5 Age Stereotypes Workplaces Need to Eradicate

 

November 21, 2017
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The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) just turned 50—but age stereotypes in the workplace abound. Experts say that organizations need to move beyond outdated labels and embrace the value that older workers bring to the table.

"Our culture fears aging," said Cathy Ventrell-Monsees, senior advisor with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Washington, D.C. She was speaking on a panel at the American Bar Association's recent 11th Annual Labor and Employment Law Conference.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Equal Employment Opportunity]

Ventrell-Monsees identified five major assumptions about older workers that need to be removed from workplace ideology. These stereotypes are easy to identify because they are so commonly accepted, but research refutes all of them, she noted.

1. They Cost Too Much

AARP published a study in 2015 called A Business Case for Older Workers; the study was conducted by a third party, Aon Hewitt. The researchers found that the correlation between aging employees and employer costs is now minimal, in part because employers focus less on seniority now when they reward workers. "While the overall allocation of compensation costs has remained steady, compensation and reward design have evolved toward a more age-neutral distribution of costs," according to the case study. For example, 90 percent of large companies reported in 2015 that they use performance-based variable compensation methods rather than only tenure-based—compared to 78 percent in 2005.

2. They Are Afraid of Technology

The EEOC held a commission meeting in June for the ADEA's 50th anniversary and heard expert testimony about age discrimination in the workplace. Sara Czaja, director of the Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement in Miami, told the commission that older workers generally aren't afraid of technology. With the right resources and training, older workers learn as easily as other workers and actually embrace technology, she said.

3. They Aren't Motivated

"It turns out in the research that older workers are actually the most engaged employees in the workforce," Ventrell-Monsees said, citing an AARP survey finding that 65 percent of employees ages 55 and older were engaged at work. That means that they care about what they are doing on the job, she noted. "Engagement translates into dollars for employers."

4. They Get Sick More Often

The research shows that older workers take fewer sick days than younger workers, Ventrell-Monsees said, but she noted that when older workers do have a serious injury or illness they tend to have a longer recovery period.

5. They Are Resistant to Change

AARP research found that older workers tend to be entrepreneurial and innovative. Twice as many technology startups are founded by people in their 50s than people in their 20s, Ventrell-Monsees said.

'Disrupt Aging'

People are staying in the workplace longer, and that trend is expected to continue, said Lori Trawinski, a director with the AARP Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Workers typically need to save more for retirement because many companies don't offer defined benefit plans anymore and people are living longer.

AARP research conducted in 2012 with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that workers ages 50 and older wanted competitive benefits and flexible work arrangements. Businesses are responding by offering reduced hours, flexible scheduling and phased retirement and by hiring retirees as consultants or temporary workers.

Many companies are developing programs to facilitate knowledge transfer for when older workers ultimately do retire, Trawinski said. For example, some companies have a training program in place so that retiring workers can formally prepare their replacement to take the reins.

Very few companies include age in their diversity and inclusion programs even though age diversity can improve organizational performance and lower turnover, the AARP and the SHRM Foundation reported. Incorporating age in diversity programs can be particularly critical considering that as many as five generations make up the current workforce.

"At AARP we are on a mission to disrupt aging," Trawinski said. "The time has come for us to view aging as a positive—as a time of opportunity—and to view older people and older workers as contributors to society."

 

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