Jeremy Bullmore's tips for handling ageism at work

The advertising titan and MT's agony uncle offers some hard advice - and some tough love.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 28 Feb 2017

Q: I'm 75 and still work four days a week as a partner at an advertising agency. I've always loved my job but I've started to feel that the younger partners think I'm 'past it'. They're always making jokes about me retiring to the golf course and quips about my age. Clients still respect me but I'm afraid my colleagues don't. Have you experienced ageism at all? Any advice on how to handle it?

Jeremy Bullmore says: You must be the only 75-year-old still employed by an advertising agency. According to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the agency trade body, the average age of employees in UK agencies is under 35.

You say that clients still respect you and I'm sure they do.

But for what, I wonder? Is it the kind of respect they would accord a Chelsea Pensioner, or do they respect your advice? Because that's the vital distinction - and one you need to be absolutely clear about.

Establishing which isn't difficult: it just requires an open mind, a certain amount of courage - and a willingness to accept the unpalatable.

Ask yourself these questions. When was the last time: ... a client meeting was rearranged because you couldn't make it? ... your partners insisted you were part of a new business pitch? ... a client asked you for your private opinion about an advertising matter? These answers will tell you all you need to know.

If people in the agency and their clients still want to know what you think, and if they take your opinion into account before deciding on action, that's all that matters. Forget the jokes; 20-year-olds often feel uncomfortable working with colleagues as old as their grandparents and make jokes to lessen their discomfort.

But if there's no spontaneous demand for your opinions and your presence, I suggest you tiptoe quietly away.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Though a gentleman never reveals his age, we can assure you he's comfortably in his 80s.

Email him your problems at editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

Image credit: Elliott Brown/Flickr

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