s comments, I said, “Thank you for your input” while inwardly screaming. Which brings me back to denial and shame. My hunch is that she didn’t see it as a problem because a) She never experienced it and b) She believed it’s all about having a “growth mindset”. Growing, learning, falling down and learning from it are valuable lessons in life and I’m a big fan of Dr. Carol Dweck who covers this topic.  But this is different. It’s a societal construct that needs to be dismantled and it’s a damaging one at that. Since longevity and the 100 year life are here to stay, we need to make sure that opportunities exist to earn at any age. In fact, it’s so critical the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals calls for “decent work and economic growth” as their eighth initiative to be achieved by 2030.

We believe it’s time to lose stereotypes about people over 40.  We believe the hiring process is flawed and that age bias is all too common.  More than anything, we believe there’s an untapped market filled with amazing, talented people who can help companies excel and rise above the economic impact of the pandemic.

That’s why we’re building a pilot program for people with 20+ years of experience. We have 400 spots available and the deadline is May 14, 2021. Please review and share this link with anyone who’s interested in participating in our pilot program. There’s no fee to apply. Join us for positive change and an easier way to be matched with companies that know the value of hiring older job candidates.

Reviewed & Recommended:

Recruiting Actions Companies Need To Take Now To Improve Workplace Inclusion

Why Social Constructs Are Created

Ageism is a global challenge: UN 18 March 2021

Showing Up for Setbacks

Showing Up for Setbacks

On our way to Mt. Hood a few weeks ago, I totaled my car.  My teenage daughter yelled, “Watch out!” and the next thing I remember, airbags and dust were filling up my car.  A woman jumped out of the car I’d hit and saw that I was hyperventilating and called 911. Then she comforted my crying daughter by wrapping her in a blanket and told her everything would be alright. Nobody was hurt and the other car didn’t have a scratch.  We were very lucky.  

It made me think about how people respond in a stressful situation. Obviously hyperventilating isn’t ideal but I couldn’t see the other car (airbags will do that) and I was concerned the other person might be hurt - or worse.  I read an article recently called You're Only As Good As Your Worst Day and thought this day qualified as one of those “worst day” moments. In that article Shane Parrish explains that it’s not about being perfect under immense stress or behaving according to plan when everything goes awry. “It’s because what you do on your worst day is impossible to fake.”  He goes on to say that your plans and preparation (or lack thereof) show how much you really care about the people who depend on you. He was referring to leaders and how they respond when employees are fearful in a time of uncertainty but it resonated with me and how I wanted to respond in the presence of my daughter. So we wrote a note to the woman whose car I’d hit, thanking her for her kindness and the warm blanket.

“Everyone makes mistakes, has setbacks and failures. You don't come with a book on how to get it right all the time. You will fail sometimes, not because you planned to, but simply because you're human. Failure is a part of creating a great life. Stand up to it and handle it with grace. Because, you can.” - Les Brown

Setbacks Won’t Rock the Boat (as much)

Author and psychologist, Rick Hanson, University of California, Berkeley said, “. .As you build up this unshakable core inside, when the waves of life come, they don’t rock your boat so much. And they don’t capsize you. And you recover more quickly.”  Resilience is remaining calm under pressure, and in the face of the demands of life, work, or any transition that requires a new way of being in the world, such as a divorce, job loss, changing corporate environment, death, or illness. It isn't that nothing affects us, but rather, that we are able to handle the stress or move in a new direction after a setback or change.”  It's about the ability to adapt. Barbara Bradley Hagarty, a journalist, wrote: “Bad events seem to cluster in midlife. But people with charmed lives — zero traumas — were unhappier and more easily distressed than people who had suffered a few negative events in their lifetime. According to resilience research, some setbacks give you perspective and help you bounce back.”  

Embrace The “Steeling Effect”

“There’s something called the ‘steeling effect’ that makes us stronger,” says Michael Ungar, founder of the Resilience Research Centre in Nova Scotia, Canada. “If we’ve come through adversity, that means we’ve also developed a set of coping capacities. We know how to reach out for help. Or we know that this, too, will pass. Over time, resilient people develop the mental toughness to face what life throws at them. They learn to cope, even live joyfully, with less-than-ideal circumstances.”

