Thursday, February 23, 2017

Age Discrimination

Oh, yes. It’s alive and well.

There are numerous federal, state and local laws prohibiting age discrimination in employment practices, along with all the other characteristics such as gender, race, nationality, religion, etc. Most of these get a great deal of attention both in the media as a whole, as well as in HR circles. Age discrimination doesn’t get that same attention. Are older workers the forgotten minority? According to the 2016 census, over 39% of Americans are over 45 years of age, and that percentage is growing.

According to the EEOC charging statistics, there were 20,857 claims filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in 2016; and 22,594 claims resolved in 2016. If "failure to hire" claims were easier to make, these figures would be far higher. By comparison, there were 32,309 race-based charges and 26,934 sex-based charges filed in 2016.

Older workers face this additional obstacle to keeping their existing job or finding a new job. But why? Is there any reasonable explanation for employers to bypass folks over a "certain age"? Let’s take a look at a couple of the most common reasons employers tend not to hire older workers and then let’s look at the facts.

Older people won’t stay in job very long because they’re near retirement age.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years all workers stayed in any job was 4.2 years. Median employee tenure was generally higher among older workers than younger ones. For example, the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 (10.1 years) was more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years (2.8 years). Also, a larger proportion of older workers had 10 years or more of tenure. Among workers ages 60 to 64, 55 percent were employed for at least 10 years with their current employer in January 2016, compared with only 13 percent of those ages 30 to 34.

Let’s highlight this: workers aged 25 to 34 years only stayed in jobs for 2.8 years. That pretty much puts the lie to the myth, doesn’t it?

Older people are less productive, or have less energy or stamina than their younger counterparts.
In an AARP study, A Business Case for Workers Age 50+, results confirmed earlier research regarding the productivity of older workers.

From the study:

"…………because of changes in how companies compensate their employees (including pay being tied more closely to performance than to tenure), older workers do not cost significantly more than their younger colleagues. In fact, older workers tend to be more engaged than younger workers, which contributes directly to a company’s bottom line."

The study also found that older workers actually tend to be more productive than younger ones. Even in physically demanding jobs like assembly line work, older employees tend to perform better because, quite simply, they make fewer mistakes. Older workers also tend to be more educated, and of course, more experienced than their younger co-workers.

And, quite importantly, older workers are not only are well-versed in the use of technology — computers, tablets, social media and the like — but are eager to learn about new tech developments in their fields because they are motivated to keep up on advancements in their field of choice.

So, how long do you expect any employee to stay in a job? What’s best for your company; is it 2 or 3 years, or 5 or more? Look at the BLS data and the trends you see in your own business. People overall are staying in jobs for shorter periods, and this is especially true of those under 35. Passing on a candidate who you feel is "too old" because you fear he/she will leave the workforce too soon becomes a false belief (and frankly, always has been, hence the laws against age discrimination).

What’s important in any business today? With competition and the costs of failure, getting the job done right at the outset is most likely one of the top items on your list. Bypassing experience, knowledge, skill and dare I say it – wisdom – is pretty short-sighted and won’t bode well in the long run for your bottom line. 

So, while "young and energetic" may seem like great selection criteria, who will be left to execute those ideas (effectively and productively) when the young and energetic move on in 2 years?

Think about these things the next time you ask an applicant how long she intends to be in the workforce, or if he’ll be needing the health insurance, or when she graduated from high school/college. Do you ask the same questions of candidates who appear to be in their 20’s or 30’s, and if not, why not? What you’re looking for in a candidate is not a function of age.

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