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Talent Talk: Age Discrimination Isn’t Just Wrong, It Doesn’t Even Make Business Sense

Image: Alamy/AlessandroBiascioli older businessman
Once upon a time companies hired young workers with the expectation that the top performers would stay until they retired. Those days are long gone: The average millennial changes jobs every two to three years.

I am going to address a delicate subject here, but it is something I feel strongly about, and according to the ancient Latin proverb, fortune favors the bold. In this job market where skilled, experienced workers are getting harder and harder to find, I am going to lay out a case to employers that not only should they not discriminate against the older candidate, but that they should shift their paradigms and embrace that segment of the workforce.

The older worker has been discriminated against for a long time. This is widely accepted, as evidenced by the fact that there are laws against age discrimination. As with other forms of discrimination, it has become more subtle over the years. So, I might hear things like, “It’s an impressive resume, but we’d really like to find someone with more energy,” or “They certainly have the experience we are looking for, but they’re overqualified for this position.”

Why are employers predisposed to think this way? I think there are several reasons, but one stands above the others, and it is not valid today. There was a time when companies reasonably expected their top employees to stay there until they retired. That was the unwritten social contract between the company and employee — loyalty that went both ways. Hence, if you subtracted someone’s age from 65, that was how many years of service you were going to get out of them, give or take a few. Wow, has that changed!

Company-employee loyalty is long gone, with increasingly rare exceptions. The unwritten social contract has been buried by the realities of a global economy, mergers and acquisitions, a demand for short-term business results, and a host of other factors. What you have now is a situation where the average millennial employee is changing jobs every two to three years.

The bottom line: If you want to hire an employee who is very likely to be with your company for 10 years, do not overlook someone who is 55 to 60, or even older. They will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge, show up on time every day, and give you a full day’s work. When the time does come to retire, they will tell you well in advance and gladly train their replacement.

 

About the author

Paul Sturgeon is CEO of KLA Industries, a national search firm specializing in plastics, packaging, and polymer technology. If you have a topic you would like to see discussed, a company that is growing, or other ideas for this blog, e-mail Sturgeon at [email protected].

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