Ageism in an era of multigenerational working

More employers are interested in multigenerational hiring, but they often don’t know how to go about it, a recent event on ageism at work heard.

Multigenerational team


More and more employers are becoming interested in multigenerational hiring, but jobseekers need to sell the advantages more and ‘lean into’ the trends, a Recruiting Brainfood live episode on ageism at work heard last week.

The webinar heard from recruiters, but also from people who had experienced ageism at work. Steve Jewell, a US recruiter turned contractor in his 60s, said he enjoyed the gig approach personally, but felt employers did not have the institutional infrastructure to support the increasing number of older workers as the population ages. Yet doing so is vital, he argued, in terms of the impact on tax revenues to support health and social care if older workers are not retained. Host Hung Lee added that employers are facing labour shortages in the West.

It makes sense to employ older workers on many levels, yet there are cultural barriers, sometimes inadvertent ones, that act as a barrier to recruitment. Cindy Trotta, a US recruiter, took a career break to raise her children, but said it took her 13 years to get back to the position she was in when she left. She spoke of a “shiny toy syndrome” in recruitment where new is seen as better and called for more focus on coaching up existing team members rather than bringing new people in. Hung Lee added that many older workers felt neglected by their employer. Heidi Wassini, a recruiter from Denmark, found she was not getting interviews when she was jobseeking. She shaved eight years off her cv and made a play of the fact that she had a young family [which she had had late] to give the impression of being younger. It worked. Lee said that seemed to suggest that age discrimination trumped even discrimination against working mothers.

Speakers talked about the range of skills older workers have, from emotional intelligence to the ability to contextualise information and business acumen. Yet they face ‘baked in bias’. One speaker mentioned that he had seen a job advert for ‘a senior person with one year’s experience’. A change of mindset is needed, speakers agreed, with a recognition that different generations bring different, complementary qualities that strengthen an organisation.

Employers taking a lead

Matthew Howe from BT said the company had tried to bring in more older workers into its frontline call centre roles to reflect its customer base better. The company set up a trial in Cardiff with Reed Talent Solutions which aimed to remove some of the barriers to older workers taking up roles – including their own concerns that they weren’t right for the job or didn’t have previous customer service experience. No previous frontline experience was necessary and roles were part time. They also removed brands from the adverts which were associated with a younger demographic, such as EE, and presented the roles as an opportunity to reskill rather than an employment opportunity. After training, people could choose to go for an interview for a permanent role. The pilot is in its early stages – and the model has also been used for apprentices with good conversion rates – and BT are planning to extend it to their retail business too.

Vicki Leonard from Saga spoke of how the business ties its employment opportunities to the information it offers to customers and the way it brands itself. IT headhunter Jo Dalton said age diversity is vital in technology to reflect the broader customer base, yet it is estimated that ageism in the IT world starts at 29.

In summing up, Jewell said it is important to be honest about your age and the benefits of hiring older workers. “Make the point that this is what you get,” he said. Hung Lee added that multigenerational hiring is becoming a bigger issue and he advised leaning into the trend. Howe added that many companies don’t know how to hire for a multigenerational workforce, but would like to do more so, for them, employees could be pushing at an open door if they approach it in the right way.

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