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No. 9 – I’m struggling to find a job. Are my weight and age factors?

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14 April 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, job-hunting challenges for older women, waiting months for a promised pay rise, and whether to spill on an office affair.

I’m over 50, male and very overweight. Looking for a new job seems so much more challenging than 30 years ago! Do you think being overweight or obese, or being older, is a big negative for employers?

As I read your question, I had a real feeling of dread because the honesty and bravery of your question deserves an honest answer … you have definitely identified a duo of job-hunting challenges.

Research tells us that being over 50 and overweight will definitely make finding a job that much harder.

One study on discrimination in the workplace found that the more overweight a person is, the more likely it is that they will be discriminated against. Overweight workers are 12 times more likely to experience employment discrimination, obese workers 37 times and severely obese workers are 100 times more likely than other workers to experience workplace discrimination.

And research tells us it takes almost twice as long (67 weeks on average) for someone who is over 55 to get a job than if they were younger.

Your personal experiences certainly reflect what the research tells us about age and weight discrimination but they reflect far more on employers’ prejudices and biases than anything to do with you.

I urge you to keep trying to search for the right role. You have a lifetime of experience to offer a fortunate employer and I am cheering for you all the way. I know many other Australians will be supporting you as you find the right role as well. Good luck!

I am the strongest performer in my team, and this has been recognised by my boss, their boss and even that boss’ boss! They have approved a promotion and a raise for me, but I feel frustrated because it has now been three months since the discussion, and nothing has happened. What do I do?

So let me get this right. Your boss, and your boss’ boss, and even that boss’ boss have all agreed that you can have a promotion and a pay rise but nothing has happened? Something odd is definitely going on. Otherwise I am going to guess you work in a large bureaucracy where the wheels of change move slowly?

Have you been back to your boss to ask if there is a reason for the delay? Your boss may be able to assist you get the ball rolling and to overcome any bureaucratic hurdles that could be holding things up.

If you are in a large organisation, another issue may be that the promise of a promotion and pay rise you received from your boss was given outside of the usual HR schedules and processes and so HR is now in the background frantically trying to work out how to make it happen within their own systems (a situation that happens more often than you might think!).

Either way, I think you should have a conversation with your boss, remind them of the discussion you had a few months ago, remind them how important it is to you and ask them to ensure the promotion and pay rise is implemented as soon as possible.

I have become aware that a work colleague is having an affair with the boss, who is married. The boss’ wife also works in the business and is a fantastic person and consummate professional. Should I say anything? And if so, to who?

What we all know for sure is this is unlikely to end well. These are the sorts of situations that damage office culture immeasurably not to mention damage marriages. I have no doubt if you are speculating about what is going on, many other people in your team are as well.

These are really difficult situations to get involved in but if it is something you think is impacting the workplace generally, I would start by chatting with your head of HR in the first instance and ask their advice.

Send your curly questions about work, career, leadership and anything in between to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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