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Effective Practices for Counselling Mature Workers

Career planning looks at the whole person, throughout the whole lifespan. At a time when 70-year-olds run marathons and start new businesses, many people are re-examining their beliefs about aging and retirement.

Healthy older workers face a bright future with many opportunities. However, if they have lost their jobs, they may need to manage their grief in order to be ready for employment again.

Helping older workers cope with job loss

Mature workers are far less likely than younger workers to experience job loss. However, unemployed older workers tend to experience longer periods of unemployment compared to other unemployed workers.

Clients aged 55 to 64 generally have trouble finding replacement jobs for several reasons:

  • They have worked in traditional industries that are growing more slowly than in previous decades.
  • They had jobs that required more limited qualifications and lower levels of education than current positions.
  • They tend to look for jobs that are similar to those they’ve recently held.

Responses to job loss

The first step in helping clients with job loss is to help them understand their reactions. They may experience a range of normal responses, such as anger, depression, anxiety, loss, fear, confusion, and frustration. In some cases, they may even feel relief. Clients may also have physical symptoms, such as insomnia, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, colds, and changes in appetite.

People usually experience stages of recovery from job loss. First, they experience emotions that range from shock to anger to relief. Second, they become resigned to the job loss. Finally, they experience growth and begin to move forward in new directions.

Help your clients realize that they are not alone in these kinds of responses: job loss is traumatic. In some cases, they may need individual psychological counselling. Refer them to appropriate agencies or professionals whenever possible.

You may also need to refer older clients to financial experts with whom they can discuss money and lifestyle issues. Mature workers exploring alternatives need to be realistic about their current financial situation and retirement plans.

Dealing with emotions

When they don’t get the job…

“Sometimes people feel that if they don’t get the job, it’s ageism. Employers have high demands and want to hire people who are entrepreneurial in nature.”

—Barb Sheppard, Career Assistance Network

Along with psychological or financial counselling, the following strategies and lifestyle changes may benefit mature workers coping with job loss.

Encourage angry clients to:

  • Channel anger into non-violent physical activities, such as exercising or playing a favourite sport or game
  • Write a letter about their anger and later destroy the letter
  • Take anger management training if needed

Encourage depressed clients to:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Seek relief in laughter, comedies, and humour
  • Create a schedule for each day and stick to it
  • Volunteer
  • Get enough sleep and relaxation
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Stay connected with family and friends who are positive and encouraging

Encourage clients needing emotional support to:

  • See the difference between temporary rejection as a worker and rejection as a human being
  • Discuss the actual reasons for job loss
  • Clarify why they are now, temporarily, not working
  • Begin to work on identifying their strengths

Helping older workers identify their strengths

Identifying strengths

“People have many skills and when they leave, these skills don’t stay behind in their old job but are portable. It is so important to help them identify their skills and things they are proud of having done—peak moments in their lives and when they worked with passion.”

—Nell Smith, Nell Smith Career Services

When mature workers acknowledge the strengths they bring to the workplace, they can rebuild or enhance their self-esteem and gain confidence. These changes in attitude may make a big difference in the success of their work search.

Mature workers bring skills, motivation, experience, and flexibility to the workplace. Your role is to help them identify new ways to find work that will provide meaning and challenge in their lives.

Values

The values that mature workers hold can be strong selling points in today’s job market. Many mature workers tend to be:

  • They are more likely to stay in their position than to look for new jobs and more likely to be committed to the organization’s goals.
  • They have lower rates of absenteeism and turnover than younger workers.
  • They are as productive as younger workers and may outperform younger workers in some white-collar positions.
  • Safety conscious. They take fewer risks, have fewer accidents, and accomplish as much in a workday as younger workers.
  • With their education in the 3 Rs, they have the basic skills employers need.
  • Older people have often faced many changes in later life, such as changes in technology, globalization, and workplace diversity.

Transferable skills

Mature workers often possess a wealth of experience and abilities. However, they may be reluctant to discuss their experiences. They may also be unaware that the skills they take for granted are highly marketable. Older workers need to know how to describe their strengths and use those strengths to help them in their job search.

