By Jai Thade, Head of Content
One unexpected consequence of the longer lifespans that modern healthcare and technology have gifted us with, is that people are choosing to spend more of these added years at work. More people are electing to delay retirement, and some even choose to forego it altogether.
Thus, organisations have a responsibility to ensure that their older employees find that their employee experience doesn’t deteriorate as their age advances.
Presently, the research indicates that there’s a lot more we can do. According to a recent 2018 AARP study (“Age Discrimination Common in Workplace”), nearly two out of three workers aged 45 and older say they have experienced age discrimination. This problem isn’t just limited to discrimination, however. It’s also one of representation. For instance, one 2017 article (“Silicon Valley has an age problem”) noted how almost half of the 18 top Silicon Valley companies have a median age of 30 or younger. Such skews are undoubtedly influenced by practices right at the hiring stage of the pipeline. For instance, a study conducted by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank (“Study using fake resumes shows widespread age discrimination”) used more than 40,000 fake resumes that were identical except for age and gender. They submitted them online for more than 13,000 jobs. It found that response rates went down as age went up, with the lowest call-back rates for the oldest applicants.
It’s important for us to also remember that by age-based discrimination we don’t just mean discrimination against the old. Younger individuals can also be discriminated against based on their age. For instance, a study published in the Human Resource Management Journal (“Too Young To Lead? When Youth Works Against You”) found that discrimination for being “too young” is at least as common as discrimination for being “too old”.
So what can we do?
One place to focus on is right at the stage of recruitment. It is worth noting that some of the points mentioned below are already captured within employment legislation in some countries:
- Removing a field asking for their age or date of birth from the application form
- Avoiding references (direct and indirect) to age in job descriptions. One example is asking for ‘X’ years of experience. Such a step can potentially rule out younger individuals who may have the skills and expertise required, but who haven’t had the opportunity to demonstrate them over an extended period. Another more subtle example is using terms such as “mature” or “energetic” that may inadvertently imply you prefer someone of a certain age.
- The ways you advertise a job can also restrict your candidate pool. For instance, newer job portals may skew in favour of younger candidates. Attempt advertising jobs in a manner that makes them visible to the largest possible audience. Avoid using publications or employment agencies that focus on a narrower market.
There are also steps and checks organisations can take for existing employees.
- When it comes to appraisals, ensure that age is not a relevant factor in the evaluation of performance. You can gauge this from comments like “X retains their enthusiasm despite their age” or “Y shows remarkable maturity for their age”.
- Pay attention to blind spots in workplace communication that can lead to exclusion. For instance, say an older employee has a team of younger colleagues. Now suppose the younger colleagues often go out socialising to a venue after work where they don’t invite their older colleague because they don’t think the venue would suit them. If they end up regularly discussing workplace issues and problems during this socialisation, their older colleague is likely to feel excluded from their team. A potential solution would be to restrict those discussions to office-based meetings, inviting their older colleague, or switching the venue.
Hand-in-hand with attempting to treat all equally irrespective of age, it is important to take account of age data to notice and rectify any imbalances. How do you identify such imbalances? By keeping track of your company’s age profile as per various age bands (e.g. 22-30, 31-40, 41-50, and so on). This will provide you insights into potential issues. For instance, you may need to begin planning for an incoming peak of older workers retiring, or to take actions to rectify great imbalances in a younger age band.
This article is adapted from our programme “The Breadth of Diversity & Inclusion” which can be found on our platform Include LXP. In this programme we look at both commonly discussed as well as overlooked dimensions of diversity. Using concepts like intersectionality and acquired diversity, we aim to arrive at a greater appreciation for the uniqueness of individuals and learn what principles individuals and organisations can follow to ensure all people, irrespective of where they lie on these dimensions, feel like they belong and are included in their teams and workplaces.
To find out more about how this and other programmes can be made available to employees in your organisation, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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