Why do we still hate hiring older workers?

Over two years ago I wrote a post for Halogen’s Talent Space blog titled: The Gray Wave: Why Companies Refuse to Hire Older Workers. It was very popular when it launched and it still gets great traffic because apparently there are a ton of older people Googling things like “why won’t companies hire older people?”

In the past two years, little has changed within organizations when it comes to hiring an aging workforce. A study in 2015 actually showed that recruiters, in a corporate environment, actually had lower call rates to older female candidates, than to younger female candidates.

Why? Why would a corporate recruiter prefer, consciously or subconsciously, to call a younger candidate over an older candidate? Age alone would tell us that the older candidate probably has more experience, thus, probably should be the first one they would call. But that doesn’t happen.

This is happening because this is exactly what organizations want to happen. 

I know. I know. This isn’t “your” organization. You hire old people all the time. It’s all those ‘other’ organizations. Stop it. It’s you. Now, I’ll give you that you’re fighting against centuries of organizational dynamics to change this, but demographics are going to force this upon you whether you like it or not.

Organizationally, we’ve been trained to hire this way. The oldest employees moved up the career ladder to the top of the organization. Below them on the next rung of management are people slightly younger than them. It continues in this fashion until you get to the entry level employees in your organization that is the youngest.

Sure, once in a great wild, a young buck will rise up and leap over a generation or two into leadership. But, for the most part, we march along, waiting our turn, waiting for retirements and death. This sounds very traditional but if you were to run your demographics for age only by position, you would see this very clearly in almost every single organization, industry, and location around the world.

To be fair, organizationally this started because it was experienced based. The carpenter with 20 years of experience is much better, usually than the carpenter with ten years of experience, and the apprentice has even less experience. It made sense hundreds of years ago.

What this means is that you hire younger, because the hiring manager you’re recruiting for wants someone younger than them to manage. Most hiring managers are intimidated by managing someone who is older than they are, for numerous reasons. Very few would ever admit this fact because it’s akin to saying your racist, but if you run the numbers in your organization you’ll see very few older employees being managed by people who are younger than them.

So, how do we change this?

You have to get your leaders to see the problem, agree that it’s a problem, and be a part of changing the problem.

Your organization needs talent. You have hiring managers turning down talent for reasons that make no sense. If you call them out, you burn your relationship. So, this becomes really hard to change at the individual level.

If your organization values experience and hiring an aging workforce, I would begin tracking this by department and publicly posting this for all to see. When I was at Applebee’s we wanted more female leaders and we made this a measure that executives owned and were measured on, and it got changed very quickly. There is no difference here. It’s a simple bias, just like not hiring females.

Hiring managers who refuses to hire older workers has nothing to do with older workers, and everything to do with a hiring manager who can’t see their own bias.


14 thoughts on “Why do we still hate hiring older workers?

  1. I first faced age discrimination when I was 30. I’m now facing it again at 50. Problem being: 2 recessions, accepting lower pay just to stay alive, facing discrimination on the job due to other (un)protected class issues, going into debt between low paying jobs, increasing rent every few months, and you begin to get the picture.
    I am outraged. I have no savings, no job and no dignity as the covid-19 pandemic hit. I feel I’m being slated for death even though I’m not sick. My industry as well as all industries claims to have a severe shortage of qualified workers. I will be out on the street in a couple months and I have no way to fight back against what is now turning into a death sentence only a couple months past my 50th birthday. This didn’t happen to our parents or our grandparents. What sickness has taken hold in this country that forces us to accept this cruel inhuman treatment?

  2. I think one of the biggest fears that employers think is that the older worker will more than likely have health issues and take off work more, or maybe John Doe will have a heart attack at his desk

  3. Age discrimination has become worse than ever due to messages sent in the media portraying children as smarter than their elders. Tech giants run by unethical greedy 20 and 30 somethings with super egos also love to push the youth culture at the exclusion of anyone with gray hair. They want their offices to be a club filled with beautiful young people who will work for peanuts and forego having a real life outside the office to be a member. Remember that Gates and Zuckerburg both stole ideas from their friends. What should we expect? They also own the legislature, which completely ignores the plight of the unemployed older worker and doesn’t even count them in statistics. Next step will be to take old people to the woods and let them die. We are devolving, not evolving.

  4. Companies want younger lower paid yes employees. Older workers are viewed as more independent people who won’t take abuse by a supervisor whereas a younger employee will.

  5. I was 35 and applied for a secretary position within the company. They hired someone outside the company because she had a lot more experience on the phones than I did–or so they said. She was 10 years younger than I. I had been answering phones while she was in Junior High. I am certain in was a matter of age discrimination. She would sit in an area where everyone coming into the office would see her while I was hidden in the back.

  6. My daughter, in her 20s, was interviewed by the State and was asked “What are you most afraid of?” Her perfect, honest answer “Poverty”. She got the job.

    My nephew, in his twenties, was interviewed by Entergy and was asked “What are your salary expectations?” His perfect, honest answer “Well, since I am used to making nothing I will accept any offer.” He was hired. Electrical Engineer.

    Well……these honest answers also belong to the older generation. We want to be independent, we are afraid of poverty and we are willing to take a pay cut to work.

  7. I totally agree. I am 52, I have Applied for several jobs that I am qualified for, and I never hear back. I have had some interviews, I finally get a response of “good interview but we need someone with more experience”. I have worked in the IT industry since 1998, taught myself programming in VB, C#, HTML,CSS, and learning continually learning more like ASP.NET, Bootstrap & JavaScript (as of currently, I am always desiring to learn more).

  8. @ David McCann-Seniors having higher salary expectations is just another excuse for age discrimination. Sure some older workers might expect higher pay than a younger person. More often than not older workers will work for less than younger people in order to participate in the workforce and make a contribution. Some will even work and not expect benefits. Older workers higher salaries are used more often to show older workers the exit and then used as an excuse to not let them in the door altogether. In addition, older workers are less likely to leave a job they like in order to get just a little more $.

  9. Isn’t there a compensation element to this discussion? Isn’t it the case that employers generally opt to hire younger people partly because they have lower salary expectations/needs?

  10. I’m another senior who googled “why don’t employers hire older workers?” This is a good short article that says a lot. The situation for older workers has not changed even with low unemployment rates. Many older workers are well educated with lots of experience who were pushed out of jobs and now can’t find another. They are part of the population that don’t count in unemployment statistics even though they would like to work. For employers who say they can’t find qualified candidates, cry me a river.

  11. The worst part of this is that often older hires with appropriate experience get passed over for younger people with no experience relevant to the position. Youth is not a skill.

  12. Working on the legal side of this issue (I’m a lawyer), I’ve personally seen the difficulties companies face in acknowledging their own age bias. Some hiring managers can see the flaw in other companies long before they see it in their own. In my opinion a company that is biased against hiring older workers denies itself access to the additional wisdom and experience older workers bring to the job.

  13. I have direct experience with this. I see it in the hiring managers and recruiters eyes but they can never admit it. Right in front of them is a seasoned ‘can do’ Project Manager that for some personal reason they do not want to hire.

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