If you’re at or nearing retirement age, it’s possible your boss wants you to retire, but you just haven’t gotten the memo. Some employers take a direct approach when encouraging workers to start their golden years, while others use more understated tactics.
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With the exception of a few professions, mandatory retirement is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Amendments of 1986. The decision to retire should always be in your hands, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always go that way.
Last updated: Oct. 21, 2021
They Stop Assigning Long-Term Projects
If the work you’ve been assigned to seems mundane or short term in nature lately, it might not be a coincidence.
“When you are no longer a part of your employer’s vision, you are sidelined from crucial and long-term projects that actually add value for the organization,” said Ketan Kapoor, co-founder and former CEO of Mettl, an HR technology company and leading talent measurement firm. “The idea is to rely less on your experience and onboard new people to take up a role with better efficiency and productivity.”
You’re Given Projects That Don’t Require Strategizing
Consider it a red flag if your employer stops valuing your opinions.
“Your inputs in strategy and decision-making that shape the future of the organization might see a downward curve,” Kapoor said. “Rather, you get (assigned) to more business as usual projects that have more to do with day-to-day operations and less with brainstorming and strategizing.”
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They Stop Investing In You
“Continuous feedback and course corrections are vital for any professional to grow in their roles and contribute to the long-term vision of an organization,” Kapoor said. “If your employer wants you to retire, they mostly cut down on the quantity and quality of the feedback they used to offer before.”
Not only that, your efforts might largely go unnoticed.
“You might also get cold responses on your achievements,” Kapoor said. “Other than that, the amount and frequency of appreciation for your efforts can also take a back seat.”
Your Salary and Career Growth Is Halted
“Higher remuneration and position is one of the biggest factors that an employer provides an employee as an incentive to stay and continue growing,” Kapoor said. “However, the amount of appraisals can decline when your employer wants you to retire.”
If your raises keep getting smaller and you don’t remember the last time you were promoted — despite working hard for a company with a healthy bottom line — something might be up. Do note, it’s illegal to deprive you of a promotion simply because of your age, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
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They Try To Make Your Role Redundant
“Many a time, your employer can try to merge your role with a different department or even make it obsolete,” Kapoor said.
Not exactly a subtle move. If there’s talk of eliminating your position entirely, your boss is probably hoping you’ll follow your job out the door. They likely can’t force you to retire, but they’re betting you’ll opt to begin your golden years, instead of learning an entirely new job.
Rude Comments About Your Age
If your employer makes jokes about your age or allows your colleagues to do so, this could be their way of encouraging you to retire, said Jeanne Miller Rodriguez, CEO and owner of Pennico Press Publishing.
Lighthearted teasing, offhand comments and isolated incidents not serious in nature aren’t unlawful, according to the EEOC. However, comments made frequently or maliciously that create a hostile work environment are illegal, so it’s important to know your rights.
Your Supervisor Becomes More Hands-On
If your boss has been hovering, micromanaging and criticizing your work more than in the past, they might be trying to get you to retire, said Rodriguez, who previously served as deputy director for the California Department of Social Services.
It’s not right, but if this behavior sounds familiar, you might not actually be doing anything wrong. Nitpicking could be your manager’s indirect way of trying to make your workday unpleasant so you’ll step down from your position.
You’re Treated Differently Than Younger Colleagues
A manager who creates different standards for proficiency, depending on employee age, could be sending a message, said Rodriguez, who is also the author of the books “Ready, Set, Work!” and “Ready, Set, Supervise!” Furthermore, if your younger co-workers receive better, more desirable assignments, this might be more than luck of the draw.
Look closely at the way your boss treats younger employees. If you’re clearly held to a different standard, their intentions might not need much interpretation.
Disciplinary Action Is Taken for No Reason
If your boss starts formal disciplinary action against you, despite not having a decline in performance, Rodriguez said this could be a push for you to retire.
Hopefully this won’t happen to you, but if it does, familiarize yourself with the signs so you know when to fight back.
