LOGAN’S RUNWAY: The Language of Age Discrimination At Work


“Not Enough Runway”

While perusing my Linked-In feed recently, I came across an article about age discrimination discussing catchphrases used by younger employees in the workplace, to mock the more mature co-workers among them. One phrase that stood out was  “not enough runway.”[1] Initially, my brain went quizzically to fashion, but of course that isn’t what was meant. These comments are designed, after all, to fly right over the heads of the “over 50″ set  (pun intended).

Who Wants Last Year’s iPhone?

The comment wasn’t about a co-worker’s lack of personal style. It was an evaluation of a co-worker perceived as too close to dying to be worth grooming for any meaningful role in the workplace. This attitude on the part of the under 40 workforce is prevalent, if not pervasive, among today’s younger employers, particularly in tech.  One might assume that this mindset is a result of our youth-obsessed consumer-driven culture. Even our technology has to be young. The over-50 set is perceived to be as desirable in today’s market as last year’s iPhone.

Do You Even Know What You’re Doing?

At almost the same time, I ran across a second article discussing in depth the dangers of maintaining a workforce skewed too exclusively to the young and less experienced. The article was insightful, discussing at length the negative impact such hiring practices may have on the workplace itself, outlining the costs to productivity and work-product that can be the result of relying solely on a youth-oriented workforce.[2]

Anyone starting out must, naturally, learn the ins and outs of their chosen profession for the first time and that naturally generates the mistakes or delays that accompany first efforts at anything. Without mentors, learning the ropes can be a slow process, and laden with pitfalls. This constant “re-invention of the wheel” is the inevitable result of having an exclusively younger staff, regardless of that staff’s collective intellect (and yes, they had actual wheels when I began my career in the legal field.).

How much easier would it be to maintain a balanced population that includes productive and (shudder) older workers who have made the mistakes already and can help others to sidestep them along the way?

Ride the Carousel

Reading these pieces, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a film that came out in 1976, titled Logan’s Run. The basic premise of the film was a post-apocalyptic world where the population was kept in check with a ceremony called Carousel, where citizens currently celebrating their 30th birthdays were ushered into a chamber and summarily flotation-electrocuted (don’t ask). To provide the reader some insight into just how old the movie is, it completely lacked the presence of zombies. Come on, we know zombies come with any self-respecting apocalypse, right?

In this futuristic world, the inhabitants lead delightfully hedonistic lives, until they take their turns on the Carousel after reaching their 30th birthdays. This is a ritual in which most of the population willingly participates, having been told that they may not die, but reach “renewal,” if they are spiritually open to it. Apparently “renewal” is some nebulous form of non-electrocuted “nirvana.” Doesn’t exist, but nobody seems to know that. Of course, as is the case in Hollywood, our hero begins to question the intelligence of submitting to this process (partly because of a pretty girl), but primarily because, through a rather ridiculous plot-mechanism, his “life clock” rapidly runs out and he finds himself faced with an imminent ride on Carousel. He suddenly found that he too, was “running out of runway.”

Needless to say the hero escapes the perilous underworld and, in the course of his travels, he meets an “old man” who becomes a source of wonder. Can life really go on after thirty? The old man teaches them about life, or to be more accurate, long life, and ultimately everyone is rescued from death-by-computer and the population surfaces from their underground society to begin anew, and grow old together.

Young people who tend to undervalue the generations who precede them could learn a little from the lessons of Logan’s Run. It’s less about where a person appears to be in his or her life than what they have to offer. But if it is encountered on the job, those of us who endure this short-sightedness should, of course, fight back with whatever resources we may have at our disposal. If our inherent charm and intelligence doesn’t do the trick, maybe it’s time to call a lawyer. The bottom line is, or should be, the work product. Expressing or adopting the negative stereotyping of the mature worker regardless of that worker’s actual productivity or talent is a foolish practice, and incidentally, it is against the law, kids.

Wait, what’s the code word for “geezer ” again?

Lazear Mack, LLP
Employment Law Attorneys
436 14th Street, Suite 1117
Oakland, CA


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[1] We Can’t Promote Him- He’s Over 50 And Doesn’t Have Enough Runway – By Richard Cohen on September 20, 2013

[2] Age Discrimination: A Lose-Lose Proposition. What Recruiters Can Do – By Debbie Fledderjohann on September 10. 2013

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