Business leaders are considering this as a crisis and not an opportunity.
Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends
study found that 20% of business and HR leaders surveyed viewed older workers as a competitive disadvantage and an impediment to the progress of younger workers. The report concludes that “there may be a significant hidden problem of age bias in the workforce today.” It also warns that “Left unaddressed, perceptions that a company’s culture and employment practices suffer from age bias could damage its brand and social capital.”
How bad is this growing ageism in the culture and at work?
Yet the flawed perceptions persist, a byproduct of stubborn and pervasive ageism. Positive attributes of older workers are crowded out by negative stereotypes that infect work settings and devalue older adults in a youth-oriented culture. Older adults regularly find themselves on the losing end of hiring decisions, promotions, and even volunteer opportunities. Research from AARP found that approximately two-thirds of workers ages 45 to 74 said they have seen or experienced age discrimination
in the workplace. Of those, a remarkable 92% said age discrimination is very, or somewhat, common. Research for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco backs this up. A study involving 40,000 made-up résumés found compelling evidence that older applicants, especially women, suffer consistent age discrimination
. A case in point is IBM, which is currently facing allegations
of using improper practices to marginalize and terminate older workers
Irving concludes with a series of recommendations for business leaders, such as relaxing the notion of a one-size-fits-all workweek:
To start, you need to reconsider the out-of-date idea that all employees work Monday through Friday, from 9 to 5, in the same office. The notion that everyone retires completely by age 65 should also be jettisoned. Companies instead should invest in opportunities for creative mentorship, part-time work, flex-hour schedules, and sabbatical programs geared to the abilities and inclinations of older workers. Programs that offer pre-retirement and career transition support, coaching, counseling, and encore career pathways can also make employees more engaged and productive. Many older workers say they are ready to exchange high salaries for flexible schedules and phased retirements
But no matter what, leaders must confront this trend and prepare:
The realities of the demographic shift under way is no longer an option. CEOs and senior executives will need to put the issue front and center with HR leaders, product developers, marketing managers, investors, and many other stakeholders who may not have it on their radar screens. This will take guts and persistence: Leaders must bravely say, “We reject the assumption that people become less tech-savvy as they get older” and “We will fight the impulse to put only our youngest employees on new initiatives.” To genuinely make headway on this long-range issue, companies will have to make tough, and sometimes unpopular, decisions, especially in a world where short-term results and demands dominate leaders’ agendas. But isn’t that what great leaders do?
A must read. Worth using one of your free monthly reads on HBR.
Are you seeing an increase in businesses being willing to offer training for their workers?
“I think it is increasing. We did interview some really large manufacturing firms. They did say in the 80s they were doing a lot of training and then realized they weren’t in the training business: they were in the manufacturing business. A winning strategy for them has been to poach workers from all the smaller firms who train people and then they go on to these bigger places. But the labor market has gotten so tight that even the bigger firms, they admitted that strategy isn’t working for them anymore. They still have jobs to fill. So now they are willing to train.”