In midlife, our collective setbacks create a greater capacity to overcome personal and professional obstacles. Although I’m not quite ready to get behind a steering wheel, I know that this feeling will not last forever and that in the future, I will be the most alert driver EVER.  We never know when stressful situations or even tragedy will strike. We never know when our friends or family members will need us immediately.  We never know when our last day will come but while we’re on this planet, we can choose how to respond in less than ideal situations and be even more prepared for the next setback.

Reviewed & Recommended:

NPR Article: Setbacks: 8 Ways You Can Survive — And Thrive In — Midlife

Book: Being Mortal: What Matters in the End

NYT Article: Sheryl Sandberg - How to Build Resilient Kids After a Loss


Rising Above the Stats

Rising Above the Stats

Grim news about jobs and unemployment as it pertains to older workers during a pandemic is everywhere.

Consider the following:

  • 2.9 million older workers have left the labor force since March.  These workers are at risk of having to retire involuntarily due to increased health risks coupled with decreased job prospects
  • If the rate of labor force exits continues over the next three months, we expect an additional 1.1 million older workers to leave the labor force, adding to the 2.9 million who already left.
  • Older workers who lose their job take nearly twice as long to find a new job compared to young workers.

*Source: The New School, Retirement Equity Lab

What these stats and articles failed to mention was that the average age of a successful entrepreneur is 45, and that entrepreneurs 50 and over are more than twice as likely to succeed.  When building a business, seeing the potential risks and having experience matters. They also fail to mention that there are several companies that would love to hire experienced professionals who could help lift their companies out of a pandemic that has depleted revenue streams.  Now’s the time to reassess and ask: “Am I curious?  Dedicated to learning?  Open to change?”  If so, the chances of finding employment increase substantially.

At illume hire, we’ve discussed different ways a mid-career professional can stand out and land their next job or take steps to create a business.  Here are three actionable steps to help move forward and break through the barriers of age bias:

  1. Be A Sponge & Be Curious:

    Katie Couric once said, “The reason I’ve been able to spot trends is because I read so much”.  My 54 year old friend agrees with this sentiment so she carries her kindle with her everywhere.  “I’m a bit obsessed”, she admitted, “If I’m not able to read 2-3 hours a day, I go nuts”.   She sets reading goals regarding topics she’s always been curious about.  Currently, she’s learning about virtual reality and the impact it’s having on people to cure depression. If books or time consuming courses aren’t your thing, there are mini courses too.  There’s an online course called “curious.com” that helps improve one’s curious quotient or “CQ” as many HR professionals refer to it.  It has an interactive wheel of topics allowing you to choose your top interests. Then experts will provide answers and the specific information needed via email or text - taking up to 30 minutes per day. Another site called “GoHighbrow.com” offers mini courses for two weeks at a time and is only 5 minutes per day.  If you’re interested in business trends, check out free industry reports such as McKinsey & Co. and research published by Price Waterhouse Coopers.  If learning something academic is more your thing, consider TED-Ed of the infamous TED talks.  The key is to dedicate a certain amount of time learning something you’ve been curious about that could benefit your career and could lead to additional ideas.

  2. Pursue Something Challenging:

    Stepping out of a perceived comfort zone isn’t easy but doing so builds confidence, since taking risks, struggling and failing, and eventually mastering something, is rewarding. It’s also one way to illustrate your passion through storytelling about accomplishments and failures during an interview.  Public speaking, creating a Shopify storefront, creating a landing page or taking a technology course are a few examples. When it’s a stretch, our brain adapts and this is known as neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity is the process by which our brain can create new relationships between neurons. SharpBrains.com defines it as “the capacity of the brain to change with learning.” This process starts while we are still in the womb and can continue for all of our lives. Running towards a challenge is also an opportunity to explore a new version of yourself.

    When we face a challenge, we have to dig deep to find the personal power we need to rise above and do something different. Challenges also teach us resilience when unexpected obstacles arise. When we don’t challenge ourselves, we tend to succumb to self limiting beliefs and a life of mediocrity, full of regrets and what-ifs. One benefit of getting older is that we tend to care less about what others think of us. Who cares if we fail at something? If someone has made a concerted effort to be challenged and learned something along the way, that is so much better than being an apathetic couch potato.

