Elder Employees

I am perplexed by the fact that companies have been laying off older workers for years as part of various downsizing projects. I understand the drive to cut costs. Under normal demographic conditions, laying off older workers would even make some sense from a strictly financial point of view, since they generally command higher salaries than younger workers. The fact is, however, that those same companies are moaning about shortages of qualified people and the difficulties they’re having in recruiting really good people. They often resort to paying more for younger workers or having to hire older workers back as consultants at even higher rates of pay than they would receive had they stayed on the payroll.

Moreover, aside from this financial shell game, corporations are often blind to their real costs in terms of what they lose when they lose their mature workforce. They lose a lot of the ‘corporate history’—the deep insights and embodiment of where the organization has come from, its values, its culture and its accumulated wisdom. True, older workers may also embody some bad habits and be carriers of ‘the way it was’. They may have even become somewhat inflexible—but most are not resisting change so much as they are not wanting to pursue change for the sake of change.

Companies spend a lot of money trying to build ‘knowledge systems’ to capture what people ‘know’ so they don’t lose the accumulated knowledge of people as they retire. But what people know may not be as important as who they are. Most of these knowledge management systems don’t work and aren’t used by those who are making decisions. They are extensions of the Cartesian logic that:

  • People are more or less interchangeable objects,
  • Knowledge and information should dictate correct decision-making, and
  • Success is the result of successfully applying the right model of the world through control over people, situations and circumstances.

In my view, none of these approaches begin to address retention (or even appreciation) of the qualitative aspects of who people are, their commitment and their relationships.

For lots of reasons, a lot of us are going to keep working in one way or another for a long time. Whether we work because of economic need or just for the sheer joy of working, we are still playing the game—regardless of what companies are doing. Many of us try to transfer our talents into various forms of community service. Others become consultants or undertake myriad entrepreneurial projects. Some find employment through traditional means, but generally end up ‘underemployed’ in jobs that do not benefit much from what they have to offer.

Headhunters should view many older workers as prime candidates.

  • They generally have better work ethics than younger workers.
  • They obviously have more experience and are often more flexible in terms of relocation, hours and part-time arrangements.
  • Many on Medicare or partial pensions do not require as many benefits.

So why are there no job fairs for older workers? Why are their no hiring bonuses for mature people? Why do we continue to discount and often dismiss older job applicants without serious consideration?

Even though discrimination against older workers is verboten (forbidden), it is still rampant. The numbers of age-related complaints with fair practices organizations and equal opportunity commissions are expanding exponentially. But the issue from my perspective is not one of discrimination: it is just good business and common sense to hire older people.