Ageism remains an unresolved issue in hiring practices, as the warped stereotypes surrounding mature workers when it comes to competency, technological savvy and longevity in a role greatly influence employers in recruitment and promotion decisions.
Toby Marshall from Stable and Wise is an ageism warrior educating organisations about the tremendous cost of age discrimination. Here, he discusses why ageism still exists, how it negatively impacts both individuals and workplaces, and the ways in which an age-positive approach to hiring can elevate your business.
What is ageism?
Ageism is discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age.
A recent survey indicates that almost half (45%) of all baby boomers believe they’ve been overlooked for a job opportunity based solely on their age. The number of older people unemployed in Australia between December 2014 and December 2019 increased by 7.8 percent, and of those who were employed, 21.2% were underemployed (working less than 35 hours per week but would prefer to be working more).
In New Zealand the statistics are no better, with around 72% of women, and 57% of men believing they’ve been discriminated against due to their age.
The problem, according to Toby, is that ageism manifests itself in many different ways and is widespread.
“Our focus at Stable and Wise is on fixing the damage caused by this ageist ignorance and generating more employment prospects for the older generation,” he explains.
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace reveals that only a 5% increase in (paid) employment for Australians aged 55 and over would result in an additional $48 billion to the national economy – every single year.
So why isn’t this happening?
Many people simply don’t believe that age discrimination exists – or that if it does, it’s not a problem in their workplace.
“This mindset persists because so many recruiters are millennials, often overlooking older candidates based on misinformed beliefs, such as their skills are not current, or they’re not as productive. So by hiring younger people, they’re hiring better,” says Toby.
Then there’s the problem of defining the age that people start experiencing age discrimination.
“One reason why ageism exists is that there is no agreement on the age at which it begins,” says Toby.
“Researchers regularly use five or six different ages – 40, 45, 50, 55, 60 and even 65 – and a range of 25 years is just ridiculous. It’s too wide.
“The only verifiable proof of when ageism begins is when the average time spent unemployed starts to rise, and that’s when we turn 40,” Toby finishes.
According to Toby, there are four common myths that are easy-to-spot signs your workplace isn’t age-diverse in its hiring practices. Older workers are perceived as:
Less healthy, therefore less productive.
“Absolutely not. Older workers take less than half the sick days of 20-somethings,” rebuts Toby.
Less intelligent, innovative, or creative.
On the contrary, older workers bring valuable knowledge to the job and a different perspective to younger generations. According to Toby: “Research on Silicon Valley startups found the vast proportion of companies that go on to succeed are run by over-40s.”
Demanding of higher wages.
Not so, says Toby. “In fact, wages for Gen Z and millennials are growing faster than the rest of the population, meaning the wage gap is diminishing.”
Toby also points out that while workers deserve to be remunerated for their experience and ability, those over 55 are five times more likely to stay in a job compared to their younger colleagues.
“When you consider staff turnover can cost a company the equivalent of 18 months’ salary per employee, that makes the more mature employee a financially sound option!”
“Because of this false belief, older workers are not as highly trained, as they’re excluded from training programs. Despite this, older workers are now rapidly learning new technology skills because they have to – and they can,” finishes Toby.
Perhaps the biggest downside to ageist hiring practices is business missing out on top talent because their candidate pool is limited. That means companies wanting to stay ahead of the competition are sabotaging their exposure to highly experienced mature workers.
“If you believe the myths mentioned earlier, it may seem like a rational decision to make somebody redundant, or not hire them, because the alternatives are younger and potentially have more years to give to the company,” says Toby.
“However – this simply isn’t true. Turnover in the younger demographic is higher compared to mature workers. More than 50% of millennials in Australia and 42% in New Zealand plan to leave their company within two years.”
Age discrimination can also have devastating effects on a person’s self-esteem, financial security and overall well-being.
Striving to be better: the benefits of a diverse age pool
Despite ageism in our workforce, Toby is positive about the opportunities ahead. In fact, he believes three big benefits – when understood by hiring managers – are more than enough to tip the scale in favor of more age-diverse recruitment practices:
- Driving innovation.
“Age diversity brings different experiences, expectations, styles, perspectives and knowledge. And the most diverse organisations are usually the most innovative,” he says.
- Lower staff turnover.
“Turnover is one of the biggest expenses in the modern business world, particularly as careers shorten. Stabilise this by increasing your proportion of workers aged 40 and over – it will have a huge impact,” advises Toby.
- Two way mentoring.
Our life expectancy is increasing. By 2055 it’s estimated men will live to an average of 95.1 years, and women an average of 96.6 . This means people are increasingly working well beyond the current average retirement age of 55.
Workforces can now include up to four generations of employees working side-by-side. Through mentoring and sharing soft and hard skills, organisations can identify new solutions to everyday problems and improve company culture.
“Young people are typically better at adopting new technologies. They can mentor mature workers and show them how to do things faster,” says Toby.
Everyone should play a role in eradicating ageism in the workplace – whether you call it out as an observer or are directly involved in the hiring process.
Embrace age diversity in your company, and it can have a profoundly positive effect on your business and its people.