Ageism in the Workforce and What to Do with Harry.

Exit Sign

The Trouble with Harry.

Harry was as loyal as they come. He never took a sick day in over 12 years and was always on time ready to contribute. Harry lived and breathed the company. He understands that the competition for his job is a warring beast but is immensely grateful – every, single, day.  But Harry is now entering his mid-fifties and his company has just been sold to a foreign buyer. Now Harry is known for only one thing. His pricey salary and benefits. Equally, new management has embraced younger more affordable talent as opposed to retaining more senior staff like Harry.

Harry represents a growing statistic in today’s workplace. Companies are paring off seemingly expensive senior staff in lieu of hiring younger professionals with lower paychecks and leaner benefits. All in order to provide a heftier bottom line. Fair enough. Companies have to be competitive to survive; but is it simply the fact of thinner costs, or is today’s workplace trying to find its legs in a new and constantly changing hiring environment?

This is the question being asked by many aging professionals searching for employment today. Making matters worse is the emerging fact that ageism in 2016 means 35 years of age and up.

35 is the new 65.

red lightThe Rise of Ageism.

It has been 10 years since the Ontario Human Rights Commission amended the Human Rights Code to include language around mandatory retirement. Meaning that, “…employers cannot make decisions about hiring, promotion, training opportunities, or termination on the basis of an employee’s age.” The amendment was meant to pave a path of non-discriminatory practices for all Ontarians when working and seeking jobs with employers. No longer were you forced to take retirement. The law now said you can work for as long as you want.

The law now said you can work for as long as you want.

Then came 2009 and the Great Recession. Austerity was rife in most boardrooms and middle management became the reluctant sacrificial lamb. Nowhere could you find faster dollars than within this tier of full-time equivalencies. A trend that continues its momentum in today’s workplace. Business audits provide a sharper focus on trimming older and costlier employees for younger and cheaper talent. A falsehood still being practiced by many employers.


Discrimination or “The Right Fit?”

Human Resources writer Liz Ryan of Forbes argues, “Age discrimination is everywhere. I hear more examples of age discrimination than I hear about sex discrimination, racial discrimination and every other kind put together.” Ryan also states, “…that the number of aging employees continues to grow.”

In the States, Laurie McCann, senior attorney at AARP Foundation Litigation says, “It could be that ageism versus other forms of discrimination is not taken as seriously or viewed as wrong as other types of discrimination, so we don’t attack it with the same intensity.”

Photo Courtesy of James Cullen C.C.

The Generation Gap.

With more and more 35 and over being forced out for younger talent, is this a good thing for businesses? After all, hard decisions are routinely needed to keep business fortunes competitive. But has this momentum delineated the competencies needed to become increasingly competitive? With years of service, comes years of knowledge.By forcing out the boomers and now Generation X’ers, will this permanently supersede practices and policies; thereby watering down experienced talent?

…millennials are changing the hiring landscape.

Born between 1980 and the year 2000, millennials now represent the largest employment sector in America. Unlike their cohort Gen X’ers, born between 1960 and 1980, they seem to have a different perspective on their job hunting aspirations. Aabaco at Yahoo! write that millennials are changing the hiring landscape by rejecting the job-for-life route. They are completely aware that social security will be bleak, at best, and practice a more laissez-faire approach to employment. Side jobs, temporary and contract work are more within their job hunting scopes.

Photo Courtesy of Howard Lake C.C.

Age vs Experience.

So where is the need for senior consult and advice going to come from once millennial workers occupy most workplaces? Decisions are based on mature cognitive thinking. Right?

The Association for Psychological Science put this question to the test. Does age affect complicated decision making? Using a Mars gaming scenario, Texas A&M psychological scientist, Darrell Worthy confirms, “…60-somethings showed a clear, age-related advantage in solving the Martian problem, which required higher order, holistic learning about the changing relationships between choices and rewards.”

There we have it. Older participants are better decision makers. A fact overlooked by many hiring managers.


Retaining Your Leaders.

Statistics state more workers of 45 years and older are staying at their jobs longer – if allowed. This raises the question of why companies are not retraining their aging staff? With the millennial cohort embracing a more casual employment approach, who will be on the job to help train older staff with new digital technologies?

…will they still be on the job to help train older staff members?

Back at Forbes, Karry Hannon says, “The day is coming when employers are going to embrace the value of older workers.” She goes on to add, “People want to keep working for two very core reasons – the mental engagement and for the income.”

Aging workers want to stay and contribute to the bottom line.

Just like Harry.


The Value of Harry

Harry understands, as with everything else in this world, that experience represents knowledge. Harry convinced his new employers that younger staff look up to him for leadership and mentoring. They ask him questions that only he would know the answer to. They depend on Harry to be part of the team. His employers agreed and re-hired him. Harry knows that for a successful company to succeed, all generations need to work together. Each generation brings its value to the organization. Harry knows that this line of thinking is what will grow the bottom line. Not leaner salaries and meager benefits.