  3. Network with Younger People:

    With so many webinars taking place, look for younger experts on platforms such as Eventbrite. Oftentimes the speakers will connect through LinkedIn. There are all kinds of digital communities that offer a different way of networking. A 55 year old friend of mine signed up for LunchClub.ai to connect with other people who have similar interests. He was connected with someone in Talent Acquisition from a start-up in Seattle and they talked for over an hour. He connected her two professionally established people who could help her achieve her career aspirations. One connection has her PhD in Organizational Psychology and helped her with a course she was teaching internally at her company. Many younger employees realize the value of connecting with well connected, high achieving older professionals but older professionals might be reluctant to reach out to their younger counterparts. Multigenerational workplaces are here to stay and helping each other and learning from one another helps mitigate damaging age bias.

It’s an unusually difficult time for mid-career professionals. However, it’s also an opportunity to reinvent oneself and be prepared for opportunities that may not have existed before the pandemic.

Reviewed & Recommended:

Inc. Magazine: “How Learning a New Skill Helps Your Mind Grow Stronger”

Highbrow:  “Bouncing Back from Failure” 

Vyten: Job search conference from experts from the Hope Summit  

“Psychological Safety” Stimulates Innovation

“Psychological Safety” Stimulates Innovation

Psychological safety is one of the most important factors for a team's effectiveness. Amy C. Edmondson, The Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School came up with the term “psychological safety” which refers to workplace dynamics and how people are treated when they go out on a limb.  She wrote, “psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for bringing up ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”  At its core, psychological safety is about trust.  When someone takes an interpersonal risk by speaking up, it won’t be met with ridicule, a personal attack or bullying. If leaders encourage brainstorming and openly embrace failure, then it makes sense that employees will feel safe to take risks too and as a result, it leads to innovative solutions.  During the pandemic, complex problems are in full view, so encouraging everyone (no matter what their title) to contribute and voice their opinions and solutions will be needed for all businesses.

The Perfect Team

In a 2012 study at Google, they became obsessed with learning how to build the perfect team.  They studied their high performing teams and considered things such as personality type, industry background and whether or not the teammates were friends outside of work.  Using organizational psychologists and sociologists, their data revealed that the most successful teams were ones that showed empathy towards one another and provided a safe place to speak up, mess up and raise concerns without being judged or criticized. The single most important factor for their most successful teams was psychological safety.

Psychological Safety starts with leadership

Last week, Francoise Brougher, a former COO in her 50s was fired from Pinterest and her medium article about how she was treated went viral.  While her law suit is about gender discrimination, she also talked about the lack of psychological safety.  She said,  “Our advertisers found our tools difficult to use and lacking the basic features of our competitors’ ad systems. I sounded the alarm because it was my job to raise these issues. I was blunt and did not hold back. I told the team that we were making a critical mistake by ignoring the concerns of our advertisers. Ben, in addition to being CEO, was also head of product. Now suddenly I was disinvited from all the product team meetings.”  She took a risk by voicing her concerns and was punished for it.  If there’s an issue that an employee sees as a potential problem or obstacle for the company, they should feel comfortable voicing their concern without the fear of punishment or retaliation.  

This can get tricky when the problem being addressed is an idea that came from leadership.  A friend who worked for a media company had suggested an alternative idea to the one her manager suggested.  Instead of listening to her point of view and how the company could engage with customers and build trust, he said, “I disagree.  That’s a terrible idea”.  That type of response discouraged everyone on the team from speaking up.  Instead, they agreed with whatever he said.  Obviously, this kind of response destroys innovation.  Also, my friend was 53 at the time and knew it might be difficult to find a job with benefits so she decided not to confront him about the altercation and told herself it wasn’t worth it.

Being comfortable and open to ideas that are not your own is not only a sign of a strong leader,  it’s also a sign that the company values and wants new ideas.  When employees are encouraged to discuss all options without any threat of retaliation, the benefits are extraordinary. Consider the following:

Psychological safety’s measurable benefits

According to Gallup, psychological safety can lead to a variety of benefits including: 

  • 27% reduction in turnover
  • 40% reduction in safety incidents
  • 12% increase in productivity.

