Hiring someone with worldly experience and wisdom seems commonsensical, but this line of logic does not keep many modern employers from discriminating against the older-than-50 crowd. Preconceived notions of additional cost associated with older workers keep many companies from wanting to hire outside the prime 30–40 age range. Age discrimination, like other forms of discrimination, is illegal, but that does not mean that the aging baby-boomer generation will not face issues.
According to AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons), common forms of age discrimination are:
- Wanting to hire a “younger-looking” person for the job
- Firing people because of their experience in order to keep the younger, lesser-paid employees
- Getting passed up for a promotion so the employer can bring in “new blood”
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals over the age of 40 from being denied promotions, jobs, and training because of their age. This law states that there has to be a lawful reason (not age-related) for all employment decisions. One exception to this law is that smaller companies with less than 20 employees are not required under federal law to observe this act. Another exception is that elected officials, independent contractors, highly-paid company executives, and law enforcement and emergency workers are not covered.
Job Search Tips
To avoid the hurdles of age discrimination, there are a few things Career Coaches can do to make their clients’ job searches easier.
- Help them get online. Myspace.com and Facebook.com are not the best choices for business networking, but a site that caters only to professionals, such as LinkedIn.com, is a great choice because it allows people to prove that they are up-to-date and understand the importance of the social web movement.
- Edit their résumé. Eliminate the old stuff. Unless a client founded Microsoft 25 years ago, the potential employer does not care what they did that long ago. It is also not necessary to put dates by their education. By stating that they earned their bachelor’s in 1968 they are age stamping themselves unnecessarily. Let their employment background stand out without fogging it up with the age question.
- Find employers who embrace maturity. Help clients identify employers who have implemented programs to add more seniors to their workforce, such as Walgreens. Several online job search sites specialize in posting jobs for the aging baby-boomer generation. Finally, seek guidance from AARP, which offers free assistance for anyone over the age of 50.
Focus on Positives
There are many reasons why hiring an older, more experienced individual benefits a company. According to AARP, older workers are 50 percent more reliable and focused than their younger counterparts, have more motivation to work hard, and are loyal. Having model workers like this around often helps company morale and serves as a standard for the rest of the workforce.
When the media promote stories of career advancement, they typically talk about the young and beautiful. Looking on any newsstand, one will find that most magazines publish articles about professionals under the age of 50 (unless the article deals with a major controversy, as in the case with Martha Stewart). When the media talk about the senior population, it typically involves stories on aging, charitable contributions, sickness, insurance, and death. Although aging is inevitable and something that happens to all of us, negative stereotypes about older adults in the workplace proliferate.
The problem with age discrimination is not that senior professionals lose their capability of being valuable and productive contributors in the workplace. Rather, hiring professionals are unwilling to see this population as being vital, energetic, and healthy enough to withstand the requirements of most professional jobs. It is assumed that people over the age of 50 lose touch with the current generation, technology, and business trends. They are falsely perceived as “getting older,” “slowing down,” or preparing for preretirement with hours spent on the golf course or in the garden.
Senior professionals looking to sustain employment in the workplace for as long as possible, or to find new employment opportunities, must understand the challenges and biases that they will encounter, develop a plan of action, and demonstrate a lot of perseverance and will to win the battle. The battle to win should be much easier in the coming years due to the number of organizations and government groups pushing to dispel the myths of the older working generation. Increasingly, the issue facing coaches with regard to seniors is the change from assisting them with retirement to leveraging the skills, wisdom, and talent of this vast resource in a variety of roles.