Dear Evil HR Lady,
First, may I just say that I really enjoy reading your blog. It’s always funny and informative. Back in college I was an Evil HR Lady Intern for a Fortune 500 company and I actually really enjoyed it but have gone on to a different profession which leads me to my question about my current position (hmm…now I’m wishing that someone had clarified this for me during my internship of evil but, so it goes, I was too busy filing resumes to ask all the astute questions)…
So I’ve just begun a new job and I’m quite young to have my position. Since the first day that I’ve started my position I’ve been asked with some regularity “how old are you?” While I can tell that some of the question askers are just being friendly and curious and are often hoping to then begin telling stories about “back when they started” at our current employer, I sense that others are seeking to gather information about me in not wholly neutral and/or friendly ways.
First question: I’ve been trying to parry all questions about my age since I recognize that disclosing my age may undermine my authority in some respects. I do this nicely by not directly answering questions and responding to age querries with comments like “well, I’ve had six years of experience doing the particular job I’ve been hired to do” or, slightly more irreverently, “oh, I’m ancient but I’m a disciple of vitamins, veggies, and botox”. Am I doing the right thing to not directly mention my age? Do these sound like appropriate answers to you if I didn’t want to disclose my age or do I sound like I’m being sneaky and unhelpful? What about those who I sense have ulterior motives (e.g. trying to use my age as evidence of a lack of experience)? Any ideas how I should respond to them? Or do you think I should let everyone know my age so that these questions don’t get asked any more?
Second, (okay, this is more of a comment) I’m just really weirded out by the number of people who have asked me how old I am. I’m just trying to keep my nose down and do my job but I feel like once I have more seniority it may be a good idea to perhaps raise the issue that questions regarding age, marital status, etc. are somewhat complicated and troublesome. I don’t really want my company to get sued for violating any HR confidentiality practices. Should my employer be reminding employees that there are certain questions that they should not ask during the interview process and, more broadly, once new employees are hired? Does the confidentiality of the interview situation apply to all current employees of an organization?
Thanks for your help.
Not sooo young
Dear Youthful One,
Ahh, to have youth instead of just beauty. Or, umm, yeah. First, from a legal standpoint, your age only counts as a protected class if you are over 40, which you are not. From an annoyance standpoint, you’ve got a case.
I like your responses. I, being more obnoxious than you are, would start answering, “I’ll be 62 next week. Can’t wait until the grandkids come to visit!” or “I’m 15 and a half. Dad’s going to start giving me driving lessons next month!” But, that’s why I’m an evil HR Lady and you were only an evil HR Intern.
As I said, your age does not put you in a protected class, but if you find you are being discriminatd against you may wish to take it up to HR. My bet is that the reason your co-workers repeatedly ask you how old you are is because you are doing a fabulous job. If you were acting like they expected a dorky 22 year old to act they wouldn’t keep asking. But, because you are performing at a level that seems out of character for your perceived age, they keep asking.
It’s bothersome, but I would try to ignore it as best as possible.
While technically, you probably shouldn’t go around asking your co-workers and underlings questions that you wouldn’t ask in an interview, that’s what real life is all about. “Hey, I need Friday off for Good Friday” or, “we’re going to my mother-in-law’s for Passover” is part of daily conversation, although it reveals your religion. Someone may have a picture of their spouse or partner in their cube. You may have to leave a meeting early to go take some insulin or get something to eat if you are diabetic. You wouldn’t bring any of these things up in an interview, but it would be hard to hide them day to day.
And I’m not saying that you should. Your co-workers should all be adults and we should all be able to handle anything about you, as long as you are working hard.
The longer you are there and the more you prove yourself, the less frequent the questions should be. But, remember that co-workers are frequently like mothers. “Why aren’t you married?” will change, once you get married, to “When are you and Bill going to have a baby?” and (trust me on this one) once you have a baby the question will be, “So, Offspring is almost 4. Aren’t you about ready to have another baby?”
It’s life. It’s annoying, but there it is!
And all too soon no one will as you your age because you’ll look old like me.
Evil HR Lady