Today’s article will be of special interest to two groups of folks: employers who need competent, experienced and responsible employees; and competent, experienced, responsible people with wrinkles who want to work in our country’s economy, which needs their skills but is haunted by bias and prejudice against the older worker.
But first, a question:
Who hasn’t read stories about companies that have downsized, profiting by laying off employees close to retirement age — and winding up getting sued by the government for this horrible way of treating people?
“This is one of the worst examples of ageism,” says Dr. Mark Novak, Professor of Sociology and Dean of Extended Education and Global Outreach at California State University, at Bakersfield California. And it’s one of many topics in his book, Issues in Aging, which I just finished reading, and which kept several evenings occupied, learning so much about this vital topic in today’s America.
While primarily a college textbook about gerontology, Issues in Aging becomes a seat on H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, taking the college student — or CEO peering into the future — through the cycles in life that we will all experience, if we live long enough, and requires a box of Kleenex to be nearby. Novak shares very personal experiences with the reader, illustrating both the problems and the opportunities that accompany older age. He does this with compassion, inviting readers to become “a fly on the wall” observing many of life’s most touching moments.
Solutions Ready for Insightful Entrepreneurs
“Think Wrinkles,” Novak says with a broad smile. “Hiring older workers brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and drive. It is the insightful business owner and entrepreneur who sees not age, but great value to the company.
“There is today an army of skilled, motivated people — mature in all senses of the word — that's money in the bank to employers who can see beyond gray hair and the typical bias and prejudice that comes to mind when we think of the elderly applying for a job.”
Why Hire Older Folks?
“There has never been an era in our nation’s history with such an increasing demand for skilled workers and, once (younger people) land a job, up, off they go, in search of better pay, and the cycle starts over again,” Novak observes.
He sees this as offering employers a choice: “Continue hiring inexperienced applicants fresh out of high school or college, or someone who has spent decades in your line of work who needs full- or part-time employment.”
He also asks these questions, which go to the very essence of the employer-employee relationship:
- Who is more likely to show up on time?
- Who is more likely to appreciate having the job?
- Who is more likely to be dependable?
- Who is more likely to give your company their all?
- Who is likely to have a set of values which will benefit the employer’s business?
The answers? Well, if you said older workers, you’d be on the right track, according to research and data from several sources, including the Census Bureau, the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), AARP and CareerBuilder. For example:
- Older workers are the most likely to be on time, according to CareerBuilder. Only 14% of workers 45 and up reported being late at least once a month. Millennials were the least likely to be on time, with 38% saying they were late at least once a month.
- A SHRM survey of HR professionals lists many advantages of older workers, including greater professionalism, a stronger work ethic, greater reliability and lower turnover.
- Workers 50 and up are known to be the most engaged age among all generations, AARP reports, citing an Aon Hewitt Engagement Database of 2 million employees. Sixty-five percent of employees 55 and older are considered engaged, based on survey data, while younger employee engagement averages 58% to 60%. Employee engagement has implications for both retention and business results. It takes only a 5% increase in engagement to achieve 3% incremental revenue growth.
But what about the cons of hiring older workers? Don’t they usually command or expect higher salaries and cost more to insure?
The AARP/Aon Hewitt report explored these commonly held beliefs:
It concluded: “Contrary to common perception, workers age 50+ do not cost significantly more than younger workers. Shifting trends in reward and benefit programs (performance-based vs. tenure-based compensation, the decline in pensions, and the fact that health care costs have increased more slowly for older workers than for younger workers over the past decade) mean that adding more age 50+ talent to a workforce results in only minimal increases in hard dollar total labor costs.”
Remember: Age Discrimination is Illegal
“Employers need to understand that there are significant consequences for conduct that results in age discrimination,” notes Bakersfield labor attorney Jay Rosenlieb, who represents employers in two separate instances:
- The employer who says, “We need a younger workforce,” and then literally moves out the older workers.
- The older worker who is an applicant, or who is attempting to re-enter the workforce and is getting stymied.
“My advice to our business clients is to always make employment decisions — promotion or termination — based on established criteria. Make hiring decisions based on abilities and qualifications.”
So, what should — or what can — an employee caught in that situation do or say?
“Employees can always seek assistance from the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) or DFEH (Department of Fair Employment and Housing), but I would strongly urge any employee or applicant to first have a conversation with the employer, manager or HR department before running off to a government agency.”
Rosenlieb has a cautionary statement for employers who choose to ignore the rights of older workers:
“As the Boomer generation continues to age, becoming a more prominent part of the workforce, older people will want to continue their employment while others will seek employment. I see a possibility of more age-discrimination claims. All employers need to treat their employees with fairness, respect and understand the consequences of failing to do so.”
After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."
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