How Age Discrimination Can Be a Subtle Drag on Businesses

Start-ups in the technology sector and corporations throughout the economy are always on the lookout for young, energetic, and talented potential employees. Most organizations recruit employees on college campuses, and more are tailoring their work environments to what they believe people are looking for in this demographic.

However, it may surprise some people to know that a growing number of the so-called “Baby Boom” generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) are being pushed out of the labor force despite having valuable skills and a proven work ethic. Age discrimination is hard to notice sometimes, but it can be costly in many ways.

Avoid falling into the age discrimination trap by following some simple principles. Organizations of any size can benefit from experienced workers, who often generate far more value than their compensation.

Overlooking Excellent Talent is Costly

All hiring managers know that finding talent is more than just a numbers game, yet too many overlook excellent candidates because of age or salary requirements. This can hurt the bottom line, and sometimes means losing excellent talent to the competition.

Many of the aforementioned Baby Boomers have been in the computer science and engineering industries since they began. Remaining in such a competitive field for that long means they have valuable experience and most importantly, the drive to learn new skills.

A career in technology, and many other highly skilled professions, often requires more wisdom than simple knowledge. Many experienced programmers have forgotten more than recent college graduates have ever learned; this means they have the ability to learn new skills and adapt to changing technologies.

If an applicant lists recent technology languages on his or her resume, but they are older than the rest of the candidates, it is a major mistake not to follow up. They may have deeper insights into the way coding language works because of their broader programming context and knowledge.

Age Discrimination Hurts Productivity and Morale

When a company lays off older employees because of higher associated compensation costs, they are losing far more than just employees. It can cost up to 150% of an employee’s compensation to replace him or her, which often renders downsizing efforts fruitless.

The reason for this is profound. Experienced employees not only have skills, but advanced knowledge that increases the value of their work. Knowledge of the business and how to work most effectively within the existing organization is often just as valuable – perhaps more so – than raw skills and talent.

Furthermore, your employees may notice that the workforce is not diverse in terms of age, and morale could fall as a result. Many employees fear losing their jobs as they age and could transfer to a company they feel will value them in the long-term.

This kind of discrimination can create a very toxic environment in an organization. Younger workers do not have mentors to rely on and fear that they will be let go once they reach a certain age.

Sometimes it is not quite so obvious why a workforce is not diverse in terms of age. Companies are often surprised to discover how their policies make them less attractive to or overly harsh against older workers.

How to Identify Age Discrimination

It is important to know whether or not your company is in compliance with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. A comprehensive assessment of hiring practices and the associated outcomes can be helpful in determining whether or not a company is unintentionally discriminatory.

It is important to understand the meaning of “disparate treatment” and “disparate impact” when assessing organizational diversity policies and hiring practices. This dichotomy is at the heart of understanding diversity in the workplace.

Disparate treatment occurs when employers intentionally discriminate against groups protected by law. Explicitly discriminatory statements and policies demonstrate disparate treatment.

The other side of the issue, disparate impact, is much more difficult to prove and the burden lies on the victim to demonstrate it in court. Organizations should do a self-assessment to see if their policies have disparate impacts on protected groups in order to ensure they are not discriminating unintentionally.

The principle underlying disparate impact is that while an organization may not be doing so intentionally, their policies may present greater obstacles to protected groups than others. Apparently neutral policies may in fact impact protected groups more than unprotected groups.

As it pertains to age discrimination claims in the court system, disparate impact is historically a contentious issue. Judges are divided on whether or not such a claim can be levied in the case of age discrimination, because often employers can demonstrate the “business necessity” of policies that unintentionally adversely impact older workers.

For this reason, many businesses are reluctant to perform a much-needed internal analysis of whether their policies may unintentionally discriminate against older workers. If a plaintiff can point to internal data, they may be able to make an argument that the company knew it was discriminating but did not alter the policy.

However, due to the added value of experienced workers, these organizations are at greater risk than simply losing a legal battle. They are losing out on employees with skills uniquely suited to their businesses and lowering morale of current workers.

Discrimination of Any Sort is Bad for Business

Employers who successfully manage talent realize incredible rewards far beyond any cost savings associated with “downsizing.” By demonstrating that there is a real talent pipeline in an organization, and providing mentorship and guidance, an organization can garner loyalty and take advantage of specialized skills associated with long-term employees.

While younger workers may come cheaply, they often require much more costly training and management than their older counterparts. Every business can improve the quality of their operation by ensuring employees of all ages are valued and supported.

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Jeffrey Dupont

Jeffrey is a dreamer and artist passionate about changing the world and helping others turn their vision into a reality. And yes, he does know Andrew Bernard also attended Cornell.

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