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Generational Hiring

Ageism in the Workplace: What You Know About Older Workers Is Probably Wrong

The other day I was chatting with a group of friends about careers — career development, job satisfaction, work-life balance, how to change one’s career, etc. — when one of them (let’s call her Jane) said, “You’re so lucky, it’s too late for me to change jobs; no one will want me.” Jane has been working in the same field, and at the same company, for much of her adult life and feels it’s time for a change of jobs. Oh, and Jane is just a few years away from retirement.

In case you think her perspective is an anomaly or one based on emotions, the unfortunate reality is that ageism is alive and well in corporate America.

This is the second post in a multi-part ageism in the workplace series on The Hiring Site. In this post, we will focus on the misconceptions some employers have of older workers that may trigger ageism and the challenges of different generations working together. In our first post, we discussed the challenges older workers face when it comes to employment and finding a job. In case you missed it or want a refresher, check it out here.

What Triggers Ageism? These Misconceptions, For Starters.

Some employers may harbor false notions or misconceptions of older workers — often unfounded — that may knowingly or unknowingly trigger biased actions against this demographic.

Below we outline and debunk some of the most common myths about older workers, so you can be more objective when considering bringing mature workers on board.

  • They’ll leave anyway, so why bother hiring them? When I asked Jane to elaborate on why she felt her odds as a job seeker were unfavorable even though she probably has more experience than most candidates out there, she said employers will not even give her resume a second look because even if she were more than qualified, they believe they have no incentive to invest in hiring and onboarding someone they know is going to leave in a few years. The reality: Unless you can perform mind games, it’s impossible to guarantee that anyone from any generation will stick around for more than a few years, so why should it be different for older workers?
  • They are not up to date on the latest technology. Which industry are you in? How reliant is your business on every employee knowing cutting-edge tech tools? Have you assessed whether there are in fact technology skill gaps rather than just assuming so? If you have, do you know if the candidate is willing and open to learn new technologies? They may be ready to dig right in — so empower them to do so.
  • They won’t be happy having a younger boss. HR and career consultants point to the reality that older workers are reporting to younger bosses more and more these days. In fact, a 2012 CareerBuilder survey showed that more than 1 in 3 workers reported that they were working for a younger boss. So, this is not a new phenomenon, and odds are older applicants already have experience working for and dealing with younger managers and have no qualms with it. So stop for a minute an ask yourself if perhaps YOU’RE the only one hesitating.
  • There aren’t a lot of opportunities for those without the latest skills. Isn’t that what training and development is for? If you have any concerns, first determine what specific skills the position requires, identify the gaps and ask the candidate whether he or she is interesting in taking proactive steps to augment their skillset.
  • They are past their prime. Unless you’re attempting to hire an NFL quarterback, you simply can’t be certain of that. Sure, there may be some physically strenuous jobs (professional athletes come to mind) where this may be true, but what specifically does your industry demand? Keep in mind the wealth of wisdom and experience that older workers can bring to your organization.
  • They won’t have as much energy as younger workers. Are you expecting them to run 10-mile marathons every day? What kind of “energy” does the job demand – strenuous, physical energy or mental energy? Older workers are traditionally known for having an incredibly strong work ethic, which means they will make sure the job gets done.

Read this to find out more about how you can engage and manage the older generation in your workplace.

Can’t Different Generations Just Get Along?

Even though fewer older workers are delaying retirement than in the past few years, there are still a significant number of U.S. workers who can’t afford to retire financially (79 percent), need the health insurance/benefits (61 percent), enjoy their jobs (49 percent), enjoy where they work (46 percent) and even fear that retirement may be boring (27 percent), according to CareerBuilder’s annual survey on retirement.

That means there may be as many as five different generations in the workforce today. So what’s an employer to do?

Here are five tips to alleviate conflict and promote a culture of collaboration in a multi-generational workforce.

  • Open the lines of communication. First things first — communication is the foundation of good relationships. Get different generations of employees in a room where they can interact informally and learn about one another’s  work styles and preferred methods of communication. For instance, some may prefer face-to-face interaction or speaking over the phone; others may find digital communication more efficient. There needs to be a trade-off, but it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page and that no one demographic is always expected to sacrifice.
  • Foresee and address potential culture clashes. What are some areas of known conflict that arise in a multi-generational workforce? One example might be work-life balance. If, for example, millennials work remotely or have flexible schedules whereas older workers prefer to hold a 9-5 work schedule, a situation might occur where a millennial IMs her team late in the evening and expects a prompt response, while others have clocked off for the night. Or a mature worker might come to the office at 8 a.m. and want to have a face-to-face with his younger boss who’s working remotely in the morning. Pinpointing these potential conflicts ahead of time and talking through solutions can help alleviate tense situations.
  • Avoid making sweeping generalizations. When in doubt, it’s always better to ask. Encourage all generations of workers to ask instead of assuming because it can save time and potentially avoid arguments and miscommunication.
  • Encourage employees to seek mentoring from different age groups. Everyone has room to grow and improve, so mentoring sessions or even regular informal chats can help broaden people’s perspectives and enables best practices to be practiced and shared.
  • Learn what motivates different generations — and individuals. Even though there’s some overlap in terms of motivators and engagement drivers for a given generation, you don’t want to rely on stereotypes of what you think will motivate each member of your workforce. Don’t assume a one-size-fits-all approach will be effective; instead, ask and learn.

Tell us in the comments below: What are some common myths about older workers and how would you advise your peers to be cautious of unfounded misconceptions? What tactics have you found to be most effective when dealing with generational dynamics?

Deanna Hartley

About Deanna Hartley

Deanna Hartley is a senior copywriter and community manager on the creative services team at CareerBuilder, where she writes about issues that are top of mind for employers and recruiters – including talent acquisition, employee engagement and retention. An avid social media user, Deanna is the face behind @CBforEmployers on Twitter as well as CBforEmployers’ Facebook and Instagram pages, so it’s easy to stay connected with her. Prior to joining CareerBuilder, Deanna was a senior editor for the Human Capital Media Group, publishers of Talent Management, Chief Learning Officer, Diversity Executive and Workforce Management magazines. Deanna holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She loves caffeine, social media, pop culture and dogs – though not necessarily in that order.


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