Sunday, October 21, 2018

Ageism: Is it True or is it You? Part II

Guest post by Lexy Martin, Principal Research and Customer Value, Visier.  You can find Part I of this article, which includes statistics on ageism and debunks several myths, here.

The Value of Including Older Tech Workers

As the Tech Sage Age finding shows, companies are missing out if they don’t consider the age composition of specific teams, departments, and business units and how managers can build diversity and take advantage of the maturity and experience of older workers.

Legal issues aside, designing a recruitment strategy around younger generations can be shortsighted from a business perspective. Older workers tend to be more loyal, and an over-representation of millennials in the workforce can impact retention. A 2016 Gallup report reveals that “21% of millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, which is more than three times the number of non-millennials who report the same.” [1]

A workforce of job-hoppers can have a big impact on the bottom line. As HR expert Josh Bersin writes in this post[2], “The total cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5 – 2 X annual salary.”

Studies have also found that diverse teams are more innovative, which is critical in an era when competitive threats loom large. Hiring people “who do not look, talk, or think like you, can allow you to dodge the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovative thinking,” write the experts in this HBR post[3].

What Businesses Can Do?

There are some important activities you can do to root out the risk of ageism in your workforce and ensure you acquire, develop, and retain the best and brightest talent available, regardless of age:

       Review your workforce data to understand the current state of age equity within your organization to find any signs of potential bias in hiring, promotions, salary levels, turnover, and performance ratings. If you work in People Analytics, you can play a role in warning of incipient ageism in your organization and support your own organization to outperform your competition. You can uncover and root out intentional and unintentional bias in your hiring practices that might be limiting the Gen X and older workers or potential hires.
       Set objectives and develop a plan with manageable steps (and a way to monitor your progress) that helps your organization achieve an inclusive work environment.
       Keep in mind that, as with ethnic and gender equity, age equity is a cultural issue — if pockets of ageism exist within your organization, you will need to devise plans to address them not only via better HR practice and policy rollouts, but through culture change.
       Consider implementing a version of the Rooney Rule[4] for age, specifically for teams or roles where the workforce is less diverse in age: for every position you have open to fill, consider one or more older candidates (or candidates that will help create a more diverse team, in general).
       Develop hiring practices that reduce the potential for intentional or unintentional bias in the screening out of older applicants.
       Develop hiring practices that specifically do not screen out candidates based on the length of their unemployment — while this report focused on systemic ageism, many individual stories suggest older unemployed workers struggle to get hired, and studies indicate recruiters screen out candidates that have been unemployed for longer periods of time.

The Bottom Line – Attitude, Passion, and People Analytics Successfully Combat Ageism

What can you do? For individuals, it’s about maintaining self-confidence in your competence and passion for your activities. If you don’t love your job, perhaps you should consider another. But if you do, show it, and, if I’m any indication, you can continue to work for as long as you want.

For organizations, if you have not already deployed people analytics, the capabilities will help you identify if ageism exists today or will in the future. And you can assess where in your hiring, developing, and retention of your talent you need to improve to maintain your competitive advantages into the future.

What one organization is doing about ageism

SAP is employing all five generations in its workforce – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (Millennials) and now Gen Z. While ageism, unconscious bias and pre-conceived expectations can often deter individuals and companies from seeing the value add of a single generation, companies also underestimate the benefit of generations working together to achieve common goals. 

To address bias, SAP advocates for inclusion for all and actively seeks to bring people together to support different life stages while improving cross-generational collaboration. We encourage learning between generations by raising awareness about unique working styles, strengths, and attributes of employees across generations through our Focus on Insight training, as well as virtual and face to face training sessions. We also offer a popular cross-generational mentoring program which allows employees to learn from one another and reduce bias.

In addition, SAP supports education from the top down by teaching senior leaders to celebrate multiple generations. We encourage our leaders to help new employees integrate with other members of the team – for example, by conducting open and appreciative communication within teams, aligning on goals and reserving time for knowledge transfer. By addressing challenges, surfacing unconscious bias, seeking communication and awareness and creating a community of trust and respect – leaders can play a large part in cultivating an inclusive culture. 

The beauty of cross generational intelligence is understanding what is most appealing to the other generation; the way we communicate and respect each other for our uniqueness and differences. Embracing commonalities and similarities to build camaraderie while respecting generational differences creates an inclusive environment that fosters innovation and creativity in the workplace to continue building a culture of inclusivity, teamwork and respect.

Lexy Martin is a respected thought leader and researcher on HR technology adoption and their value to organizations and workers alike. Known as the originator of the Sierra-Cedar HR Systems Survey, she now works at Visier continuing her research efforts, now on people analytics, and working closely with customers to support them in their HR transformation to become data-driven organizations. Lexy is Principal, Research and Customer Value at Visier. Connect with Lexy at or personally at

[2] Employee Retention Now a Big Issue: Why the Tide has Turned, Josh Bersin, August, 2013, LinkedIn
[3] Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter, David Rock and Heidi Grant, Harvard Business Review, November, 2016.

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