Are Older Workers Marginalized in the Workplace?

Lorrie Clark of the Permanent Search Group in Toronto, Ontario, Canada started a dialogue in the Canada Jobs, Careers and Networking, a subgroup of Job Openings, Job Leads and Job Connections!  group on Linked In.

Are Older Workers Marginalized in the Workplace?

Do you think that aging workers become less valued and even marginalized in the workplace as they grow older?

The thoughtful comments there got me thinking. Here is my point of view of the underlying dynamics leading to this.

Funny how things changes as the years accumulate. When I was in my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, I never really thought about hiring folks who were older. I just hired the folks that fit the jobs I needed filled – and generally age reflected required experience.

As I gained experience, and moved into more senior positions, I tended to hire folks who were the same age or folks who were younger than I was.

Because I moved into senior ranks (CIO level) in my early thirties, I also often hired folks who were older than me – but even then I realized that this was not the usual pattern in the companies in which I worked. People tend to hire folks who are the same age or younger. Most folks are just not comfortable hiring folks who are the same age as their parents.

Then I entered my late 50’s and 60’s. Suddenly, head hunter acquaintances were politely telling me that I was a “hard sell”. The socially polite ones used the words “too experienced”. But a few of them were a little more straight  with me. Here is the kind of thing I heard from them.

“Can’t place folks pass 55 in most of my assignments – people want the appearance of youthful energy – even when it is an illusion. The other reality is that folks don’t tend to hire people that are older than they are. It’s is the exception, rather than the rule. Most of my clients – the folks who make the hiring decisions – are in their late 40s, early 50’s and they hire folks who are younger than they are.”

So I believe that things have not changed all that much in the past 50 years or so on the hiring side.

But things have sure changed on the demographic side, and on the economic side. There are more folks who are healthy and wanting to do productive work who are in their late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s than ever before. And there is a talent crisis coming, as well as continuing economic turbulence. This in and off itself is not enough to produce real change in the hiring marketplace. Things won’t change however till companies, and even more importantly, politicians, do three things.

1. Companies need to stop expecting HR recruiters in their 30’s and 40’s to present candidates who are older than the HR recruiters to hiring managers. Put some recruiters in their late 50’s and 60’s into the recruiting department if you want to see that change.

2. Companies need to stop the hiring myth that we as a company are hiring you for the rest of your career. The employment marketplace and social stats are clear. People will work for a number of companies and have a number of careers in the 21st century. Problem is most companies’ pension plans, even if they have made the move from defined benefit to pay out what your plan is worth, are still structured on the 20th century expectation that you will work  for this company for most of your career.

Cut pensions loose from companies, make them portable, belonging to the individual. Let’s see serious tax and legal frameworks that encourage companies to do that. Politicians take note please.

3. Create a job market place which encourages and supports “interim” or contract assignments which are strongly differentiated from full time or career assignments.

Again this will not happen until appropriate legal and tax framework changes are in place. For one thing, individuals working in this “contract” marketplace need things like income averaging to help manage the risks involved. They also need a simpler “business expense” framework than the one which works for companies / corporations.

But, personal opinion – given the mess that politicians have gotten into by running up big deficits – we are not likely to see this kind of forward thinking from most of them. On my more morbid days, I sometimes think that democracy is a con game in which politicians buy votes with a voter’s neighbor’s (who can vote) and voters’ kids (because government deficit financing of current programs ==> future taxation of people who cannot vote) dollars.

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One Response to “Are Older Workers Marginalized in the Workplace?”

  1. antoinette Says:

    HI Roelf,

    Antoinette here.

    That just crystallizes my thoughts completely about this as I’m now part of that demographic of having lots to contribute but my age is now seen as the downside of hiring me. Your article needs more exposure until it falls on receptive ears and hopefully, action follows – at least that’s the goal we want. The G+M invites commentaries for their Sat. ed. Does that appeal? Or any other local biz mag or paper who’s interested in highlighting this issue. I’ve read upteen articles this year saying ‘oh, lots of IT jobs but no qualified IT people’ which makes no sense considering the pool of older workers out there.

    I’ve monitored several job fairs here for this very reason – lots of younger workers but a fair number of older workers who want to work but have to compete against the younger crowds and the bias of the young HR people hiring their own age group.

    Communitech.ca is the IT org promoting how great K-W is. They have several peer network meetings held and other big public events. Get invited to deliver this message wherever you can to whoever you can.

    That’s my 2 cents worth. Hope you are good.

    Cheers for now,

    Antoinette

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