As older applicants know, getting a new job when you are over 50 years old is difficult and the reason often involves age discrimination. Employers like to recruit youthful employees, but they overlook the expertise and loyalty that older workers offer. Graying workers are fighting back in the form of age discrimination suits, so employers would be wise to reevaluate their aggressive pursuit of young workers.
Texas Roadhouse, the restaurant chain, recently agreed to a $12 million settlement in an age bias suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that Texas Roadhouse overlooked older applicants for server, bartender and host positions. The restaurant denied any wrongdoing, but after spending years in litigation and countless dollars on attorneys’ fees, Texas Roadhouse agreed to ensure that older applicants are considered consistently alongside younger ones. Silicon Valley is also facing allegations that no one over 40 is welcome to apply for a job (women of all ages face similar barriers in the tech industry).
In a more unique claim, PriceWaterhouseCoopers is the defendant in a class-action lawsuit targeting its college campus recruiting program. The 53- and 47-year-old named plaintiffs allege that their applications for entry-level positions were rejected because they did not fit PwC’s usual profile of a Millennial college grad starting a career in accounting. The plaintiff’s pleading scornfully mentions PwC’s brochures featuring lots of smiling 20-somethings. PwC admits that 80% of its employees were born in 1980 or later. Statistics like that make PwC a rich target for an age bias suit by an angry Baby Boomer or Gen X’er.
Smart employers are learning that the emphasis on hiring people under 40 can backfire. In 2016, more than 20,000 age discrimination claims were filed with the EEOC and another 2500 such claims were made to the Texas Workforce Commission that year.
Employers who fail to hire older workers risk more than just lawsuits. They miss out on the loyalty and tenure of older employees. While young people are prone to changing jobs frequently, older applicants tend to stay and be productive for many years. Society for Human Resource Management research shows that the employers they surveyed have discovered that older workers are more “mature/professional” and have a “stronger work ethic”. They found that contrary to stereotypes, older workers actually miss less work days and are excited to learn new things.
Mature workers often have broad networks and contacts. Their work and life experience mean they require little training or supervision. And many applicants born in the 1950s and 1960s have been using computers consistently since the Apple 1 was invented, so their technical skills are well-honed.
These realizations have caused some employers to adopt an “older workers first” preference in their hiring practices.
How can you as an employer avoid age bias mistakes with your recruiting and hiring and take advantage of the benefits of hiring older workers?
- Your recruiting materials should feature employees of all ages and highlight benefits that would appeal to mature applicants. Avoid any terminology to describe your preferred applicants that smacks of age discrimination, such as “fresh”, “energetic”, “new blood”.
- Post jobs in places that older workers would look, such as print media, LinkedIn groups specifically targeting mature employees and job sites such as AARP’s Life Reimagined.
- Reach out to older workers at career fairs and seminars.
- Publicize that your company is specifically seeking workers over 40. This generates goodwill for your company with the public as well as notifying mature applicants that they are welcome to apply.
- Make sure that your first-line managers who are actually doing the hiring have been educated on the Company’s commitment to hiring older workers.
- Train your hiring managers to see the long-term possibilities of hiring an older worker. 75% of mature workers plan to work past normal retirement age either due to financial necessity or because of a love of being productive and busy, so there is no reason to assume a mature worker will only make a short-term commitment.
- Never hold a long period of unemployment against an applicant. Many older workers have difficulty finding a job after a layoff through no fault of their own. Even though Americans over 55 years old will make up 25% of the workforce in 2019, older workers who lose their jobs are unemployed for 10 weeks longer than jobseekers who are between the ages of 25 and 34.
- Health insurance is a concern for older workers, so strive to make your benefits package attractive and affordable.