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Ageism In The Workplace
I caught an interview on a breakfast news show this week discussing how older citizens in New Zealand are being biased out of job opportunities due to their age. It’s a problem I hadn’t really considered, until now. Most of the older people I deal with are financially comfortable and ready to retire.
It really got me thinking. For one, there are very few, if any, employees over the age of 55 (that I can think off) in any of the companies I interact with, that aren’t investors, advisors, or board members. It hasn’t ever crossed my mind as to why. Maybe there is a problem here?
On the face of it, there shouldn’t be any real reasons preventing start-ups from hiring older workers that aren’t manageable with time and training. But, as with any broader societal issue, these things are always more nuanced than they first seem.
The report suggested the problem lay with employers screening candidates based on their age, which, if true, is a troubling notion. In the context of the startup space, my first thought, however, is to ask what proportion of the problem is caused by employers screening for age and what proportion of older employees are screening themselves? Are they deciding to not apply for start-up jobs for some reason? Are they even considering startups as an option?
If older workers are screening themselves from applying for jobs in start-ups, then why? Is it something were doing in our recruiting processes that only attracts younger workers? Maybe it’s the language we use? Maybe it’s how we represent our companies in public? I don’t recall anyone older than myself ever applying for any job we listed at EMGN. These weren’t overly technical jobs; we mainly employed writers and content contributors. There’s really no reason why someone over 55 couldn’t have applied and thrived in these roles. Thus, we didn’t meaningfully screen or discriminate on age, but we absolutely may have inadvertently.
It got me thinking some more. Are jobs being structured in a way that accommodates for the employment needs of an older worker? Are there enough part time or contract roles being offered that would allow for people looking to reduce their workloads but still contribute? If not, could we do more to structure work to accommodate the needs of older workers in a way that could also benefit start-ups? In theory, there’s no reason why we can’t.
These are just the questions off the top of my head. It’s opened a whole can of worms, yet it’s one that I’m happy to have opened. There is now an opportunity to work out how to include a diverse new group of people into “our world”, and that seems exciting to me!
By taking a positive approach to the value that each generation can bring to the table, we can start to piece together how to leverage older workers in a meaningful way. The roles and work may need to be structured to accommodate the needs and wants of both parties but that sounds like an opportunity to innovate, something well within the wheelhouse of the start-up community.
In a place like New Zealand, I feel that we should be creating opportunities for everyone to work in meaningful, dignified and properly paid ways. If someone is willing to work, and has the requisite skills and experience, then we should be working out how to bring them into, or keep them in, the work force so they can contribute too.
Again, just some thoughts on a subject I hadn’t ever considered a problem, until now.
About the author — Aidan Kenealy
My mission is to help those with high growth businesses realise their vision for success. I draw from the unique lessons learned growing EMGN to help founders and CEOs get the best out of what their businesses can be.
If you would like to discuss how I can help you and your business — please reach out via LinkedIn or email firstname.lastname@example.org