How to Prevent Age Bias When You’re Hiring
Are you one of the companies which discriminate against candidates and employees based on their age?
If so, then it’s time to consider changing that. If you don’t, you might be forced by the law to do it.
In the US, workplace discrimination is illegal and there are two laws to prevent it:
- Age Discrimination Act of 1975 which protects against age discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal aid. This law is enforced by the Civil Rights Center.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) prohibits discrimination against certain applicants and employees who are age 40 and above. The areas covered include hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment. This is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Many organizations practice this bias during the hiring process.
They thus avoid getting older workers on board mostly seeing them as an expensive liability.
Can you identify age bias in the hiring process?
The hiring process is full of ways through which age discrimination happens.
Although you may think that it starts at the interview, it happens well before that.
As you will see in the section on preventing age bias when hiring, job advertisements bear the first evidence of this practice.
During the interview process, this is likely to happen through the questions asked or comments made.
These are questions which subtly suggest that the hiring team would not prefer having the candidate join the company.
Here are some questions and comments which may be made during an interview:
- Our work culture requires a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Do you think you have these?
- Looking at your qualifications, we can see that you’re overqualified. This may not be the best job for you.
- Our company targets clients who are youthful by using fun projects and solutions. Will you be able to fit in with the team?
- We use the latest technology which is very different from what your resume indicates you have used in the past. The technology is complex and difficult to learn. Can you learn fast enough?
To get a good idea of how age discrimination is real and harmful, watch the below video.
Such questions and comments can be very damaging to the comfort and confidence of older candidates.
Even if the candidate is qualified, they may end up being unable to answer more questions properly.
Eventually, the candidate will wait for an invitation to the second interview but fail to get one.
The only conclusion she will make is that her age was used against her. And she may be right.
Despite any willingness to learn new technology and prove herself, the opportunity will be unavailable.
BENEFITS OF HIRING OLDER WORKERS
As much as the society may be shunning the older generation, there are some real benefits of hiring them.
These are benefits which only the companies truly pursuing diversity can experience.
Apart from the benefit of providing a different perspective, there are others. Your company will benefit from these if you start including older employees in your workplace.
Here are 6 benefits you’ll experience when working with older staff.
1. Commitment for the Long Haul
One big characteristic of younger workers is that they easily change jobs. If what they expect is not provided, they’ll jump at the first available opportunity.
Unlike them, baby boomers prefer to stick around more than to move around.
This is well driven by the different motives driving the generations.
Whereas the younger generations are looking for career progress, baby boomers are looking for stability and security. As such, once they get a job, they’re likely to stay for some time.
Since the hiring process is costly, as a manager or supervisor, you’ll have some savings if you avoid frequently hiring.
This is a great opportunity if you’re looking to reduce employee turnover.
Older employees will stay around and could even stick with you if things go wrong.
2. Understand and Embrace the Work Ethic
There are many differences between the millennials and baby boomers.
One stark difference is in what they value. One Pew research found that there are distinct differences distinguishing the generations and these are what make them unique.
For baby boomers, they rank work ethic at 17% as the biggest identifier of their generation. The millennials on the other hand rank technology use at 24% as the main identifier of their generation.
Although the older workforce is reducing as many retire, work ethic is something you want to retain. If the majority of your staff do not truly value work ethic, you might end up with productivity issues later on.
3. Better Interpersonal Skills
Along the lines of having strong work ethic is their ability to communicate and relate better.
This has been naturally developed by their communication lifestyle.
Older workers grew up with face-to-face communication.
In the cases where distance became a hindrance, they would write letters what we now call snail mail.
Compared to the era of the internet and instant messaging, there is a big difference in these two communication modes.
Nowadays, even people sitting in the same room could be chatting on WhatsApp rather than gathering together and having a group conversation. Instead of calling the other person and having a conversation, sending a text message is preferred.
The technological advances have definitely brought about some positive changes.
But these changes have also left many without interpersonal skills.
If your team only consists of employees who prefer chatting to talking, then your business could suffer in the long-term.
One study shows that the lack of interpersonal skills affects work performance.
You might also have an employee going through personal challenges but fail to know it.
This is because the lack of people skills prevent people from expressing themselves. Even in an open environment.
4. More Experienced
One of the more obvious benefits of having older employees around is their wealth of experience.
This is not just in their own field of expertise, but also in other aspects of the overall work.
If someone has for example worked in customer care for 15 years, you can be sure there is something they know which others may not.
