Skip to main content

Gen Why: When Co-workers Try To Guess Your Age

Things are going well at work -- until one day when a co-worker tries to guess your age but is way, waaaay off target. Oh, no!

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…