We’ve all heard about the aging workforce, but did you know that nearly 25% of workers in the manufacturing sector are 55 or older?
Who knew, right?
What you might also find startling is that employers paid $810.4 million to settle age-discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2010 and 2018.
That figure, not incidentally, does not include the costs of hiring lawyers to litigate these cases.
We all know that discriminating against a team member because of their gender or their race is a no-no. But discrimination based on age – which, believe it or not, can begin with employees as “old” as 40 – also is prohibited.
The problem isn’t expected to fade away any time soon, especially given that so many Americans today plan to continue working long after they turn 65.
For the record, surveys of human resource professionals find that older workers are among the most skilled and productive employees. Older workers also can bring greater maturity and professionalism to the workplace; a stronger work ethic; are more reliable and loyal; and there’s less turnover among their ranks.
But don’t take my word alone on this. Here’s how Peter Cappelli, co-author of “Managing the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the New Organizational Order,” sums it up:
“The big myth is performance-related: that older workers don’t perform as well. Yet on almost every dimension of job performance, research shows that older workers perform better than younger workers,” Cappelli says. “They’re more conscientious, they’re absent less and they have better social skills.”
So, how can you help protect your business and employees from the repercussions of age discrimination? Here are five ways:
1. Examine your recruitment practices. Does your website include photos of an age-diverse workforce? Do your job applications ask for age-related information such as date of birth or when a person graduated? Is your interview panel age-diverse? Train recruiters and interviewers to avoid ageist assumptions, such as that a younger worker will work for a lower salary or that an older worker will not remain on the job for long.
2. Educate your employees. Steering technology projects to younger staff is a form of age discrimination. People often don’t realize that. Raising awareness across your organization can help prevent age discrimination from happening at all. Moreover, educated employees can provide you with an early-warning system on ageism should they spot potential bias among their coworkers or supervisors.
3. Keep a close eye out for ageism. You want to catch it before it becomes an issue. Are your older workers being excluded from projects or teams? Be sure workers of all ages are appropriately represented in hiring and promotions. Also, watch to see if they’re not scoring as well on performance reviews or earning smaller pay increases. Unless there’s evidence to support a middling review, discrimination could be at play. Finally, try anonymous employee surveys. If older employees feel they are being overlooked, they might let you know.
4. Make sure to address any reports of age discrimination with an immediate, thorough investigation. That includes interviews with those involved and any witnesses, a step best taken in conjunction with HR. And you might consult with corporate counsel if you have concerns about interviewing appropriately.
5. Talk to your insurance broker about your coverage. Making sure you’re maintaining the appropriate level of liability insurance will protect you and your company against the financial impact of an age-discrimination claim.
The bottom line is that companies that allow age discrimination to creep into their culture are sabotaging their ability to recruit and retain talent at a time of record low unemployment and an aging workforce that’s happy to stay on the job.
In the end, what you ultimately want to do is foster a multi-generational culture that rejects age stereotypes, just as you would stereotypes about race, disability, national origin, religion or sex.
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