Whether they worked with a CRM software or not, they can probably handle a customer better.
Building on the interpersonal skills they have, it’s easy for them to be able to make a connection with customers. It might be over the phone or even the chat box.
Their experience talking with customers can help them pick up disappointment and frustration more easily.
This can help you save costs and prevent situations from getting worse.
And if you’re worried that this experience might be too expensive, you’re probably making an assumption. One thing about the older workers is their ability to be frugal.
They often have their priorities well defined and this may not include going out every weekend.
It may surprise you that they might be willing to embrace the pay you have set for the position.
Just tell them the pay and be open to a negotiation as you would with any other candidate.
5. Natural Mentors
Do you think it’s important for you to train your employees and make them better? Do you see this as an opportunity to improve their performance and therefore, the company’s performance?
If you do, then consider mentorship. Even internal mentorship.
Anyone with great interpersonal skills and some experience makes a very good mentor.
This is probably the best benefit you can expect from your older employees.
Hiring people of the same age and expecting them to drive the company to the next level may pose some challenges. Yes there are startups run by young people.
This is not to mean that those companies won’t go far.
Facebook was started by a college student in 2004 and is still going strong years later.
It’s not only one of the biggest and most profitable companies, it’s also defining the future in many ways.
All the same, you might want to consider what the lack of mentorship can result in.
With lack of guidance on how to go about certain situations, costs will certainly be incurred for consultancy.
And who are consultants?
Aren’t they people with more experience and good communication skills to help clients solve their problems?
If you had some older staff in your company, there is some wisdom they would naturally share.
And since they’re part of the workforce, they won’t necessarily ask for payment.
Priding themselves in the fact that they’re making the company better, it would be their joy to offer advice. Anyone willing to learn can then grow and become invaluable to the company.
The companies which understand this have older staff as part of their workforce.
This is why big companies have boards which primarily sit people in their 40s and above.
6. Have Established Professional and Social Networks
Having worked for many years, older staff are also more established in their networks.
You may think that a younger candidate is more connected since he has 100,000 followers on social media. Maybe even 1 million. But just how much of a connection is there in those numbers?
Some of those people have never met the candidate. Others are childhood friends who no longer have anything in common other than attending the same school.
It is similar to what happens with social media influencers. Higher numbers point to fans; less numbers point to real influential connections.
With good social skills and much face-to-face communication, deep connections were formed.
Social gatherings which were more common back then than now ensured people had time for one another.
It is on the backdrop of this that older workers have deeper and more meaningful connections.
You can bet that they know someone in a certain office, department or agency.
And if they don’t, then they know someone who knows someone there. It then becomes easy to get help from others through them compared to younger candidates who are mostly in competition with one another.
HOW TO PREVENT AGE BIAS WHEN HIRING
Despite these benefits of the older workforce, so much good can be said about younger candidates. They are definitely important and you can’t afford not to have them as part of your team.
But this is not a showdown about who is better than the other. It’s all about diversity and inclusivity, especially when it comes to age.
If you decide to keep the older workers at bay, there are benefits you will have to forfeit. And considering that discrimination in itself is wrong and illegal, it’s wise to consider avoiding it.
In the event that you’re accused of discriminating against someone due to age, you may find yourself in court. There have been cases and companies are losing the legal battles.
To prevent provoking the law while seeking out the benefits older workers can bring, there are measures you can take.
These will help you avoid bias and cultivate an enabling and friendly working environment for everyone.
Include Age in Your Diversity and Inclusivity Policy
Every company has some policies which guide it in operations and decision making processes.
These are often drafted by the HR team with the help of attorneys.
Where attorneys are not available or too expensive to be involved, the HR will be responsible to cover all legal ground.
With a policy dictating the company’s code of conduct, you’ll be well on your way to curbing ageism.
If you don’t have clauses addressing issues on diversity and inclusivity, then you have to come up with them. If you have them but they don’t include age discrimination, then these need to be included. It should be clear to every employee that age discrimination is something the company is against.
As with other rules, make everything explicit. Avoid having gray areas to avoid confusion and loopholes which might facilitate discrimination.
If you’re doing this after the company is already established, then you’ll have to train your staff about the changes.
It should be more than dishing out the updated policies and expecting them to read and implement them.
Since long-lasting change has to flow from the top, the management should lead by example.
Specifically Target Older Workers
Part of implementing policies against age discrimination includes actively seeking out older candidates and hiring them. As long as a candidate is qualified and seems to be a good fit, hire him.
