It’s Time to Talk About a Corporate Elephant

By Brenda McDermott, CPCU, SCLA, CIIP, SCLA, ARM, AIDA

It’s time to saddle the elephant and ride it around the corporate boardroom with sparklers and a marching band. What elephant, you may ask? Ageism and age bias/discrimination. Just a few years ago corporate America was bemoaning the eminent knowledge drain facing the workforce when the Boomers (Baby Boomer generation) was at or nearing retirement. Now it may seem to some older workers who have been right sized or lost their jobs during the pandemic or who want to explore other roles, that US business’ priorities have changed and that their years of skills and experience are no longer valued or wanted. Hiring mangers seem to be looking for ‘shiny and new’ over ‘experienced and dependable’ to fill those positions. Some older workers may experience the not-so-subtle trend of employers escorting “grandma and grandpa” toward the door and relegating them to the rocking chairs on the front porch. In a time when corporations are trying to brand themselves by their DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) culture, statistics seem to point to one group not being included – older workers. To paraphrase Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing“Nobody puts granny in a corner”.

More and more American workers are working longer either because they want to, or because with economic or life events, they have to. During the pandemic many older workers chose to take early retirement either because their business had to shut down or because they wanted to stay safe at home to avoid contracting Covid. Now that those workers want to re-enter the workforce, despite many businesses complaining they can’t find anyone to do the job, those older workers are finding it harder to do so.

In a recent AARP survey 91% of those responding said that age discrimination was common in the workplace today. Of that group, 15% said that they felt their age played a role in them not getting a job they applied for. Approximately one-third of older workers have reported hearing negative comments about an older worker’s age in the workplace and 17% say they’ve experienced negative comments about their age. Thirteen percent of workers reported they felt they were passed up for a promotion due to their age.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that older workers are having longer periods of unemployment than younger workers. Of workers aged 55 and older 26.5% had been out of work for 27 weeks or longer compared to 19.1% of workers aged 16-54.

So, what are some of the reasons that corporations who are so concerned with their DEI branding would participate in age bias/ discrimination either consciously or unconsciously? While some reasons may have been encountered, most are due to false generalizations about older workers.

  • “Older workers can’t adapt to change”.
  • “Older workers aren’t tech savvy”.
  • “They’re just riding out the job until their social security kicks in”.
  • “They can’t learn new things”.
  • “They can’t think outside of the box”.
  • “They resist doing things another way and focus on why it won’t work”.  
  • “They haven’t had a new idea in years and think the way things are is fine”.
  • “They’re resistant and get upset when you try to tell them there’s a better way”.

These reasons couldn’t be more off the mark for most older workers looking for employment or another job opportunities at their employer.

Recent studies support that a multigenerational workforce can truly benefit employers and that cutting one generation out (young or old) in favor of other generations can impact how well a company can perform, recruit employees, and compete in the open market. Studies show that multigenerational teams ensure a transfer of knowledge, employee retention, and upskilling. Multigenerational collaborative teams offer diversity of thought, boost creativity and productivity, and offer increased mentoring and learning opportunities.

Older workers aren’t a waste of your ever more valuable resources. They got your company or corporate America where it is today. They were the ones who had valuable ideas in the past and still do. They are the leaders and teachers who helped shape many of the executives that are now running the business. And they remain valuable mentors to help new employees understand the purpose of the business and the importance of making a profit and ethical conduct. While often perceived as being inflexible in their thinking, their longevity in the workplace could mean that they have tried it in the past and do know it won’t work or have ideas on changes needed to make it work. They have hopefully learned from their mistakes and can keep a company from wasting time and resources going down that unsuccessful path again. They’ve been through the ups and downs that are part of the corporate life cycle and know that companies can overcome downturns and can help reduce negativity in the workforce when it happens.

It’s time to be more open minded. Open your eyes to the possibility that age is just a number and that it shouldn’t even factor into a hiring decision. Look at the wealth of experience and skills older workers have that you can’t learn in a classroom or from a book. Look at older workers’ behaviors and work ethic that you can’t teach. And guess what – there’s no better DEI branding than a diverse, engaged multigenerational workforce.

Brenda McDermott, CPCU, SCLA, CIIP, SCLA, ARM, AIDA is a workers compensation claims specialist in The Hartford’s Major Case Unit. She is a past International Rookie and Claims Professional of the Year and past International CWC Speak-Off winner. Sher was the 2022 Region V Insurance Professional of the Year. She has been a long-term member of IAIP and served in multiple offices at the local, state, and regional levels. As past Region V RVP, she is currently serving as the Region V Marketing Director and Co-Chair on the International Marketing and Publications Task Force. She is an MAL from Missouri.

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