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If companies want to competitively hire, develop, and retain talent, they need to cast a bigger net.
Across the U.S., companies claim that talent is hard to find, resulting in long-term vacancies. A new survey from The Conference Board reports U.S. businesses are facing historic difficulty in finding qualified workers, especially for small businesses in the service industry.
At the same time, younger and older workers express frustration at the inability to find employment. On the early career side, a common meme quips that entry-level roles require 10 years of experience. For experienced workers, perpetual age stereotypes and bias block consideration.
Inclusive hiring practices result in plenty of talent. Exclusive hiring practices predict a tight labor market. Somewhere, there has been a failure to communicate that employers need to cast a bigger net when it comes to hiring, developing, and retaining talent.
Age Bias Across the Age Spectrum
When Chris Cleveland with RelevantDB posted an ad on Hacker News earlier this week titled, “We hire old people (And young people, too),” it went viral. Discussion ensued immediately, revealing perceived inequities against both younger and older employees. What the comments underscored are inequitable expectations, stereotypes, and bias across the age spectrum.
“It’s easier to force younger coders into a slave-like work environment, complete with beer on tap, foosball tables, and other amenities to get them to live at the office to constantly work on the product(s). I can’t say it’s like that everywhere, but most startups are designed to take advantage of their workforce to quickly move fast and break things looking for their market fit,” one commenter wrote.
People of all ages want to feel valued. They want to be treated with respect. Age shouldn’t matter, but it does.
One person stated their hiring practices were age agnostic, then went on to describe how they auto-defaulted to younger, less experienced hires because “age correlates with inflated expectations: salary, paid vacation, benefits, etc. This alone has been our hurdle to hiring people 40+.”
It’s age stereotypes like that which prompted Cleveland to post the ad in the first place. As he explained in the forum, “I’m pushing 60 and I’ve attempted to interview for developer jobs over the last year. Got nowhere despite 40 years of experience. Getting really, really tired of this industry’s attitude toward people like me.”
A study of individual-level charges through the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tested whether age discrimination is correlated to an economic downturn. Analysts Gordon Dahl and Matthew Kneppe used “state × industry × month variation in exposure to the Great Recession to test whether employers discriminate more against older workers when competitive forces are weakened.” For each one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, they found the volume of ADEA firing and hiring charges increases by 3.4% and 1.4%, respectively.
Older women are impacted significantly more. The study indicated an “age callback penalty.” For each one percentage point increase in the local unemployment rate, the callback rate for older women dropped by 1.6 percentage points (off a baseline 10.8% callback rate) relative to younger women.
“The idea of expecting the older generation to step aside, retire, and be out of sight and out of mind is an antiquated idea,” said Dr. Michael North, assistant professor of Management and Organizations at New York University Stern School of Business. “It’s out of touch with reality—not only for older workers but for companies vying for talent.”
Dr. North is one of a few academicians studying the psychology of age and aging in the workplace. He admits to scratching his head over the lack of attention to this changing paradigm.
“I’ve been confused for more than a decade as to how little attention this subject has gotten,” he said. “Age-based prejudice—or ageism—is a subtle and complex phenomenon, yet one that uniquely puts everyone at risk, given that all living people eventually join each age group if they live long enough.”
Dr. North discusses this concept in a journal article he co-wrote with Dr. Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton University. Published in 2012, “An Inconvenienced Youth? Ageism and Its Potential Intergenerational Roots” encouraged more research and emphasized the importance of understanding forthcoming intergenerational dynamics for the benefit of the field and broader society.
Benefits of All-Aged Workers
Dr. North wants organizations and the people making recruiting and hiring decisions to understand the different reasons for hiring older or younger workers.
“If you think about the roles in an organization, the more senior you are, the more holistic type of role you are filling. Presumably, the more work experience you have in the same industry for a number of years, you’ve accumulated a bird’s-eye view and have a bigger picture of what you’re doing. Typically, that kind of knowledge and organizational industry memory is priceless. To kick that out the door is a short-sighted move on the part of the business.”
“On the other hand, you usually hire someone inexperienced because you want to develop them.”
Dr. North suggests that discussions about the nuances of trading off experience with inexperience are not happening in the workplace.
The reality is that not everyone aged 30 is ambitious. Not everyone aged 50 is ambitious. Chronological age is not an indicator of skill, ability, commitment, potential, or any other sought-after type that hiring managers may look for in a candidate.
Ultimately, a diverse, age-inclusive organization is the reality given shifting demographics. Not only are people living and working longer, but the birth rate continues to drop, not only in the U.S. but around the world.
Companies don’t have the choice to cast narrowly for talent. Only hiring applicants between 25 and 35 will always leave them hard-pressed for talent.
Companies do have the choice to be progressive to attract the best talent. But that will require casting a bigger net when hiring, developing, and retaining talent—one that focuses on skill and potential and forgets about age.
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