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Tech anxiety has new employee worried for job

Lynne Curry

Q. I'm scared to death I'll lose the job I just landed.

I'm 64. I searched for a job for nearly a year without success. Apparently no one wanted to hire an aging office manager.

I then got great advice to list only the last 15 years of jobs on my resume and to fudge answers in the interview so the hiring manager wouldn't guess my real age. Thanks to good genes and skin care, I look at least a decade younger.

I got hired for a great job. I initially thought I could do the work -- I've been managing offices for 40 years -- but I'm totally freaked.

Everyone in this company uses the latest technology. They handed me a smartphone that's smarter than I am and an iPad that's supposedly intuitive but I keep forgetting which button to push. I was supposed to take meeting notes on it but I finally started handwriting them because it didn't have a keyboard and the touch screen just didn't work for me. That got me some stares.

I spent last Friday afternoon trying to upload a company newsletter onto Constant Contact, a project I was told would take only an hour. I came in over the weekend, not putting the time on my time sheet because if they knew I spent most of Saturday figuring out how to get the formatting to look the way it was supposed to, they'd fire me.

The worst is that I can't seem to remember instructions from one minute to the next and am worried that what everyone says about age and memory is true. I can't afford to lose this job. Help.

A. Fear affects memory more than age does.

Think back to when you met someone on the street who remembered your name and you couldn't remember hers but then walked on and her name sprang to mind. Or reflect on what happened when you stood up to give a speech and blanked out or were startled by a question and couldn't remember what you knew you knew.

Anxiety prevents information from going into or out of memory. This means the minute you get nervous you stop remembering. The best way to learn new technology: Forget your age, realize you've undoubtedly mastered more challenging issues in 40 years and relax.

Most age-related memory issues prove to be myths. As you age, your ability to use skills, knowledge and experience and to access information from long-term memory actually improves.

The challenges older adults experience with short-term memory can be overcome with tactics. What older adults most notice is that they can forget an original task if interrupted midway through. Studies show that an older adult's brain doesn't always engage after an interruption. Fear compounds this and leads to a temporary mental shutdown. If you take a quick note that triggers your memory for what you were working on at the onset of the interruption, it gets you back on task.

Although other short-term memory abilities such as the capacity to solve problems in novel situations and apply on-the-spot reasoning decline with age, communication skills, knowledge mastery and sharper decision-making generally improve with age, offsetting age-related declines. Two examples: Older lab workers studying specimens under microscopes handled tasks more efficiently than younger workers because they knew what to look for. Mature hotel reservation clerks were more productive although they handled fewer calls because their higher communication skills resulted in more bookings.

Finally, older employees bring great value to employers in areas such as work ethic and reliability. Although you feel you "fooled" your employer into hiring you, you'll soon prove your worth -- unless you let your fear block your success.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at thegrowthcompany.com.


By LYNNE CURRY
Management