Why should anyone hire a middle-aged person? They’re old, tired, inflexible and can’t keep up. Besides, they’ll probably retire in a few years anyway. Wrong, all wrong!
Modern work life is for the fast, furious, flexible—and the young. That’s the impression that you get when browsing through job postings. None of the ads—obviously—expresses directly that they have someone junior in mind, but the message is often clear anyway, embedded not-so-subtly in the job descriptions and lists of employee requirements: The ideal candidates “thrive in high-paced environments” and can “multitask efficiently”. Companies describe themselves as “innovative, driven and expecting exponential growth”. Stock photos used in the ads feature mainly young, pretty people.
Suggested reading: Middle-aged and fed up with your job?
Statistics, too, are stacked up against middle-aged job seekers. Based on a sample of more than 40,000 job applicant profiles in the United States there is age discrimination in hiring against both women and men. The older you are, the more obvious the discrimination. Also, unfortunately, women experience discrimination more and from a younger age than men.
We’re not being ageist but…
Why do so many companies favour young employees at the expense of us slightly more seasoned ones? A hiring manager who was interviewed as part of a research project in the UK to explore some of the views managers held about older workers had his answer ready:
“We’re actually looking for someone between the ages of 25 and 35. That’s not being ageist but that’s just ensuring they’ve got the energy, the drive and the passion to learn.”
So…Does that mean that once you’re past 35, you’ll have lost all that and ended up with no energy, no drive and no passion to learn? Sound to me a lot like that manager has fallen in the trap of age-related myths and stereotypes, much like these:
1. Ageing employees are not as smart
It’s true that our brains change as we age. However, our ability to think, reason and learn does not decline at all as drastically as we might think. Even if we become slower at processing data and poorer at remembering details, we, on the other hand, become better at managing larger chunks of information. We also make use of our past experiences and accumulated knowledge—our crystallized intelligence increases.
2. They won’t fit in
The young and the old simply won’t mix, some might think. As they’ve grown up at different times, they will probably have nothing to talk about. Indeed, a cynic might say that public talk about the importance of diversity—when it comes to age—in a workplace is little more than just talk. All we have to do is to pause for a moment and think about all those times that we’ve learned something from someone clearly younger or older.
Imagine having a chat with your grandparent, or with a child. See? How dull and narrow would your worldview become if you didn’t get to see things from the perspective of those who look at the world from a different perspective?
3. They’ll bring down productivity and innovation
Not true! Studies find that the productivity of both older and younger workers is higher in companies with mixed-age work teams. Also, if a company’s services or products are not solely aimed at young people, isn’t it obvious that they’ll benefit from varied perspectives when aiming to attract their diverse customer base? You can’t expect the same product features or sales arguments work with everyone.
Suggested reading: Our midlife brains
4. They don’t know how to use computers
Email was introduced to today’s midlifers early-to-mid 1990s, when we were young adults. By 1997 about 10 million people worldwide had free webmail accounts. Mosaic, the first graphical web browser was released in 1993—that’s when many of us midlifers were in our 20s. We were there, when the first ever blogs surfaced in the late 1990s and when Google went live in 1998. See, we’ve been there and done that for ages already. We’re better than digital natives.
5. They’ll be off sick all the time
Midlifers are more interested in their health than ever before. According to Euromonitor International’s report, over two-thirds of midlifers consider regular exercise, limited fat intake and limited salt intake to be important. At midlife, we stop taking good health for granted and for that reason, adjust our lifestyle and habits accordingly.
Healthy men—and women!— in lycra spend their free time exercising, eating a balanced diet and making sure that they get enough sleep. If that doesn’t make us ideal employees, I don’t know what will.
6. They are set in their ways
Many still believe that once we’re past your childhood and teen years, our personality is pretty much fixed. Current personality research proves the assumption wrong. The researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who evaluated data from 132,515 adults, ages 21-60, discovered that we get more conscientious (organized, disciplined) and agreeable (warm, generous and helpful) as we age.
A friendly and warm, organized and disciplined employee—sounds a lot like an ideal employee to me!
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Have you experienced unfair treatment based on faulty assumptions?
Have you been treated unfairly at work because of stereotypes associated with your age? Have you missed out on interesting jobs because others considered you too old? Have you ever felt downright discriminated? We would love to hear from you and share your story with the rest of the D:M community. You can get in touch either by using our story form or you can send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org.