Seeking out older workers requires some deliberate moves. It won’t happen by chance.
If you advertise for jobs yourself, then you need to be more specific in who you’re targeting.
When using services like Hire by Google, specify the target demographic.
Alternatively, let your ad be open to all ages. An older person seeing your job ad will hopefully apply and get the opportunity.
Also consider advertising your jobs in the local dailies.
These are the sources of information older workers look to, even if they have social media accounts.
Whereas the younger ones will be well served by campus notice boards, older candidates would not be aware of ads placed in those locations.
Another way of targeting this demographic is by looking to your alumni networks for candidates. Your alumni can be good candidates and they can as well know people who can make great candidates.
If you have contracted recruiters to source for candidates for you, then you’ll need to tell them about your new requirements. Be ready to explain the reason for the decision in case they ask.
It might be a good opportunity to create awareness and reduce age discrimination.
Check Your Job Descriptions
As you do this, keep your job descriptions aligned with your intentions.
If going the recruiter way, let them do the same.
You can even ask them to share the job description with you for approval before posting it.
There are two ways of handling job descriptions:
1. Avoid age-discriminating words – as mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are certain comments which are discriminating. You or your team can make these comments quite unknowingly and hurt your potential hires while putting yourself at risk.
It therefore pays to familiarize yourself with the words to avoid and think about others like them. Knowing these words, you should ensure they don’t feature anywhere in your job descriptions.
Words to avoid include young, energetic, creative, flexible, fun-loving and the like. Just to be clear, older workers can also be energetic, creative etc. However, these words are known to imply that the position is open for younger candidates.
2. Use words which encourage older candidates to apply – on the other hand, you can actively invite older candidates by using certain words in your job descriptions. These are words which older workers will specifically identify with.
Some include committed, experienced, strong work ethic, leadership skills, mentorship abilities etc.
When older candidates see these, they will be encouraged to apply as they know they have these qualities.
Showcase Age Diversity
There is still more you can do. Showcasing age diversity is a good way of communicating that your company values and has a place for those over 40.
How do you do this?
Consider these three ways through which you can achieve this.
1. In company publications – if you publish any company material, consider inserting the pictures of employees who are 40+. This will send a message to the readers of the publication. If it’s a magazine and it’s distributed to shareholders, they will understand what you’re communicating.
You can have an article written by someone whose picture clearly shows that they’re over 40 years. You can also include their title to further communicate that such people play an important role in the company.
And they don’t have to be high-ranking employees to be featured in the magazine. They can simply be referred to as “Team Procurement” or something similar.
That will also show that your company works as a team and departments operate in a similar manner.
2. On the company website – the company website is another platform you can use to make your position on age discrimination known. The “About Us” page can have some employees featured with their pictures and a brief description of who they are.
Since the “About Us” page is often checked out by visitors, they’re sure to see that you have older people in your team. When older workers see a job ad from you, they will likely apply since they’re sure there is a place for them.
3. In the hiring team – your hiring team speaks a lot about your company. If you’re after bridging the gap between the young and old in your company, include older workers in the hiring team.
Just imagine what a 40+ candidate would think when she finds some panelists being her age.
She will be very comfortable knowing that someone is familiar with her concerns. She’ll be glad not to be subjected to certain questions while being considered for her qualifications and the value she will bring.
It’s also a plus for you as this is one person who will be happy to work with you. That increases the chances of loyalty and productivity.
Encourage a Culture of Embracing Age Diversity
The last tip we’ll share requires some effort from all employees.
This is for the purposes of creating a work environment that will make older employees comfortable and valued.
As with many other meaningful changes, this has to start from the top. If the top management is passive about this, there is no way those below them will fully embrace it.
Probably the first step is to announce the forthcoming changes in the company policy.
As soon as the changes are made, have a meeting and discuss the highlights of the updated policy.
Be open to questions and opinions.
Anyone with contradictory opinions should be handled gently and not silenced.
Don’t create the impression that this is something being forced upon them, even if policies have to be enforced.
If possible, have an expert come in and discuss the matter. Let him share the benefits of diversity and encourage it.
Also consider inviting representatives from companies which excel in this.
Let them share stories about the experiences in their companies.
Having created this atmosphere, once you start hiring and promoting older employees, you’ll have your own stories to tell.
Age bias, or ageism, is something which happens quite often; at times sub-consciously.
The only way to prevent it is by actively taking steps against it.
With the enabling policies and conducive work environment, you can make your company friendly for all ages.
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