Identifying and discussing transferable skills will help clients to:

  • Regain lost confidence
  • Discover more strengths
  • Start thinking about possible career alternatives
  • Recognize what they have to offer an employer
  • Articulate their skills and other assets during a job search
  • Prepare effective resumés, letters, and other marketing tools
  • Begin to prepare for self-employment

The following are benefits that mature workers have to offer employers:

  • Employment experience
  • Maturity and level-headedness
  • Commitment to the company’s goals or products and services
  • Experience working with teams
  • A track record of responsibility and dependability
  • Statistically lower accident rates
  • Low rates of absenteeism
  • A proven ability to meet deadlines
  • Experience with diversity in the workplace
  • Experience with stress management

Exercises for self-identifying strengths

Mature clients can explore their values, needs, wants, skills, interests, personality characteristics, beliefs, and career preferences in many ways. For example, they can:

  • Create a self-portrait
  • Build an inventory of strengths using questionnaires
  • Reframe self-defeating thoughts
  • Create a career path analysis
  • Draw a lifeline
  • Use a life wheel
  • Use assessment tools such as the Quester questionnaire
  • Read websites and publications directed to workers making midlife career moves
  • Use a variety of activities to assess values, beliefs, skills, personality characteristics, personal style, needs, desires, and dreams

Exploring values, interests, beliefs, and goals is just as vital as identifying marketable skills. Many mature workers are looking for more meaning in their working lives.

What is satisfying about counselling older workers?

“It’s hearing wonderful stories of careers and the interesting things that people have done. Older adults know what they want—they give you indicators of their success. Everyone has strengths and I let people know that I’m wowed by what they can do. You just can’t give people too much positive feedback—everybody is aching for it.”

—Bonnie Young, Career Transition Counsellor

These and other tools and techniques can help the client and counsellor to:

  • Examine responses to major life events, whether positive or negative
  • Analyze clients’ adaptability to change
  • Recognize and acknowledge client successes
  • Discuss and clarify client skills
  • Coach clients to transfer their strengths to new situations
  • Help clients think about which strengths they want to take into the future

Support groups and social networks

Another important asset for mature clients is their support group or network of contacts. You may have to help clients identify sources of support, and clients may need to learn how to ask these people for help. Effective marketing starts with the friends, colleagues, and contacts who are closest to clients. Clients can engage them in the job search campaign.

If you are working with mature clients, you may want to refer them to programs in the community that offer peer support. You may also consider setting up a support group or helping clients to do so. Support groups can be the most effective strategy for providing moral support and encouragement as well as information and contacts.

Helping mature workers build self-confidence

A key predictor of whether a person will choose to pursue a task or goal is the sense of self-efficacy. This can be defined as self-confidence or positive beliefs about one’s capability to perform a task. Focusing on specific skills, such as self-management skills, idea generation, and use of technology, helps older clients counter self-limiting beliefs and build self-efficacy.

Focusing on the future

“You need to learn how to read a person to connect with them. You can crush a person’s self-esteem if you don’t tune into their pride. An expression I’ve heard others use seems appropriate: ‘You have to rip that rear-view mirror off the windshield and move forward. Let’s focus on where we’re going.’”

—Barb Sheppard, Career Assistance Network

Try to find ways to challenge mature workers’ self-limiting beliefs to help them build confidence and move forward. Self-confidence rises when clients tackle tasks that once made them anxious.

Building technology skills is a major way for mature workers to overcome their fears. Joining organizations, such as Toastmasters, or volunteering can also help self-confidence soar.

Helping mature workers stay current

The most creative and effective decisions are informed decisions. Helping clients gain access to the information they need is particularly important for mature workers who may be, or who may feel they are, out of date. Provide older clients with relevant information or with strategies to find out more about:

Informational interviews

Mature workers are wary of making a wrong choice or wasting time by pursuing a job they won’t like. Informational interviews are an opportunity to gather information directly from people who are currently in the career, who are working for a particular company, or who are taking a training program.

Some clients are reluctant to do this type of research. Try to determine the amount of support clients need. You may have to facilitate an initial contact for a client and help the client develop the skills to manage an informational interview.

To help clients prepare for an informational interview, suggest that they read about the work option and then write a list of questions that are not answered in published information. Next, help the client to put the questions in order of importance. Remind the client that the person being interviewed probably is busy and would appreciate a short interview.

You might also prepare the client by role-playing in a practice session. An effective strategy is to videotape the practice session for review with the client.

Successful informational interviews provide more than information. They increase social contacts and build clients’ confidence that they can make a change in their career.

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