It's considered impolite to ask our fellow working professionals for their age or salary level, but the general rules of workplace etiquette do not stop this particular co-worker from trying to wrestle a life mileage odometer reading from your finely-lined lips. I'm guessing you're in your...mid 40s?
Ugh, really? Suddenly, you're feeling defensive and worried, because you've only recently left the coveted 18-to-34 demographic! You're also regretting your decision to invest in a very expensive face cream that apparently isn't helping very much.
Why is your co-worker asking? For most employees, trying to guess your age is a way of filling in their wrinkled knowledge gaps. For other employees, however, asking your age might be a way of trying to put you into, for lack of a better word, a "category."
In today's youth-driven workplaces, these categories are "green behind the ears and incompetent" or "older than dirt and incompetent."
Living in the social media age isn't helping, either. Some work colleagues have lost their filters and will ask questions in person that they have no problem asking online, seemingly unable to see the difference, and the general impoliteness, in it all.
Some colleagues might take the indirect approach, however. Perhaps, after a fruitless Google search, your nosy co-worker tries to get at the age question by mentioning the year of his or her high school (or college) graduation -- hint, hint! -- and hoping that you'll share yours in return. Then he or she can do the simple math.
So if she graduated from high school in 1992, which was 23 years ago, then that would probably put her somewhere between 40-42!
And you just know this co-worker is doing the math, with or without a calculator, don't you?
Alternately, this co-worker might drop a few somewhat-dated cultural references just to see if you'll take the bait. "Animaniacs" was my favorite TV cartoon as a kid, and I loved The Backstreet Boys when I was a teenager!
Animaniacs? Hmm. So what should you do in this very uncomfortable and all-too-common workplace situation?
Bottom filler line: Our co-workers should never, ever ask our age -- at least out loud and/or in our presence. It's simply rude and intrusive to bring it up. In the worst-case scenario, it could open the door to a future age discrimination claim should the employee-who-was-relentlessly-badgered-for-his-or-her-age get laid off one day.
So if a co-worker keeps asking for your age -- whether you're 15 or 25 or 55 or 75 -- you don't need to say "boo" in our aging-afeared society. It is not rude to refuse to tell a co-worker your age. Find a polite way to say, "That's none of your business" and then get back to work.
If a co-worker is trying indirectly to assess your age range, then simply play along by saying, "Yeah, I remember/never watched that show." Full stop. Then change the subject. This way, you participate without revealing anything.
Likewise, if you're ever tempted to ask a co-worker for his or age, then think twice. Your co-worker might share it, but he or she may turn right around and ask you to share your current salary level. How much do you make? In their minds, it's a fair trade in our sharing economy, and frankly, just as intrusive.
If you don't mind sharing your age and do it proudly -- you've earned every year of it -- then good for you! You're comfortable in your own skin and carry yourself with a poise and dignity that is to be highly admired.
Besides, age is only a number and we all get better with age. Our society needs to begin valuing experience and wisdom once again. Wrinkles are earned, not endured. And if you ask, I'm always 29.