The Kid vs. The GOAT
Tom Brady did it again. Last Sunday, he led the Buccaneers to victory and won a record 7th Super Bowl, soundly defeating rising star Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Many underestimated Brady, a 43-year-old veteran, assuming he was simply too old to compete against his much younger opponent. But the outcome of that game should give us all pause for thought. As Americans, we often discount the abilities and contributions of older people in our society (although 43 is still young by most standards, other than football). Both Brady and Mahomes are excellent athletes and immensely talented, so what put Brady on top? His teammates helped, of course, and so did his coaches. But perhaps experience, drive, and the tacit knowledge that only comes with time made a difference, too.
While most forms of discrimination in the workplace have gone under the microscope in recent years, ageism continues with little effort to eradicate it. In this article, we’ll examine why it’s so pervasive and what your organization can do to avoid it.
The battle continues.
It’s been more than 50 years since the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was enacted to protect individuals age 40 and over from discrimination throughout the full cycle of employment, including hiring, termination, pay, job duties, and more. But surprisingly, one in four discrimination claims is age-related according to the EEOC. And in a 2017 American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey, a majority of workers over the age of 45 reported that they had seen or experienced unfair age-related practices in the workplace. Clearly, ageism in the workplace is alive and well.
Age discrimination is often subtle.
Age discrimination can be hard to pinpoint because it takes elusive forms, says Laurie McCann, a senior attorney with the AARP Litigation Foundation. Rather than hiring managers telling job applicants that they are “too old” for a position, companies often engage in the less obvious practices. For example, they may limit recruiting for entry-level positions to college campuses, use algorithms for online job applications to screen out older applicants, or cap the years of work experience sought, such as stipulating that candidates should have fewer than 10 years of experience.
Employers who engage in these practices are missing out.
Older workers have a lot to offer. They tend to be resilient. They’ve faced a lot—enduring the stresses of decades in corporate environments, working and caring for aging parents and children at the same time, and adjusting to a range of circumstances over decades of life experiences. Research from Bell and Bolch indicates that older workers are also inclined to have well-developed communication skills, creativity, a sense of loyalty, and a strong work ethic. A 2018 study from AARP revealed that older workers top the list in reliability and their ability to respond in crisis situations. And as the largest sector of the aging population, baby boomers happen to be the segment where the most institutional knowledge resides. What organization wouldn’t want employees with numerous positive attributes like these?
Rely on facts, not fiction.
Why some employers are wary of older workers isn’t always clear, but it may be due to perceptions rather than facts—for example, anticipated high salary demands, expectations of heavy reliance on costly health benefits, the belief that they may be unfamiliar with the latest technology, or that they will be short-timers. Oddly enough, the same business owners who are concerned about hiring older workers because they may only stick around a few years usually have the same concerns about flighty younger workers. (Truth be told, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workers aged 55-64 stay in their jobs longer and take fewer days off than their younger counterparts.)
To help avoid age discrimination in your employment practices, here are some suggestions:
- Be mindful of your job descriptions. When you’re looking for soft skills required to fill a role, think carefully about how you describe those skills. Words and phrases like “over-qualified”, “recent college graduate”, “youthful” and “energetic” can be seen as discriminatory. Instead, use terms like “experienced” or “dedicated” that convey a candidate’s passion and work ethic without the implication that they must be young to successfully perform the required duties.
- Avoid comments or actions that reflect negative stereotypes about older workers. For example, excluding an older employee from a key project that requires sophistication with computers because it’s assumed that he or she doesn’t have the skills.
- Use objective criteria to make layoff decisions. Ensure that any workforce reductions don’t target older workers disproportionately. This is how courts assess whether a pattern of discrimination exists in race- and sex-discrimination cases.
- Invest in training and development. All managers should go through unconscious bias and diversity training. This material should focus on all forms of discrimination, not just gender and ethnicity.
- Showcase diversity of ages on your website. Be sure to include images of people of all ages and incorporate age-inclusive language throughout the content.
Don’t miss out on a large and talented pool of individuals.
Although older employees are among the most knowledgeable and proficient members of the workforce, they’re often overlooked in favor of younger, less experienced workers. Find ways to channel these assets so everyone wins. When senior employees have opportunities to contribute and mentor other workers, it builds a sense of security, provides meaningful work, and nurtures the overall success of the organization.
It’s time to embrace a multi-generational workforce. Finding and retaining those valuable mature employees will be well worth your time and effort, and The HR Team is here to help. Please contact our experienced professionals for more information.
About The HR Team: Founded in 1996, The HR Team is a Maryland-based human resources outsourcing firm committed to developing strategic, customized solutions that respond to the unique needs and cultures of organizations of all types and sizes. Available as a one-source alternative to an in-house HR department or on an à la carte project basis, the company’s flexible service models address the full spectrum of HR needs that many organizations struggle to address. The HR Team helps clients achieve their highest level of success by providing value-driven human resources services that leave them time to focus on what they do best: directing business growth and profitability. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, the firm serves all of Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia. To learn more about The HR Team, call 410.381.9700 or visit https://www.thehrteam.com/.