Age Concern – Why discrimination is counter-productive
During a conversation with a director about hiring a new sales executive, I was told the position would suit a “younger person”. There is always a driver behind such a statement, so I asked what this was. The director explained the company had an ageing workforce and they were trying to make the age profile younger. These sorts of concerns are legitimate. Solutions, like deliberately hiring younger employees at the expense of older ones, are not!
I explained that selection on the basis of age, was against the law and against the ethics and standards of my professional governing body (CIPD). I would be unable to help them discriminate during selection. My prospect moved quickly on to the next item for consideration.
I wish I had answered this differently for two reasons. Firstly, I failed to explain that my company had excellent succession and career planning solutions to their ageing work-force! Secondly, I missed an opportunity to educate on why selection on the basis of age, was a bad thing (regardless of the legal and ethical considerations). So I thought I would attempt that here.
When my company helps organisations select and assess candidates for recruitment, we use the Harrison Assessments Talent Solution (HATS). We use HATS, because it is predictive of candidate job performance with up to 90% accuracy. When selecting candidates using HATs, we assess both eligibility and suitability. Eligibility is education, skills, types and length of experience etc. Suitability, on the other hand, is the “softer” aspects of job success including attitudes, motivations, work values, engagement factors, interpersonal skills, and retention factors etc.
I’ll get to age and eligibility later, but when thinking about age and suitability, it’s important to have data to help make sense of its relationship to age. Luckily, Harrison Assessments International (the providers of HATS) have studies on whether suitability varies with age in a broad range of occupations (including sales). And these studies meet stringent US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) standards.
What the Harrison data shows, is that in a wide range of occupations, mean suitability scores do not vary significantly with age and certainly don’t deteriorate! On a mean HATS suitability score for a sales position, the standard deviation by age group, is less than 0.5%. That’s not worth concerning ourselves with!
If we take as proven, that suitability for a job does not vary significantly with age, what are the effects of screening out older workers for organisations?
Firstly, by screening out older candidates, employers are reducing the population of people who could be eligible and suitable for the job they need filled. This could make it more difficult to identify and select ‘the best’ available candidate. It increases the chance that the best outcome was not considered!
Secondly, age does prefer some benefits to individuals. While suitability may not vary significantly with age, eligibility can! Age permits candidates more opportunities to deepen and/ or broaden their education, knowledge, skills and experiences for work purposes. If eligibility factors are scored and measured in accordance with their importance to job outcomes (as they are in HATS), then not considering a so called “older” applicant, may be detrimental in terms of finding highly eligible candidates. This would be of particular concern in those jobs and careers, where eligibility factors weigh heavily on job success (i.e. technical, knowledge, or engineering based roles).
If age (or any other) discrimination is knowingly practiced, then the organisations doing it, are acting against their own best interest and against their own legal responsibilities. All they do is reduce the population of available talent and reduce chances of finding the best candidate for the job. There is never a business case for that!
Please note: Some readers may be thinking ‘but what if the demands of a job are physical? Won’t age have an effect on suitability?” The answer of course, is ‘maybe! Physical deterioration is linked to ageing but not exclusively caused by it. If a job has stringent physical demands, then candidate capability to meet those demands, regardless of age, should be assessed by a qualified occupational health practitioner. (For clarity and for the purposes of this article, when discussing suitability, I meant the “non-physical” aspects of job suitability)
David Steele is a 53 year old business owner, husband, father and grandfather. His company, Advance & Develop, provide solutions that help organisations ‘find, grown and keep people who perform’.