The lighter side of ageism.


Creative Commons Photo Credits:
Alan Bloom

Ryan Rutherford

James Cullen

Howard Lake



Can Social HR Help Today’s Workforce?

Photo Courtesy of Martins Bruneniecks

Photo Courtesy of Martins Bruneniecks

Management labour over what – if any – social media can do for them when engaging employees.

Disengagement breeds absenteeism. A fact most managers are aware of and the numbers speak for themselves. In 2012 Statistics Canada pegs the average Canadian worker was away from work for the equivalent of almost two weeks in a year. Fiscal translation: 9.3 days lost representing 2.4% of gross annual payroll, or $16.6 billion for Canadian employers.

Lakshmi Ramarajan from the Toronto Rotman School of Management identified,

‘lack of respect, ideas not being valued, lack of control and the absence of any feedback, the top contributors to burnout and disengagement.’

So how de we get employees back to work?

What about observing their behaviour? I’m not talking about charting coffee breaks and lunchtimes, but really taking the time to see into our staff. Many managers including myself, firmly believe by understanding employee behaviour we are directly enabling better engagement, respect and loyalty. Clearly, if we are to be successful managers, we need to know what makes our staff tick. We owe it to them, our company and to ourselves. So how do we do this without months, if not years, of polling, surveys and interviews?

Enter social media.

This new and constantly changing medium is a natural fit for internal communications to bolster contribution, feedback, value and the ever-important engagement. And of course the most important of all – human behaviours and the rhythms they create. Social media is built on the mining, extracting and fostering of various behaviours and their coveted traits. Why would we not leverage these tools inside our workplace?

Take the behemoth of social interaction, Facebook. CNN’s Doug Gross laid it out succinctly in his article, ‘5 Ways Facebook Changed us, for better, for worse.’ Facebook promotes and fosters good things as sharing, and bad things, as ‘over-sharing.’ If that is even possible in today’s accelerated world of online exchange. Facebook has the inherent ability to adjust and modify behaviour. A leading study at the University of Michigan details how our ‘seemingly’ harmless news feeds have the ability to promote both goodness and wickedness. In one second social media can envision instantaneous moon swings just by looking at images from our Facebook pages.

Are Mood Swings a Good Thing When Deciphering Behaviours?

I believe it is. If we recognize these ’emotional pendulums’ can act as enablers towards understanding how our staff communicate – why not? This is especially warranted where a good portion of workplaces today contain a generous mix of Gen X, Y and millennial employees.

Forbes Magazine’s Jeannie Meister reports in 2014, The Year Social HR Matters how digital immigrants have now caught up to digital natives. A statement aligned to Microsoft data where they polled 9,000 workers in 32 countries and found millennial employees will make up 50% of the 2020 workplace and distinctly see the business value of using technology on the job.

O.K. so this needs to happen. But how?

Everyone Loves to Play Games!

Barbara Swenson at All Business Experts takes it to a whole new level in extolling the virtue of ‘gamification.’ Organizations as LiveHelpNow will gamify your workplace to attain employee engagement quite literally by playing video games. This methodology is supported with further research done by officevibe where 70% of Forbes Global 2000 uses gamification to boost engagement, retention and revenues.

Seems like a no-brainer. What better way of harnessing these behaviour traits than by having our staff actively involved in social media. Whether it is simply bringing their own device to game on breaks, or logging into Facebook, you have a captive audience ready and willing to feed your corporate needs.

Not So Fast. What About Security and Reputation?

Guaranteed the perpetual vanguards of corporate safety and character – IT and legal, are aghast when they hear your new designs for internal communications and staff engagement. After all, they are being paid to look out for malevolent, salacious and damaging events as social engineering, viruses, reputation, liability, privacy and proprietary ownership. Those are pretty heavy words in any context for most companies. Issues needing very discernible and strategic attention.

Dan Pontefract of Huff Post Business reports on the 2014 Proskauer survey:

  • Only 17% of organizations have provisions that protect them against misuse of social media by ex-employees
  • 36% of employers actively block access to such sites, compared to 29% in 2012
  • 43% of businesses permit all of their employees to access social media sites, a fall of 10%

More use for sure but conversely a more rigid and restrictive communication culture.

Queue the social media policies.

So what gives? How much rope do we give our employees when it comes to their keen desire to engage with their personal friends, communities, groups, brands, etc., while at work? At the same time, how can we not use social media to infuse a culture of active employee engagement.

Not any easy solution, but if we don’t embrace social media in the workplace, we may loose everything, including our best and brightest employees.

John K. Bromley