Businesses have a choice: hire and retain older workers, or let ageism destroy their productivity and profitability.
The conversation around ageism is becoming mainstream, but that is not creating change in hiring practices in the U.S. Employers regularly and cleverly evade the 1967 ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) – despite increasing enforcement and ongoing lawsuits.
Why do companies continue to tolerate or even promote ageism in their hiring practices?
One survey conducted by the Sloan Center on Aging revealed an alarming statistic: Nearly 40% of employers in the United States think that the aging workforce will have a negative impact on their business. Let's look at some of the erroneous assumptions behind this opinion.
Countering the Negative Narratives
When Mark Zuckerberg uttered his infamous "Young people are just smarter" line in 2007, he forgot a key point. The digital foundation upon which he built his company and his fortune was pioneered by boomer-generation digital founders. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee and other visionaries created the world that digital natives may inhabit. But as an Irish study found in 2014, that doesn't mean they know how best to navigate it.
According to one research study commissioned by the SaaS project management platform Wrike, workers over 55 are top performers. They were actually better at coping with large workloads than their younger counterparts.
Clearly, age has its advantages. Older workers miss less time at work (half the rate of absenteeism), and work at a higher productivity level. With many of life's challenges out of the way, older workers are better able to focus, and are less stressed than younger workers.
“Years of experience, and the extra wisdom that brings, certainly plays a part, but also a better sense of priority and focus appears to play a big part in why older generations are coping better…” Andrew Filev, Founder/CEO, Wrike
Additional support for older workers comes from the 2010 Cogito study. It demonstrated that older workers show no appreciable deficit in cognition, speed, or memory functions. In fact, older workers were more consistent in their performance than younger workers.
We admire older achievers like swimmer Diana Nyad, MIT computer scientist, and visionary architect Frank Gehry. While they are exceptional, they are not outliers.
We're NOT Going Away – And That's a Good Thing!
Ageism is widespread. We see it on both ends of the spectrum. Boomers deride millennials as lazy and entitled. Millennials are convinced that boomers ruined the economy and that they're paying the price. The truth, of course, is much more nuanced.
Many millennials are also convinced that by not retiring , boomers and older gen-x are essentially "squatting" in the jobs that are meant for them. We need to move over and let them drive. While this may seem like a common-sense argument on the surface, it's ageism at work once again. The economy is not a zero sum game.
The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found just the opposite. Older workers staying on the job has not diminished job prospects for younger workers. In fact, it enhances them: a"high tide lifts all boats." By remaining in the workforce, older workers can mentor and guide younger workers, and actually help further expand a business. More success creates more opportunity.
"The juxtaposition between the superior performance of older workers and the discrimination against them in the workplace just really makes no sense. " Peter Capelli, Wharton School of Business
We Have to Step Up As Well
Finally, older workers don't do the same jobs as younger workers. Nor should they. Prospective clients searching for work in their 50s often say to me "I'm being told I'm overqualified for the jobs I'm applying to." Instead of sympathizing with them, I tell them I agree! As older, more experienced workers, we have to upgrade our sense of ourselves.
We have to upgrade our value because more is expected of us. If that means getting more training, or being more entrepreneurial, then that's what we need to do. Competing with younger workers for jobs we used to do makes no sense. We need to be using our experience and our wisdom, and make sure the younger generation is getting the support, experience, and mentoring they need to, yes, one day, become the "modern elders" that we have become.
Ageism or Profit
Change is accelerating and success can be fleeting. With AI infiltrating more and more digital businesses, we can't be fussy about our human capital. We can't allow ageism to put us at a strategic disadvantage.
What are you doing in your business to support a fully multi-generational workforce?
- Are you looking outside the conventional hiring resources for the right candidates, no matter how old or young they are?
- Is your HR/recruiting team on board with the multi-generational mindset – and sending the right messages in their recruiting efforts?
- Are older employees encouraged to share their wisdom and experience – both to support upper management as well as peers and younger workers?
- Does your company culture embrace diversity and inclusion across ages as well as across ethnicity, gender, and culture?
These are critical strategic practices that more companies need to be considering and implementing, if they are going to successfully survive the next ten very change-filled years in our economy.