It Takes a 45 Year Old Longer to Find a Job Than It Takes to Bike Across America

Minimizing ageism in the workforce is good for business

Last year, when the AARP got the results of their “Value of Experience” survey they discovered that 76% of respondents, aged 45 and older, believed it would take longer than three months to find a job. That’s an awfully long time especially when you consider that it takes about two months to bike the TransAmerica Trail.

In spite of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, ageism is alive and well. Some would even say it’s thriving. Which inevitably brings us to Silicon Valley. It’s no secret that the tech industry has a longstanding issue with diversity. A 2016 Payscale study found that workers at tech companies are overwhelmingly young and male. Seven of the 18 companies they surveyed showed a median employee age of 30 or younger (compared to the U.S. average working age of 42). That’s alarming news for even older Millennials who are now in their late 30s. And a recent Dice survey of over 4,000 tech professionals revealed that Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers are the most at-risk groups for age discrimination in the field.

But how pervasive is ageism in industries across the spectrum? The AARP’s survey also found that nearly 2 out of 3 workers age 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job. And with more older Americans in the workforce than anytime since the turn of the century, that’s a whole lot of age bias everywhere.

Nearly 9 million people aged 65 and older are employed full or part time — an age group that represents almost 20% of Americans. This is very good news for the companies that hire them because age diversity in the workplace, along with gender and racial diversity, is proven to positively impact the bottom line. A recent study reported by the Boston Consulting Group found that businesses with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue. And research by McKinsey & Company finds that companies with the greatest diversity are 35% more likely to see financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

The numbers speak for themselves.

But why else should older workers be on the radar of hiring managers? Let’s consider some of the reasons:

  1. Research has found that mature workers may have more innovation potential than their younger colleagues. The age of eventual Nobel Prize winners when making a discovery and of inventors when making a breakthrough, is averaged at about 38 years of age. Even for those who are not Nobel Prize candidates, life experience has a great deal to offer. As do the perspective, skills and insight gleaned over many years in the workforce.

  2. Confidence often comes with age and experience and that’s something that translates to work that’s done with an additional degree of finesse, decisiveness, aplomb and expertise.

  3. Increased loyalty. The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 9 in 10 workers older than 50 are somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs. Now that’s the kind of appreciation that can make a real difference when it comes to employee retention.

  4. Workers 50 years and older have spent decades honing soft skills like written communications, professionalism, analytical, and interpersonal skills. And they are also better listeners according to a survey done by Jack Zenger and reported in Forbes. “As people got older, they became more interested and capable of listening better, ” Zenger noted. On the job, this may translate into better focus and more insightful solutions.

So how can companies, especially those in the tech industry, combat ageism in the recruiting process and attract older, more qualified candidates?

Drop the “Culture-Fit” Model. Older workers bring unique assets that come with a depth of experience. One of these is an evolved approach to problem solving. Research by David Galenson of the University of Chicago found that older people are better at solving thorny, complicated problems due to the deeper levels of understanding and pattern recognition that they’ve acquired over the years.

Talk the Talk. One way to reduce age discrimination in hiring is to be more aware of problematic language used in job postings. Certain terms such as “recent grad” or “digital native” may discourage older candidates from applying. Age-inclusive language would also eliminate descriptions that cap the number of years on the job, such as “up to seven years of experience required.”

Provide More Work Flexibility. Want to attract more experienced candidates? Then focus on what they really value. Experienced workers may need a more flexible work schedule so they can attend school-related events, or tend to an ailing parent. Highlighting these benefits within your organization can pique the interest of applicants who are finding the work life balance at their current jobs too stressful, or who want to align themselves with a company that empathizes with their needs.

Investing in diversity across age, race and gender is not only a step in the right direction but central to a company’s future success. Hiring managers that take the time to reinvent their recruitment methods will see an impact in company performance and productivity. Not doing so leaves far too much amazing talent untapped. And who can afford to do that?

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