Ageism in Business – Fact or Myth?
Modern living has delivered a number of benefits in terms of how long people are now living, particularly in western society, and life quality for the average person is much higher than it was even fifty years ago. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule and poverty still exists even in the richest countries, but on average people are living longer and enjoy the benefits of modern medicine, which keeps them active and healthy for longer.
So what impact does this have on the workforce? Well, here in Ireland where I live, the average mandatory retirement age is 65, even though state pensions are now being kicked out to 68 years of age before they commence. Now consider what happened during the recession. Early retirement was offered to many people in the 50 to 55 year age bracket. These so called middle-aged people are expensive to keep in a business because of their tenure, and so many of them have found themselves unexpectedly on the scrap heap.
However, does it really make sense to have all of this experience walk out the door of a business? More importantly, is it practical to allow them to stay on the scrap heap because of incorrect and inaccurate perceptions that most of them are tired has-beens, that no longer have a contribution to make to business and society as a whole?
The funny thing is, businesses are generally looking for young hungry college graduates, whom they can mold into their way of working. They want young adults that will work extraordinary long hours in pursuit of career development. The problem is, many graduates have little work experience and the investment in getting them up to speed and generating an economic return can be considerable. It also takes time. And the really ambitious ones will take what they can get from your firm and swiftly move on to the next employment they can leverage for their own benefit.
But what about the large pool of experienced people on the scrap heap that have a great contribution to make and an encyclopedia of knowledge and experience to deploy? Unfortunately, most of them remain on the scrap heap. They don’t fit the profile of what employers are looking for. Yes, legislation says that businesses cannot discriminate on the basis of age but in fact it happens every day and it is not often challenged because it is difficult to prove conclusively and win. And anyway, who wants a trouble-maker on the team?
If you run a small or medium business, there is a huge opportunity for you to capitalize on this pool of knowledge and experience and to lift the game for your entire business. These kings of the scrap heap are often willing to work for less than princely salaries, and can deliver tremendous value to an entrepreneurial business with a young team of ambitious leaders.
So why is this? Well firstly, the 50-somethings have been around the block a couple of times and have undoubtedly faced many of the challenges that your business is facing right now, many times before. The know how to fix things or they know a man that can. Most are grateful for the opportunity to contribute or mentor an entrepreneurial business and many will work for low salaries for the sheer joy of being active once again. This is not to say that they should be abused or taken unfair advantage of. On the contrary, you will probably be so grateful for what they bring to your business, that you will willingly pay them fairly for their contribution. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.
Men and women are no longer old and tired at 50, 60, 70 or even 80. Many of them remain active into old age and regularly play 18 holes of golf, socialize with friends, go to the gym or take regular exercise, and many of them still work. Yes, it is hard to believe that elderly people continue to work. A good friend of mine runs a successful printing business and his Mom, aged 84 works in the business every day and does all the accounting/book-keeping as well as lots of the administrative tasks. The kicker is she does not even look 70. She has a reason to get up every morning, drives herself to work, and puts in a fulfilling day of useful contribution. She is living life to the full.
The core message of this article is to wake up small and medium business owners to the opportunity that exists for them to hire great full-time or part-time employees, if they are wise enough to take it. Forget about stereotypes, forget about grey hair, forget about the number of years someone has been on this planet. Instead, look to the experience, the enthusiasm and the knowledge that could be yours at a low economic cost while generating a high economic benefit. Take a chance on the wise and wonderful people from a different generation than you, and lift your business to new heights.
Check out the following article, which showcases the problems experienced by a 52 year old journalist in Ireland when seeking a job – Irish Independent Case Study