The usual ageism narrative focuses on the workforce. What’s hammered is the growing body of research about how age bias negativity influences the hiring, promoting, and terminating of workers.
The statistics have become familiar. For instance, AARP, which represents aging Americans, made it known that age discrimination can begin at age 35. Money advisor Motley Fool noted that it can take the unemployed over-55 about nine weeks longer to land work than those younger. The media, including ProPublica, outed that during the past five years 60 percent of those cut at IBM – or 20,000 – were over 40.
The drivers of age discrimination are also familiar. In the hyper-competitive business world, cost-efficiency is the price of entry. Yes, replace high-compensation older workers with lower-cost younger ones. There is also the assumption “aging” means tech-illiterate. And mangers responsible for results have concerns about aging workers’ speed, energy level, and mindset flexibility.
The effects of age bias are also well-known. Ageism, of course, impedes the ability to get, hold, and move on to better work. In my coaching of those over 50, I also have found it can transform one-time successful professionals into self-defeating ones. Here is my book, available free, on that syndrome and how to exit that emotional looping.
However, the ageism story that’s less familiar is the whiplash effect on the employers themselves. Okay, they assume they have to practice ageism to survive and scale. But, that assumption is wrong. Ageism is turning out to be counterproductive.
Every aspect of the business is being hurt. On the list are decline in profits because of lawsuits and reduced sales, damage to the brand, and reluctance of terminated workers to be re-hired (boomerang phenomenon).
The lawsuit piece is obvious. In America, litigation is sexy. No surprise, “Rabin v. PwC” has gone high-profile. Plaintiffs contend that the accounting firm bypasses hiring the over-40 by recruiting on college campuses. A big settlement or verdict will embolden others to also file suit. With so much volatility in business, participating in litigation involves less risk of retaliation for plaintiffs.
Sales are in play. Millennials observe their aging parents being kicked to the curb. They can and do push back by boycotting that company.
In addition, ageism has become a diversity issue. It is joining race, ethnic origins, disabilities, sexual orientation, and gender in being reviewed for no-bias in treatment. Perception of extreme ageism in Silicon Valley is part of the backlash against brands such as Facebook and Alphabet. The organizational culture of tomorrow could be age-neutral.
Interestingly, rather than the workplace being a hotbed of fierce competition, research by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Emmanuel College found that most employees, including younger ones, want all colleagues treated fairly. When that doesn’t happen, there can be a fall-off in motivation. That was especially the situation when older employees were passed over for promotions.
Another development which makes ageism a matter business has to re-think is what’s known as “boomeranging.” At one time, after employees left an organization, that door was forever closed. More recently, with the rapid shifts in how business is conducted, it’s in the organization’s self-interest to recruit those who had proven they have the experience and skills needed at that time.
According to the Society for Human Resources Management, 65 percent of managers welcome bringing back those who were terminated or left on their own. A chief advantage is that they are known entities. However, if those former workers sense they were let go not because of the demands of the business but ageism, they might not return. Sticking with a known prevents the risks involved in hiring cold. Experts document that up to 50 percent of new hires fail.
Taking on ageism, by both employees and employers, could become as influential as #MeToo. The tipping point could be a massive push-back by young workers as they experience age bias sucking the soul out of their parents and superiors at work. No fools, they also get it that they could be next.
Jane Genova (http://over-50.typepad.com) is a coach for those over 50. Complimentary initial consultation, then sliding scale fees. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.