Meeting of June 14, 2017 - The ADEA @ 50 - More Relevant Than Ever
Acting Chair Lipnic, Commissioners Feldblum, Yang, and Burrows, Deputy General Counsel and Legal Counsel, thank you for the invitation to speak with you about the challenges facing older workers in today's context of longevity and extended working lives.
Experts anticipate that in most countries with established market economies, the older worker population will continue to grow over the next several decades while the size of the younger workforce will shrink. The number of people 65 years and older who remain in the U.S. workforce is growing as the average age of retirement has risen in the last two decades (United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics [U.S. BLS], 2016). According to a 2014 AARP survey, a clear majority of workers over the age of 50 plan to work past the age of 65, including a sizable 18% who indicate that they never intend to retire (Skufca, 2014). An important factor in this trend may be the recent evidence that fewer and fewer people are "very confident" that they have enough money for a comfortable retirement-only 18% of respondents in a recent survey (Greenwald, Greenwald, & Associates, Copeland, & VanDerhei (2017).
This major demographic change has increased the relevance of a range of issues related to the aging of the workforce, such as a possible knowledge drain associated with the departure of today's older workers from the labor force and the need for new employment practices that address the needs and priorities of the contemporary multi-generational workforce. Scholars have begun to take a fresh look at fundamental assumptions about contemporary experiences of aging and have started to re-examine older workers' preferences with regard to work. Unfortunately, however, employers have been slow to innovate. While the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits employers from making specific types of discriminatory decisions, there is evidence that age bias and negative age stereotypes about older workers continue to affect older workers' employment experiences (Boerlijst, 1994; Borgatta 1991; Diekman & Hirnisey, 2007; Maurer, Barbeite, Weiss, & Lippotreu, 2008; McCann & Giles, 2002; Munk, 1999; Newmark, Burn & Button, 2017; Roscigno, 2007).
Stereotypes are "beliefs about the characteristics, attributes, and behaviors of members of certain groups" (Hilton & von Hippel 1996, p.240). These are often deemed as normal cognitive processes enabling people to categorize information and to reduce complex input (Taylor 1981, Fisk, Rogers, Charness, Czaja, & Sharit, 2009, Hamilton & Trolier, 1986). In his classic study on prejudice, Allport explains this view:
"The human mind must think with the aid of categories. Once formed, categories are the basis for normal prejudgment. We cannot possibly avoid this process. Orderly living depends on it." (1954: 20)
As noted, there are indications that age-based stereotypes follow people into the workplace. Ageism might affect employment experiences at virtually any stage of the employee-employer relationship. Several studies have found evidence of biases against older adults during recruitment and hiring (Lahey, 2008; Bal, Reiss, Rudolf, & Baltes, 2011; Diekman & Hirnisey, 2007; Finkelstein & Farrell, 2007). Biases can be explicit or implicit, real or imagined, but, as noted above, our impulse to create social categories is practically unavoidable. Thus, it is unlikely that we can eliminate them entirely, no matter how well-intentioned we might be.
Rather, it seems important at this juncture to develop strategies for preventing biases to enter into employment hiring, recruitment and HRM practices. The Center on Aging & Work at Boston College has recently worked with AARP to develop a benchmarking tool for managing the current multigenerational workforce. Tip sheets are provided on the basis of whether an organization appears to be strong or weak (or in the middle) of any given set of practices. The tool can be found at the following link: http://virgo.bc.edu/employerbenchmarking/
Featured practices include: Assessment, Recruitment, and Hiring, Options for Continued Work or Retirement, Flexible Work Options, and Managing Intergenerational Relationships. What follows are a few strategies for avoiding age bias in managing today's multigenerational workforce from these tip sheets (McNamara and AARP, November, 2016)
Assessment Strategies. Employers can and should develop assessment practices to help them avoid age discrimination. They should, for example:
Recruitment Strategies. Changes to recruitment practices might be an important step in avoiding age bias when hiring. To do so, employers should:
Interviewing Strategies. The interviewing process can also be modified to avoid age bias. Studies show that interviewers tend to favor job candidates who remind them of themselves (ref). Thus, employers can:
Options for Continued Work or Retirement. Providing options for continued work in later life can decrease unexpected turnover costs and loss of institutional knowledge by providing flexible ways for employees to stay in the workforce, maintain a sense of purpose, and build their financial security. Employers therefore might:
Strategies for Retaining Employees of All Ages. As noted above, today's older worker may want to continue working past conventional retirement ages for both personal and financial reasons. Yet, twin myths that older workers are pining for retirement and that younger workers are more likely to stay with the organization persist. Workers of all ages, however, may value certain conditions of employment that makes continued work more realistic. Thus, employers can develop strategies for retaining employees of all ages. Create desirable working conditions by:
Avoiding Intergenerational Conflict. Bringing together the similarities among different generations in a workforce, while acknowledging their differences, can have benefits for a multigenerational workforce.
In sum, employer efforts to change practices instead of efforts to eliminate cognitive bias alone are time-honored strategies for confronting "isms" of all types.
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