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Ageism and 'The Silver Tsunami'

This is a subject I have been wanting to blog about for a while but have had to give it some serious thought before putting pen to paper, as it is such a controversial subject.

The topic of ageism in recruitment. It has been recognized for some time that there is discrimination against people of a certain age looking for new opportunities. Steps have been taken by the government to try to stop this discrimination, through the illegality of displaying a candidate's age on CV's, and preventing the use of adjectives such as "young" on job adverts. However, these measures are by no means robust enough.

Having only been with Harvey Nash HR just over a year, I have still encountered the 'I know I'm not meant to say this, but...' conversations. I am resolute about challenging this ageism, and not because it's ethically correct right thing to do, but because the companies are fundamentally wrong and really missing out. An increasing amount of publicity is being given to the problems that employers are likely to create for themselves through an over-reliance on Generation X, Y and Millennial employees - the most significant of which is the erosion of organizational stability, experience and knowledge. Further, age stereotypes such as older individuals' inflexibility, inability to learn, lack of IT skills and ill health are all increasingly being denounced, as both untrue and unfounded. Morally and practically there is no case for workplace exclusion based on age, and there are plenty of reasons why employers should aim for a balance of workers across the age spectrum...

Age is just a number (cue cringing). But it's true! There is this distorted perception in business that as soon as we hit the big 5 0, suddenly in a cartoon-esque explosion, we lose the passion that has driven our career (as we drift into dreams of gardening and busy tearooms.) Yet in reality, aren't we just as likely to come across a fresh faced graduate with as much 'get up and go' as a wet towel? This suffocating stereotype that the over fifties are sedulous creatures; winding down on their way to retirement, is a farce. As is the excuse that businesses are hesitant to employ over fifties because they are likely to lose them to retirement. Seriously, we all know that the human race is living longer than ever. In tandem with an ageing culture, we also have people that are working longer, - long gone are the days when you could hang your boots up at 55. Whether this is through choice or necessity, the age of retirement has been pushed back, in turn increasing the threat of what the Americans' have coined the 'Silver Tsunami'.

Companies will have to eradicate the antiquated model of workforce ageing, which presumes that employees should get pay rises and promotions based on age and then 'poof' disappear as soon as they reach retirement. Organizations have dealt with the burdens of this archaic structure by periodically downsizing older workers or encouraging them to take early retirement. Nevertheless, this cannot last - we have no choice but to face the silver wave head on; this will mean breaking the time-honoured link between age and pay--a link which ensures that workers get ever more expensive, even as their faculties decline. It will also mean treating retirement as a phased process, rather than a sudden event marked by a sentimental speech and a gold watch.
As ever, I'd be keen to hear your thoughts on how your organization deals with ageism and the influx of an ageing workforce.