Reluctance to employ older workers – fear of the unknown or the known?

Undoubtedly amongst all the issues relating to extended working life and age management the problem of the unemployed older person is the most challenging and frustrating at an individual level.   While unemployment for anyone is a tragedy, the plight of the older unemployed who were once – quite recently – not only employable but capable of holding highly skilled, powerful and influential roles is heartbreaking and disturbing.  In the job market they typically cannot even get an acknowledgement of their application for a post, let alone an interview.

Coaching, counselling, and even physical makeovers can all help improve an individual’s chances but ultimately nothing can be done to remove the elephant in the room – age – that is the barrier to their employment.

I have yet to meet an employer – whether a business owner, HR professional or individual manager – who is prepared to admit that they are reluctant to employ older people. And I am unlikely to.  After all, such an admission would amount to age discrimination and, what’s more it is easy to concede that there is little wrong with older people in principle.

So where is the sticking point?  Is it fear of the unknown i.e. employers are happy with the older workers they already have – whose strengths, weaknesses and work proclivities they know, but don’t want to risk any unknown quantities in terms of older workers who may have issues? Or is their reluctance based on perceptions of their past and current older employees who they certainly wouldn’t want any more of, thank you very much?

Would knowing the answer make any difference?  Probably not.  But it might help individual older job seekers if they could be convinced that really and truly it had very little to do at a personal level with them.






2 Responses to Reluctance to employ older workers – fear of the unknown or the known?

  1. Tony Maltby says:

    I totally agree with what you have written as it is my experience. This is especially the case for academic appointments.
    We need to build an evidence base about this but doing so is methodologically difficult as this evidence is often construed as subjective.
    Any ideas?

  2. Dianne Bown-Wilson says:

    This is a hugelydifficult issue to tackle, but a starting point might be to see what approaches have been taken by similar studies on gender, race, disability etc. I suspect however that there will be little there that would be of much use…

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