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Meeting of June 14, 2017 - The ADEA @ 50 - More Relevant Than Ever

Written Testimony of John Challenger, CEO, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Background

Currently, there are roughly 34 million workers 55 and older in the American workforce. That represents about 22 percent of all workers over 16. The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the participation rate falls to 40 percent for workers aged 55 and older, compared to 80 percent for those 25 to 54. That number drops even further once workers hit age 65: the participation rate for those 65 and older is just 18.6 percent.

Societal tradition, outdated legislation and flawed business practices that channel older people out of the work force, especially skilled workers, is damaging the economic health of our country. Due to advancements in health and science, people are not only living longer, but are much healthier than in the past. Low labor force participation rates point to the fact that people still seem to be "retiring" in their late 50s and 60s. The belief that younger workers are a better investment because they will have longer tenures is erroneous and causes employers to choose against hiring older workers and job seekers.

Too often, hiring managers view older job seekers as lacking the technological skills necessary to perform basic work functions. They do not consider older workers for certain jobs believing they will be too expensive in compensation and health care costs. Still others believe older workers will not "fit in" modern workplace cultures or that they will be less productive than their younger counterparts. These stereotypes not only keep workers in this age cohort from working later in life, but rob employers of the opportunity to hire knowledgeable, experienced talent. If more skilled workers over 60 stayed in the workforce, it would make a significant impact on reducing the skilled worker shortage in the United States.

Dilemma/Bias: Older workers are overqualified or will want compensation that is too high. Recommendation: Massachusetts and New York recently passed legislation prohibiting employers from asking about salary. The intent was to help close the wage gap between men and women, but this policy will also keep older workers from getting priced out of potential positions, allowing them to stand on their qualifications and experience.

Dilemma/Reality: Individual retirement funds, such as 401(k)s, must begin to pay out at age 70.5.
Recommendation: The age-based requirement to withdraw funds from a 401(k) plan to pay taxes is in place for both employees and retirees. However, a change of law that would exclude employees at any age from having to withdraw funds from their 401(k) would incentivize those workers who want to continue working to remain in the workforce. These outdated requirements reinforce the stereotype that workers should retire at a certain time

Dilemma: Recruiting and talent management gatekeepers in many companies' staffing departments may not identify with or promote older applicants. If the initial interviewer cannot picture the older job seeker "fitting in," he or she will likely pass that applicant over for the position.
Recommendation: Educate recruiters and talent managers on the benefits of employing older workers (more experience, more institutional knowledge, better leadership abilities). Through financial incentives, companies can encourage hiring managers and department heads to recruit and retain an older workforce.

Dilemma/Misconception: Young workers have longer tenures and greater long-term ROI for an employer.
Recommendation: In the past, companies believed younger workers were a better investment because they held the promise of staying with the company throughout their careers, and often for 20 or 30 years. It is no longer the case. Lifetime tenures have disappeared. Tenure among all age groups has steadily declined. Millennials are leaving their employers, on average, after 3 years. Older workers provide employers with more stability, longer tenures and greater ROI.

Dilemma/Bias: Older workers are unwilling to work the full 40 hour work week that companies require.
Recommendation: Technological advancements, business metrics, the ability to work at any time in any place, are chipping away at the viability of the 40-hour work week, and at the idea of paying people by the number of hours worked. Employers can measure worker productivity by work output and work quality much more accurately than by totaling up the number of hours worked and requiring people to "clock in and clock out."

Dilemma: The burden of proof in age discrimination cases falls to the plaintiff. Recommendation: A recent Supreme Court ruling overturned a previous decision that stated that
the standard of proof of age discrimination was that age discrimination was one of several factors which resulted in an adverse employment decision (i.e., a demotion; decrease in pay; transfer, etc.), and the employer must prove that the employment decision was made for legitimate reasons. Today's standard is that age discrimination is the factor that led to the adverse employment decision, and the plaintiff has the burden of proof. Legislation that restores the previous standard of proof will not only protect older workers, but help reverse some of the negative stereotypes plaguing the workplace.

Recommendations for Older Workers

Mention work experience that demonstrates your flexibility and creativity to counteract stereotypes that suggest those over 50 are not adaptable or do not have enough imagination. Point out new programs you developed or improvements you suggested which made impact on the company's bottom line.

Stay current and embrace technology. If you are not comfortable with the technology and the programs utilized in your line of work, take a class at night. Do not be afraid of new technology. It is integral to every business function including sales and marketing, finance/accounting, human resources, purchasing, and operations. Employers do not want to spend time and resources teaching new employees how to use the technology in their fields. They need employees to hit the ground running.

Do not apologize for being over 50. (Far and away the most important point) Never say the following phrase again: "Nobody really wants to hire someone who is over 55." You cannot have a defeatist attitude or it will show during the interview. Employers want to hire people who are confident in themselves and their abilities, regardless of age.

Do not mention accomplishments that you made more than 10 years ago unless they are extraordinary or the only example of experience you possess that meet the employer's needs. If you do mention a past accomplishment, talk about it as if it happened today.

Do not talk down to, patronize, or become convinced that you could not work for a younger manager. Today's workplace may contain up to six generations. It is no longer the case that your boss will always be older than you. You do not want to convey the idea to a prospective employer that you would be uncomfortable as a subordinate or as a peer to someone with less experience. If you have a problem working for someone younger than yourself, resolve this conflict immediately because odds are the jobs you want or for which you may be interviewing involve working for people who are younger than yourself. It is a reality you have to accept and deal with properly.