According to Peter Cappelli, the director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, discrimination against older employees by younger managers is a huge problem in the workplace. Based on research found in his book, Managing the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the New Organizational Order, Cappelli points out that age discrimination is often worse than that of gender or race.
Yet older employees are often the very dedicated and hardworking employees employers are seeking. Here are the ways the age gap can be bridged within companies to create a more cohesive work environment that improves the workplace and the quality of life for everyone.
Understand What the Older Employee has to Offer
Knowledge@Wharton, the online research archives of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, held an interview with Cappelli to gain a better understanding of what the older employee brings to the table and how that competency can be better managed by younger employees. Cappelli noted that older employees are work-ready and equipped to problem solve work-related issues. They also tend to be self-governed and they know why they are working and are committed to it.
Older workers’ experience and familiarity with the culture of a company make them good potential mentors to younger employees. Older employees also have high work performance ratings: compared to younger workers, they have lower turnover rates, better performance reviews, and fewer sick days.
Since older workers have so much to offer, what is the basis for so much workplace discrimination against them? Much of it is due to misperceptions.
Dispelling the Myth that Older Employees are More Costly to Hire
There is a misconception that older employees cost more to employ. With frailer health, aren’t they more expensive to insure? It turns out, they actually cost less. Older employees typically do not have dependents. According to Olivia Johnson of Stanford University’s Department of Economics, dependents are the factor that accounts for the highest costs in the employer’s share of health care costs and are the bane of affordability in the Affordable Care Act of 2010.
One way in which older employees truly may cost more to hire is in the area of experience. The more experience an employee has, the greater their wages should be. However, that cost is often offset by the skill set and knowledge older workers bring. It saves money having someone around who knows what to do and when and how to do it and who can pass that knowledge on to other employees.
Resolving Age Discrimination in the Work Place
Older workers have in common with younger millennial workers that they value experiences more than money and prioritize a work-life balance over long-term loyalty to a company or brand. Cappelli noted that most older workers are flexible and easy to relate to; most of them aren’t interested in trying to tell managers how to do their jobs despite having a wealth of knowledge available. In fact successfully managing older workers has less to do with older employees’ attitudes than the way younger supervisors relate to them.
Younger employers who lord their authoritative positions over older employees will find that being threatened with termination just doesn’t bother an older employee the way it would someone with a family to support. On the other hand, younger employees who are intimidated by their older co-workers will find they are missing out on vital problem solving skills. A balanced approach is often best.
As life expectancy continues to rise, the workforce expands, and more retirees take up part time jobs to supplement Social Security, a multigenerational workplace will become the status quo. As part of a broader rethinking of the way our culture views aging, how younger generations employ and manage aging people is a relevant topic to explore so as not to miss out on the treasure trove of skills and experience the older generation has to offer.
Wharton University of Pennsylvania. (September 1, 2010). ‘Upsetting the Natural Order’: Managing Employees Old Enough to Be Your Parents. Available at http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/upsetting-the-natural-order-managing-employees-old-enough-to-be-your-parents/. Last Visited March 18, 2016.
Johnson, Olivia. (May 2015). Employer Vs. Individual Health Insurance Under the Affordable Care Act. Thesis. Department of Economics. Stanford University. Available at https://economics.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/final_thesis_olivia_johnson_may_2015.pdf. Last Visited March 18, 2016.