A friend of mine shared a copy of the AARP Bulletin with me. It featured an article by the organization’s CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins, on the benefits older workers bring to employers. Jenkins moved to AARP after working in government for 25 years. Most people assume such transitions are impossible. Jenkins argues that this is not true. The number of employees in the workforce who are 50+ is growing despite the fact that some employers still practice age discrimination.
Older workers bring a wide range of benefits to employers. The most obvious is experience. However, employers also note that older workers bring reliability and knowledge. They mentor less experienced employees. Jenkins claims that these benefits outweigh any increased costs. She ends her article with these simple but strong words: “Experience adds value.”
Some employers will always want to hire younger workers. Why? They will work for a lower wage, and they will be easier to manipulate. I often tell clients who are worried about age discrimination that it can work in their favor because it will keep them from working for a bad boss or a company that does not want to pay its employees fairly. Any prospective employee – old or young – should be evaluated on their contribution, not their age.
One of my clients is worried about getting laid off. Three people in is his department have been let go. They are all higher paid employees age 50+ who have been with the company for more than ten years. He has been with the company for 15 years and makes more money than the people who have been let go. His boss has reassured him that his job is not in danger, but my client knows that his former co-workers were told similar words of encouragement.
Could my client take action against his employer for age discrimination if he’s laid off? He could, but he doesn’t want to go through the hassle. What he’s doing instead is being proactive in updating his resume and starting a job search before he gets bad news. He’s not happy with the way the company has changed and would probably want to look for a new job even if he wasn’t worried about getting a pink slip. His income has been flat over the past few years. The best way for him to get ahead is to find something new. Don’t look back unless you’re doing so to move forward.
Older workers have a target on their back. They often make more money, which is the sole focus of companies that want to improve “productivity” through salary cuts. For many older workers, job loss is very difficult because age discrimination exists. However, for the lucky few, being older can be a great advantage.
I have three clients who recently decided to retire. Each worked for a company that was going through rapid change. Their opinions were listened to – and ignored. Companies they cared about were not the same place anymore. Rather than play the game and hope to last a few more years, each of these people wase able to retire with full benefits. Given tax laws enacted in the 1980s, they can continue to work full/part-time as they wish.
Who is the loser in this scenario? The employer who let loyal workers take their dedication and knowledge into retirement. Many corporations and some smaller companies have lost sight of all but short term, bottom line thinking. Beyond measurable contributions, dedicated employees bring the intangible qualities that are hard to measure. They know how the company works and how problems were solved in the past. They put in the extra hours because they are committed to the company, not a paycheck. I expect to see more older workers following this pattern in coming years. Once they are eligible for retirement benefits, the tables will turn. The big bad boss won’t be so big or so bad.
I like to use separate banks for my personal and business banking. I noticed something funny the other day: None of the employees at either bank were over 40. When I first opened my business account, the branch manager, teller manager, and several of the tellers were my age or older (I’m 52). Over the past three years, those employees are all gone. It’s the same story where I do my personal banking. The faces that I knew when first used the bank are all gone, replaced by much younger employees.
I frequently counsel clients that age discrimination is a reality we have to deal with. On a personal level, is still believe that to be the truth. We can’t move the clock back. However, as a customer, it’s offensive that a company gets rid of good employees because they can find a cheaper alternative. Customers are alienated when the people they’ve done business with disappear. It seems that the banks don’t care. Money first; people last. Too often that has become the model for business in America.
Today’s Huffington Post led me to a great resource for workers 50+ from AARP. The website lists best employers for older workers as well as resources to help with resumes and interview preparation. Too often, older worker assume that all employers practice age discrimination. Some do, and they are probably miserable people to work for. Smart employers value experience and are willing to pay for it. Check out the tools from AARP and share them with your friends.