Are You Too Old to Work There?

Not hired because you are pregnant?  Not hired because of a disability? Not hired because of your race or sexual orientation?

How about not hired because you are too old?

Blatant discrimination makes us angry, but when it comes to ageism, many businesses haven’t addressed it internally, despite greater awareness. 

Remember, when a young Mark Zuckerberg famously said, “Young people are just smarter.”  “If you want to found a successful company, you should only hire young people with technical expertise?”   Management gurus cringed, yet it’s still common to listen to Viagra jokes, witness birthday cards depicting saggy body parts, and overhear comments like “when are they putting you out to pasture?”  

It is time for businesses to stop paying lip service to equity and fair play when it comes to age.  As Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of the AARP, said:  “It’s not appropriate to discriminate against someone based on their age. We don’t allow it based on race or sex or sexual orientation, so why do we allow it based on aging?”

What is ageism?

There is so much value in age diversity that the government recognizes it as a protected class.  The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits workplace discrimination against workers aged 40 and older in covered employers.  Discrimination can happen in “hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment”  (“Age Discrimination”).

Managers should determine whether age-related derogatory comments, offensive language, mocking, or harassment of older persons constitutes a hostile work environment and address it immediately.  HR practitioners can proactively assess whether inequity or stereotyping is happening across organizational functions.  Discuss with your team:

  • Is age addressed in diversity and inclusion policies?
  • Are most workforce reductions happening to those over 40?
  • Are older workers getting passed over for promotion or feeling pressure to retire?
  • Are managers only hiring people younger than themselves?
  • Do recruiters consistently view older people as “over-qualified? 
  • Are training opportunities equally distributed, especially in the latest technology?

If so, be intentional about surveilling and eliminating bias in areas such as cultural communications and behavior, hiring practices, promotions, and pay inequities.

Ageism isn’t harmless

If you are thinking, my company is OK, take another look.  An AARP survey found that 2 out of 3 employees past 45 have experienced age discrimination.  61% reported age bias, and 91% of those, felt it was common (Value of Experience survey).   Worse, in a two-year sample, Urban Institute found that for workers past 50, involuntary separation rates increased as they got older.  Loss of a job has unique consequences for older workers, many of whom have made long-term contributions to their companies. Data analysis from the Urban Institute (“How Secure is Employment at Older Ages?”, 2018, Dec.) showed that terminated older workers have more difficulty finding another job, experience longer periods of unemployment, and suffer severe financial setbacks including reduced retirement savings.

Thankfully, the labor shortage has helped companies realize the value of retaining their boomers longer. And unlike job-hopping Millennials, who change jobs more than any other group, older workers tend to be more loyal and committed.   The fact is, boomers are not winding down.  A Gallup poll (April 2018) showed 41% of Americans plan to be working past 65.  In a USA Today article (“Older Workers are Driving Job Growth,” 2019, Jan. 9), half of the jobs filled in 2018 were by those 55 and older, and 39.2% of all workers today are in this age group.  Real equity in the workplace includes all classes of people, including the experienced worker class.  

Achieving an inclusive, ageless workforce

This isn’t an anti-Millennial/Gen Z blog.  Young people infuse bright enthusiasm, new ways of thinking, and a hunger for learning. Their affinity for new challenges related to technology helps drive fresh ideas and innovation.  They are the future, and experienced workers can draft off their energy while transferring necessary soft skills in communication, critical thinking, and leadership.

The reality is that today’s companies must create ageless workplaces in which new ways of working, relating, and learning together are the goal.   Generational diversity means leveraging the unique differences in every individual and fostering respect for the life experiences, personalities, and skills inherent in all ages.  Shared knowledge builds a more robust organization, and who can better help shape the new majority future workforce than talented, mature workers with their depth and breadth of experience? 

If you are an organization needing experienced candidates or if you are a mature job seeker, contact Partnership Employment today.  With decades of recruiting expertise, our partners can help identify the right fit no matter the age.  Don’t let mature talent go to waste.  Call our recruiters today or check out available jobs on our website.    

What baby boomers can learn from millennials at work — and vice versa | Chip Conley