Steps to Encourage Psychological Safety:  

There are several ways to ensure that a workplace environment can make it a priority for employees to feel safe. Professor Edmondson recommends 6 ways to encourage and create an environment of psychological safety.  If you’re in a leadership position, pay close attention to numbers 5 and 6 in order to be effective.

  1. Gather people’s opinions on important decisions in writing before you meet to discuss them (weekly check-ins are recommended)
  2. Ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to put forward their ideas before you announce which ideas you support
  3. Always try and experiment using multiple plausible arguments/ideas, rather than settling for one option
  4. Hold group discussions in meetings if there are disagreements rather than keeping things between two or three people
  5. Appreciate when team members take the time and effort to challenge your views
  6. Make a point of ensuring that other team members who have less authority on paper have their voice heard – adding a “no interruption” rule can help quieter team members have their say as well.

As a result of making psychological safety a priority at work, it empowers people to take risks, have open discussions, and brainstorm.  This is badly needed in a time of massive change.  Oftentimes, having a psychologically safe place to work leads to teams that outperform their company’s goals.  

Reviewed & Recommended:

Amy Edmondson | TEDxHGSE | Building a psychologically safe workplace 

Harvard Business Review, High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It

The New York Times, What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

Adaptability Wins In Interviews

Adaptability Wins In Interviews

Being adaptable is one skill that’s in extremely high demand. In a time when things are uncertain and unemployment is at an all-time high, hiring managers are looking for people who have an open mind and aren’t afraid of change.  Companies are constantly modifying the way they do business in order to thrive and survive in this environment.​ As a result, they will need people who are flexible and embrace new business ideas and procedures.  

Having the ability to quickly synthesize information and recognize more efficient ways of doing things is critical. Embracing new technology, new organizational structures, and new collaboration tools are a few examples.

Unfortunately, many mid-career professionals combat stereotypes about being “stuck in their ways”. Being able to illustrate adaptability through storytelling is one way to overcome this bias. Most importantly, having experienced more different twists and turns in their career actually positions older professionals to recognize and adapt to new circumstances more effectively than their younger counterparts.

If you’ve been in the same position for a significant amount of time, highlight times when you’ve faced obstacles at work, and succeeded. Focus on a time when you needed to iterate quickly or a time when you introduced an idea for greater workflow efficiency. Talk about how being flexible and the enjoyment of being challenged motivates you.

The Top 3 Characteristics of Adaptability:

  1. Resourcefulness: Being willing to experiment and being open to new methods. Being calm during a crisis and the ability to monitor one’s emotions and prioritize.
  2. Curiosity​: Driven by wanting to learn new things inside and outside of work is one characteristic of adaptability. Illustrate how your curiosity led to new learnings and accomplishments.

  3. Attitude: ​ Showing gratitude and talking about possibilities and solutions as opposed to focusing on negative aspects of a situation is key - now and in the future. It’s not about avoiding talking about pitfalls but rather discussing a problem that needs solving and collaborating with others, all part of adaptability. Bring a positive outlook when collaborating with others, and that attitude will show your colleagues you’re willing to be adaptable.

"Be flexible so you can change with change."

-Bruce Lee

Have stories prepared as answers to the following questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you took several attempts to solve a problem.
  • What are three things you’re proud of accomplishing during the pandemic?

Examples of Adaptability:

  • adjusting your behavior, communication style and your approach to match changing tasks, work demands or different people
  • adjusting priorities to meet deadlines
  • being willing to try new approaches for changed situations
  • attempting to understand and embrace different points of view and approaches to address 

Acknowledging change is one way to cope with it. Once it’s recognized and accepted, it’s a step towards managing it. Whatever you do, don’t try to escape it.  Being unafraid of new options will serve you well in the long run.

Reviewed & Recommended:

Tedx Frankfurt "How to Navigate Our Uncertain Future" by April Rinne

Ted Residency: "3 ways to Measure Adaptability" by Natalie Fratto