Anyone who has visited a British Theme park will have noted that the vast majority of the workers are young people. This is no surprise as the work is seasonal and very tiring and so the parks are mostly of interest to students and young people embarking on their first experience in the workplace. This said there are always a few older workers and not so long ago I was one of them. It is a strange experience fetching up for work to find that everyone else is young enough to be your children.
As a regular visitor to the parks I was well aware that my age would set me apart but had no idea if this would prove to be a problem or ruin my enjoyment of the work. I figured that most of the youngsters would be friendly enough but that I probably wasn’t going to become close to them. Why would they be interested in befriending the old fart?
It turned out that I was totally wrong about this and I made a number of really good friends who didn’t seem to care about my age at all. I soon found that I had been fully accepted into their social circles and nobody seemed to think it odd that a middle aged woman was tagging along. There was also the fact that my age provided the youngsters with an endless source of fuel for their jokes and ribbings much to the amusement of the customers.
You need to have a thick skin in that environment but I have to say that I found the various stunts incredibly amusing. I suppose I could have taken offense but you couldn’t deny the brilliance of the humour. Sadly the rides are equipped with public address systems enabling the staff to say pretty much anything to the thousands of guests waiting in line.
It all started with a guy who became one of my closest friends. He chose to tell the entire ride area that I had just married my fellow attendant and that we had met of Match.com. I was shocked to find people congratulating me which indeed they should have done if the story had been true. I was 46 and the guy I was supposed to have married was 18!
My closest friend was the worst offender where announcements were concerned. He told the 1000 strong crowd at a roller coaster that the staff were organising a collection for me in order to buy a motability vehicle to help me around the park. Another colleague told everyone I was the oldest theme park worker in the world and yet another used to do impressions of me with a walking stick. I hasten to add that I was more active than most of them! Just getting my treasured ready readers out to see the paperwork was enough to spark a bout of ribbing but hey!
I learned to enjoy the daily routine of heavy breathing down the phone, mysterious calls from people with disguised voices telling me they loved me, jokes about Zimmer frames (they even bought me one) and signs in my console about age concern.
I learnt a lot of new skills working at the park but my biggest lesson was about people. If you make an effort to get involved and do your job well you will be accepted as part of the team no matter who or what you are. I very quickly forgot my obvious differences and simply became one of the guys.
I always suspected that employers who focus on recruiting only young people were making a mistake and now I am sure they are. I have heard it argued that older people can disrupt the balance in the workplace and can struggle to fit in but that is not my experience. There were a couple of colleagues who were much older than me and yet they were amongst the most popular in the team and the customers loved them too. For the record the oldies didn’t struggle to learn new skills either. There is a huge amount of talent and character out there which is under-utilised. I could criticise the park on several fronts but not for their enlightened attitude to recruitment.
Sally Stacey is a keen writer and lady of a certain age who feels she still has a lot to contribute t the workplace.