The Tectonic Plates – The Shifting Fault Lines Of Age Discrimination

Posted by Carolyn Thompson on Dec 6, 2010 in Building Confidence, Career Path, Job Search, Thinking Positive |

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The plates of the earth may be shifting as they do before an earthquake.

I had a conversation this week with a client that started out,
“Honestly, Carolyn, we’re looking for a little gray hair.”
When I asked them to tell me more, he replied,
“We want someone experienced to lead us out of this recession in order to emerge a stronger organization in the next three years.”
I found this completely refreshing since I hear from so many executives that find themselves between jobs with more than 20 years experience, that they feel they are being passed over for up and comers with less experience.

If you’re an employer looking for leaders, here are a few reasons you might want to join my client in their pursuit of people with more experience rather than less:

MYTH: Older workers can’t or won’t learn new skills.
REALITY: Those over 50 are proving their ability to learn new skills by becoming the fastest growing group of Internet users. Career-changers in their 40s and 50s are taking courses to enhance their skills.

MYTH: Older workers aren’t flexible or adaptable.
REALITY: Because they’ve seen many approaches fail in the workplace, they are more likely to question change. But they can accept new approaches as well as younger workers can as long as the rationale is explained.

MYTH: Older workers are more expensive.
REALITY: The costs of more vacation time and pensions are often outweighed by low turnover among older workers and the fact that higher turnover among other groups translates into recruiting, hiring, and training expenses.

MYTH: Older workers take more sick days than younger workers.
REALITY: Attendance records are actually better for older workers than for younger ones.

MYTH: Older workers don’t stay on the job long.
REALITY: Workers between 45 and 54 stayed on the job twice as long as those 25 to 34, according to the Bureau of labor Statistics in 1998.

MYTH: Most older workers are too “overqualified”:
REALITY: YOU GET MUCH MORE THAN YOU PAY FOR. It’s like getting a Ferrari for the price of a Miata. Forget the foolish business about “overqualified.” Many older workers are ready to throttle back but not ready to stop working. They will step into a non-management job after years of running the whole show and be content with that. A retired Army colonel and high-end management consultant, is happy as a clam driving a bus for the local transit authority. Would a twenty-something with no experience dealing with difficult people do as well? And if they ARE willing to manage for you, the value of their experience is exponential.

MYTH: Older workers can’t keep up with the younger generations in work habits.
REALITY: OLDER WORKERS HAVE BETTER WORK HABITS: Inaccurate stereotypes lead hiring supervisors to assume that older workers can’t perform the way younger workers do. That they will miss work or not get as much done. Deciding a candidate who’s a standout on paper isn’t worth an interview because of unsupported assumptions about age means you miss terrific talent you could have brought on board. She may have missed two days in 30 years. Don’t rely on unfounded assumptions to rule out older workers.
In a study of work habits in 39 separate organizations that included 3000 non-management workers, those younger than 26 years of age were found to be substandard in all six work habits: work standards, safety awareness, reliability/follow-through, attendance, punctuality, and avoidance of disciplinary actions. Workers in the 26 to 45 age range were average on all six. Workers age 46 to 55 were above average on four of the six categories. Workers over 56 were above average on five of the six and twice as far above average as the 46 to 55 year-olds on four of the five. If your hiring needs lean heavily on work habits, you should be looking for people with gray hair.

The biggest irony in all this is that the over 50 crowd is the population that actually has money to spend. They own upwards of 70 percent of the financial assets. Their per capita discretionary spending is two and a half times the average of younger households. They hold almost half of all the credit cards in the United States.
You need people who think like them on your team so you can capture that business. Leave your competitors to duke it out over the twenty-somethings whose credit has just dried up.

To curry this market, you need to have a connection to it. Your marketing, strategic planning, and customer service functions need people who can relate because they are over 50 themselves.

Unless you’re selling youth-exclusive products, having someone on staff who does NOT answer “Thank you” with “No problem” is a plus. If you want to appeal to the full range of customers, you need a full range of ages to serve them.

Now, for all you job seekers out there that fit this bill, here are the caveats:

  • You must be comfortable with your computer skills. You can’t rely on having as large a staff of direct reports as you may have had in the past so make sure you can function self sufficiently.
  • Don’t try to negotiate every job opportunity that comes your way into something that’s perfect for you before you even start. There are four or five more of you that can do the job if you seem too demanding before you even start. Instead, take the time to make yourself an exact fit for what they want. If it’s a mutually beneficial situation you’ll be able to make changes and adjustments to your schedule or personnel roster AFTER you’ve proven yourself first.
  • Be flexible. Companies need adaptable, creative, amiable people at all levels. Just because you’re used to doing something a certain way in the past doesn’t mean you can’t learn a new trick or two that can create efficiency.
  • Express a high energy level. If you’re carrying around a few extra pounds, get some extra exercise. The loss of just a few pounds does miracles for your confidence not to mention your appearance.
  • Be prepared to commute longer than you might want or even move should the job demand. No one wants to move or commute and while the economy is improving, executive jobs don’t grow on trees.
  • Network. Regularly interact with people at levels above and below your job title as well as within related areas of expertise. Going to an event filled with IT professionals when you’re a CFO makes you the big fish in a small pond. You’ll learn about companies you’ve never even heard of, and who knows if they don’t have just the perfect opening for you!

Certain myths about older workers (50+) may allow potential employers to hesitate in hiring them, but most employers realize the true value in hiring employees who have been around for a while. The tectonic plates in the earth are responsible for much of the shaking and rumbling that major cities on a large fault feel every year. You don’t have to be young to be a shaker and a mover in a company and employers know that a truly experienced and wizened worker with “a little bit of gray hair” can lead their companies back into a “boom.”

From Four BIG Reasons to Hire Older Workers by Mary Lloyd.
And The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA
Download this fun handout!

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Feb 24, 2012 at 3:15 am

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