So much for the dream of the golden years – the oldest generation actually isn’t looking to step out of the workforce anytime soon. In fact, almost three out of four Baby Boomers plan to keep working well beyond the retirement age. Citing personal financial losses of the recession as a catalyst, Baby Boomers are flooding the workforce looking to either retain their positions or find a better one.
With the increasing age of the workforce, cases of age discrimination have become more prevalent, and in the past few years, it has been contested. The case of Jack Gross, a former insurance claims administration manager, revealed just how difficult proving ageism can be. He had won the age discrimination suit in district court, but then the ruling was overturned on appeal citing that the current law did not consider age bias to be held in the same standard as other workplace civil rights. In 2009, the Supreme Court decided that he had not proved …”by a preponderance of the evidence…,” that his employer, FBL Financial Services Inc., had terminated him and age was the motivating factor. So is age discrimination illegal, or not? Are we really inventing ways to make discrimination even more difficult to prove so that we can in fact allow discrimination? Forcing workers out by demoting them to make them feel worthless, and to “program” them out of employment are all discrimination, and this does not improve our employment situation. Older workers are twice as likely than their younger counterparts to be out of employment for 99 weeks or longer. Does it stop with ageism, or can we also get creative with workplace prejudice for any reason, including color, creed, political or sexual orientation, etc.?
No company, big or small, is immune from making an age discrimination mistake. Consider these lessons learned when interacting with a Baby Boomer candidate:
Don’t Make Age An Issue…At All. When crafting a job description, consider the exact level and experience needed for the position and then use the appropriate language needed to convey that requirement. Number of years can be stated, but it must be considered a genuine requirement for the job. Avoid using words that signify a specific age group like “junior” or “recent grad.” When it comes time for the interview, asking any question that references age should be completely removed from your vocabulary. Stick to questions that assess knowledge, skills, and ability to do the job, as well as identifies character traits that meet the needs of the company and culture fit.
Focus On Cultural “Fit.” Older workers offer numerous benefits for almost every workplace: maturity, unmatched work ethic, commitment, and the reduced risk you will be making a ‘bad hire’ because of their extensive experience, industry connections, and ease of obtaining meaningful references. Though it’s common to think of Baby Boomers as averse to technology and unlikely adopters of new applications, it’s a generalization that is not true for everyone. Extra training for new applications of technology would be needed for any employee, and hard skills like learning new technology and processes are learned and adapted a lot quicker than those soft skills needed to “fit” within a company.
Realize The Importance of Mentorship. If you have not already implemented an employee mentorship program, then do it. Place a higher value on your experienced workers for their ability to train their colleagues into their new roles and to facilitate the successful onboarding of new employees. As the workforce begins to take on an hourglass shape, with Baby Boomers nearing retirement and planning their exits from the workforce and Gen Y-ers anxiously searching for their career paths, mentor-mentee relationships can be implemented in the workplace with numerous advantages for all parties involved.
Recruiting and hiring is talent management, not just talent acquisition. It is a dynamic business issue, and therefore it is a polarity to manage. Never before has the workforce transition been so crucial to the sustainability of modern businesses.
Successful employers will manage their workforce by focusing on the way their whole organization behaves and how decisions are made including: strategy, structure, processes, reward systems, and people policies that all must be aligned. By retaining experience and rewarding the successful training of new talent, employers can lessen the impact of the impending skills gap and sustain their ability to serve their customers and grow their business.
What do you think? What are some ways you can combat age discrimination? Share them with us!