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Employees are NOT commodities, they don’t depreciate with Age

“He is ‘too old’ for this job.” The HR manager said to me after we interviewed John (not his real name). She continued saying, "he will not fit into our culture." John had been laid off by his previous employer due to restructuring at the age of 53 yrs.

Ageism in the workplace is very real. It is the elephant in the room. I see uproars over every other “ism” (sexism, racism…etc) but everyone turns a blind eye to ageism. It is being swept under the carpet; To the HR manager’s disappointment, I did hire John. John brought a wealth of experience and taught me a lot that I never learned from an MBA.

We live in a youth oriented society. The hype about "out with the old, in with the new" needs to stop. You can't Google experience. A person's age doesn't lessen their ability to work hard or to make a valuable contribution to the organization or society. When someone crosses 50+ doesn't mean they cannot function and should just retire and sit in a corner. Common myths: "They can’t learn. They are not creative. They are not as productive as younger employees. Customers do not respond as well to older workers." These are all based on false premises and assumptions.

Anna sent me this email:

"I would get telephone interviews, which would go quite well, However, when I showed up to the face-to-face interview. It never went further as they would classify me as "overqualified." "Seasoned" is another word I was routinely hearing. I feel like my 30 years experience has become a double-edge sword. So I stopped putting the year I graduated from college on my resume. I also left out years from my employment history and started dyeing my hair and I finally got a job."

It's sad when someone has to submit to this ideal to land a job.

It’s easy to drop the years from the resume. It's more difficult to hide that required information (DOB) on an online job application. A bigger majority of people don't even get to an age discriminatory level. Keyword searches, ten second resume scans and other high-volume candidate churning processes exclude many such candidates.

German researchers find older people tend to be more productive than younger employees. Research also confirms verbal communication and employee loyalty improves with age. Companies are looking for diversity to foster innovation and growth...but which one? Only gender or ethnicity? Why not age diversity? Older skilled workers add a level of diversity to a younger team that helps create well-rounded solutions. Institutional knowledge and maturity together make people 40 and over the perfect balance. Sadly many of them are being made redundant to restructuring, outsourcing or grads entering the workforce. We need to do more to capitalize on the skills, talents and experience of a significant number of "senior" workers who are usually overlooked and undervalued.

In the previous generations, age was something to be admired and honored. However, in today's world it is looked upon with contempt. Only in certain high level positions being over 40+ is acceptable. We recognize it in management and politics where we trust those with decades of experience. Many individuals 40+ have to stay in whatever job they are doing once they reach that age because their opportunities are limited. This form of discrimination continues to make the workforce unhealthy for individuals, and creates stagnation within our society as we are not open to change. We need to teach our younger generations to respect our veterans instead of just throwing them under the bus. This can only form part of the organization culture when it's endorsed from the top.

Mark Zuckerberg once said "If you are over 30... successful companies should not employ you." This brought no outcry. Why? Because ageism is widely acceptable and silently encouraged. Just look at the job adverts, we don't see persons over 40 in those settings. The majority do not view it as discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. Yes there is legislation but it is hard to prove. At the moment it seems the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has no interest in enforcing the law. Most employers require application via ATS system which does require dates. If they don't ask your age, they require employment dates for each position in your work history, and the date of college graduation. There are too many ways to break this law.

A person should not be afraid or feel embarrassed to state their age. With age comes wisdom, experience, knowledge, resilience... and the list goes on. Age and experience should be rewarded, not punished. It’s time to stop discrimination on the grounds of a person's age. We need strong advocates to stand up to businesses who embrace ageism. We can no longer sit idly by and tolerate this type of discrimination. It has gone on for far too long. Age diversity is just as important as any other type of diversity and should be included in a company's diversity plan. The line " We are a equal opportunity employer " should have a real meaning.

With the increased life expectancy and with many countries opting to push back the retirement age, ageism has become a critical issue.

The baby boomer generation may be getting older, but, they still flex a tremendous amount of economic (and voting) power. Only when we, as individuals as well as a society, make it clear to employers that the legal, financial, social, and other costs of age discrimination will be much steeper than any benefit (perceived or actual) gained, will we begin to see an end to this type of discrimination.

Even if you think this does not concern you now. Your decision to remain silent will come back to bite you. Inevitably, we all will grow old.


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