Your Retirement Becomes a Topic of Conversation
If you choose to discuss your impending retirement, that’s one thing, but it’s a different story if your employer brings it up. Point-blank asking about your plans for retirement and making not-so-subtle comments about how much you might enjoy it could be a sign your boss is hoping you’ll give your notice, Rodriguez said.
Most likely, this will frustrate you — and rightfully so — because the decision to retire is a major move that shouldn’t be pushed on you.
A Lot of Talk About Cost-Cutting Measures
It’s a bit more indirect than other approaches, but the underlying message is the same. If your employer constantly complains about budget cutbacks and the cost of employee salaries and benefits, this could be their way of encouraging you to retire, Rodriguez said.
For example, in 2017, the Napa Valley Unified School District encouraged more than 60 employees — mostly teachers — to retire early, reported the Napa Valley Register. The move was an effort to save millions of dollars in salary and benefits.
An Incentive Is Thrown Your Way
Some companies offer what Rodriguez refers to as a "golden boot" — a positive incentive to retire, such as increased vacation credits or a monetary bonus. For workers with pensions and/or early retirement benefits, she said employers are often motivated by finances.
“The more older workers who retire early, the more vacant positions they leave, which can then be eliminated and thus help the bottom line,” she said. “And even if employers choose not to eliminate the vacant positions left by recent retirees, they can fill those positions with lower-salaried employees with fewer or reduced benefits.”
Your Work Hours Are Reduced
When you’re paid by the hour, you need to spend a certain amount of time at work each week to pay the bills. If your employer has been cutting your hours for no apparent reason, this could be a way to wear you down.
If your hourly rate is higher than younger employees, your boss might be trying to reduce payroll expenses. Take inventory of other colleagues receiving less time on the schedule and if they’re all older — or it’s just you — consider this move suspicious.
You’re Isolated From the Group
If you’re regularly left out of meetings and team activities, this might not be an accident. Making you feel like an outsider could be a ploy to encourage you to retire because feeling like the odd person out isn’t fun at any age.
Another form of seclusion might come in the form of moving your desk away from the group. Hindering your ability to communicate and contribute to the team could be your employer’s way of making you feel like you no longer belong.
You’re Not Given the Proper Resources
No matter how talented you are, having the support of your employer is necessary to perform to the best of your ability. If your boss refuses to provide you with the necessary tools and assistance to do your job, they might be setting you up to fail.
Poor performance could give them a reason to fire — or at least demote — you. It might seem unfathomable, but it’s not unheard of for employers to take this sly approach.
What To Do if Your Employer Wants You To Retire
If any of these signs ring true to you, you likely feel like your employer is pushing you out the door -- even if you're not ready. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself and your job if this is the case.
Have a Frank Conversation With Your Boss or Manager
If actions taken by your boss or manager have made you feel uncomfortable or undervalued, set up a time to talk with them openly and honestly about why you feel this way. You might also include a member of the human resources department in the conversation if you don't feel comfortable having the discussion one-on-one.
Go To HR
If your boss or manager's behavior has crossed a line and gone beyond something you feel you can chat openly with them about, consider bringing the issue straight to the HR department. Human resources professionals are meant to be advocates for employees, so they should be able to provide you with impartial advice for the next steps, or they can speak to your boss or manager on your behalf about what has really been going on.
Take Legal Action
If you've spoken to human resources and your boss or manager and nothing has changed, it might be time to take legal action. You can file a formal charge of age discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if you are 40 or older and have experienced any of the following:
You believe your age has played a factor in your pay, job assignments, promotions, training or benefits
You've been the victim of frequent or severe age-related harassment that has created a hostile or offensive work environment
An employment policy or practice enacted by your employer has negative consequences for you because of your age
To file a claim, you can fill out a form online through the EEOC Public Portal, by telephone, at a state or local Fair Employment Practice Agency or by mail.
Once your charge is filed, you can either go into mediation with your employer, or the EEOC might go straight into an investigation. If the EEOC finds that a law may have been violated, they will work to reach a voluntary settlement with your employer. If they cannot determine if a law has been violated, or if they do find that a law has been violated and your employer refuses to settle, you may proceed to sue your employer.
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.