Stereotypes about older workers & how to fight them

stereotypes about older workers

Getting older? Awesome. It’s better than the alternative. But it makes getting a job much more difficult. Know what the stereotypes about older workers are so you can anticipate and overcome these barriers in an increasingly ageist hiring market.

Ageism is a huge problem on the job market. More than 80% of North Americans aged 50 and over say they have experienced everyday ageism. And research has found that job seekers over 50 are up to three times less likely to be selected for interview than younger applicants with less relevant experience.

It’s a bad situation, since people over 50 have to eat and make a living, just like anyone else, and yet find themselves facing new barriers to entry in a world that has come to favour youth over wisdom. The lack of respect for life experience is stunning and incomprehensible.

One day they’ll get theirs. In the meantime, however…

I’m not yet 50 but I’m closer to 50 than 40, and I take small comfort in knowing that, in a short 20 years or so, this younger generation will find themselves facing the exact same treatment from a net new younger generation. And that this will happen in the blink of an eye, even though it feels worlds away for them right now. So, HAHA. Just you wait, smug children. You will have your turn.

In the meantime, we just have to deal with their shit.

How did they come to be in charge anyway? It makes no sense. People over aged 55 are a growing demographic, presumably due to longer lifespans and declining birthrates. Does this not mean, logically, that they should be, if not running things then at least a respected cohort with a strong decision-making voice in the hiring process?

It’s possible that the issue arises from companies laying off senior (and therefore older) workers en-masse, because junior employees are cheaper, combined with start-up culture and the assumption that tech talent is better found among youth. But that’s just a stab. What do I know? Regardless, here we are.

What are the stereotypes about older workers?

If you’re one of the older folks on the job hunt, it would be useful to know what the stereotypes about older workers are, so you can come in armed to disprove them. ResumeLab recently did a dive into this question and found that there are five common stereotypes about workers over the age of 55. These are:

  • Older workers are more resistant to change than their younger colleagues.
  • Older workers are not as healthy as younger employees.
  • Older workers are less interested in additional training or career development.
  • Older workers look down on younger colleagues.
  • Older workers are more expensive to hire and retain.

Are these true? ResumeLab also looked into that. They found that:

  • Older workers are not more resistant to change. A 2012 study found that workers 55 and older are actually more likely to participate in organizational change efforts and implement new, innovative solutions in the workplace.
  • Older workers are not less healthy than younger workers. Studies have shown there’s no difference in key clinical metrics related to both physical and mental health between older and younger workers and that workers over the age of 55 take fewer sick days than younger workers.
  • 3. Older workers are slightly less interested in “career development programs.” This seems like it shouldn’t be a sticking point, however. Older people would naturally have fewer career development concerns, but when employees don’t participate in these programs, HR has a harder time justifying its existence (just saying).
  • 4. There’s no evidence proving or disproving that older workers look down on younger colleagues. This can obviously only be based on self-reporting. Some people might argue that younger people are more apt than older people to take things personally and find insult where there is none. But it’s also likely that some people have little respect for those younger than them. (I am not one of these people, of course, and I welcome our new Child Overlords.)
  • 5. Older workers might be slightly more costly to hire and retain. According to a 2015 report by the AARP, 55+ employees are slightly more expensive but this is when accounting costs alone are taken into account and does not account for productivity, onboarding time, or the value they bring through sales or project initiatives. So, this is also quite possibly false.

ResumeLab also found that the sectors most likely to buy into these stereotypes are manufacturing, software and IT, and business and finance, while the industries least likely to believe them are healthcare and education.

How to combat ageism and stereotypes about older workers

How can you combat ageism while looking for a job? You can’t beat it entirely but you can fight it. One way is by demonstrating a willingness to learn and grow. You’ll be more hireable and more likeable in general if you live your life in a state of constant learning – and find ways to communicate this to the hiring manager. Being a lifelong learner is vital to success. Sometimes older people think there’s nothing left to learn, but this is not true. There’s something new to learn every day about the world, business, culture, technology, and people. Be a lifelong learner. Also, be nice to everyone you meet and listen respectfully to what they have to say, even if they’re 20 years younger than you are.

It’s illegal in Canada to discriminate on the basis of age, but good luck proving that this happened to you.

More strategies for combatting ageism in hiring include the following:

Don’t give any evidence of your age on your application materials. There’s no need to list your age, of course. Also, don’t list experience that goes back more than 10-15 years or your graduation year. You shouldn’t list these things anyway, no matter how old you are.

Work on your self confidence. Confidence is key to landing any job, and it can be reduced as we age, and become self conscious about our appearance and weighted down by our failures. Learn to focus on your successes and good qualities.

Focus on your value. Highlighting your “years of experience” should make you more hireable but often has the opposite effect, so highlight your knowledge and past successes. Communicate how this will help you bring success to a new organization and that your value will outweigh your cost. Every job seeker should be thinking about that last thing – showing that you will bring more to the company than you will cost it – regardless of age.

Update your resume and LinkedIn. Check these for outdated skills like “word processing” and “email.” These are “skills” that are simply expected in this day and age and should not be listed on a resume (more here). Gather some recommendations on LinkedIn and post relevant content that shows you stay on top of what’s happening in your industry.

Become a consultant. If you can’t get a job, become a consultant and charge a big, whopping hourly rate. You’ll need an area of expertise, a broad network, a website, and a lot of hustle, but people may take you more seriously as a consultant than as an job seeker, and are less likely to care about your age. An older consultant may even carry more weight than a younger one.

Stay positive. It’s not ideal and it’s not fair, but developing an attitude about it is only going to make things worse. Those of us cresting 50 or 55 aren’t the only ones with problems. Millennials are facing an uncertain future in which their expensive university degrees are increasingly worthless and job security is nonexistent. They’re better educated and financially worse off than any recent generation and they’re working multiple jobs while competing for entry level positions that pay minimum and demand five years of experience. We all have our problems. Don’t let it break your spirit.

Be a changemaker. You can always start a campaign to combat ageism in the workplace or get involved with an existing one. You’re not powerless, and you can make a difference in any number of ways.

If you want to lobby for change and choose this hill to die on, I applaud that. If you just need to feed your family, that’s also a respectable position. Sometimes you just have to get a job any way you can, and that’s OK too.

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