Learn how leaders can get ahead of any age-related problems in their workplace and create a truly diverse and age-inclusive workforce.
Today’s post is by Patti Temple Rocks, author of I’m STILL Not Done: It’s Time to Talk About Ageism in the Workplace (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
If there is a common trait among all the great leaders that I have worked with throughout my 4-decade career it is that they have high standards – for themselves and those they lead. They are measured (rigorously) on their performance so if you bring them a problem, they will solve it quickly. Sales are down? Let’s mix up territories. Growth has stalled? Invest in the innovation pipeline. Recession headwinds getting stronger? Tighten spending. Wrongful dismissal due to age discrimination lawsuit? Call HR and write a settlement check.
But there is another common trait I have observed among those leaders – at least the ones I admire and like the best – they genuinely and deeply care about their people. Those leaders would not just write the check to make the problem go away, they will understand that behind that litigation there is a much longer story and most likely an employee who is hurting.
Here is how leaders can get ahead of any age-related problems in their workplace and create a truly diverse and age-inclusive workforce.
Do Your Research. Assess Your Organization
The first and not surprising task is data based and straight-forward. Do some Google searching, and it will take no time at all to confirm that ageism is rampant in the workplace. In May of 2021, an AARP reported that an astounding 78% of workers between 40 and 65 had either witnessed or experienced ageism on the job. That is the highest number they’ve ever reported and up a whopping 17% since before the pandemic. Your Google search will also find all the stats on the cost of litigation and that the American Bar Association predicts even more age-related lawsuits post-pandemic. You will conclude that ageism is in the workplace is an issue
But…maybe you might think, ‘well yes, but not here.’ That is when you need to move on to the next phase of your research.
The Mirror Test
You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand so I recommend engaging your teams to hold a mirror up to your own organization. Direct your HR team to conduct an employee census to determine if the age groups that work for you represent the general population (spoiler alert: most do not). Look at the stats of the voluntary and involuntary quits. I can assure you very few of your voluntary quits will be over 50. Research shows that the most loyal and engaged employees are in that age cohort. Ask your recruiting department to review your job postings for ageist language. Your marketing team should review your website – all your external messages – to ensure that all age groups are represented visually as well is in the written word. Re-read your DE& I policy – does it specifically call out age as category for protecting (don’t be shocked if it doesn’t). What is your standard practice for discussing retirement with your employees? And if you have a practice at all, congratulations, you’re in the 10% club.
By looking honestly at your company, the chances are good that you will discover that ageism is an issue for your organization as well. And an issue that you must address.
But, as a leader as empathetic as you are decisive, there is a much more important task you must take on.
Lead by Walking Around
This is not a new idea – it was originated by HP’s David Packard in the 1940’s and popularized by 80’s and 90’s business guru, Tom Peters – but it remains viable today, even if walking around is now a Zoom call.
As concrete and definitive as some of the legal markers of age discrimination are there are many more that are not. Older workers talk constantly of feeling marginalized from being excluded from meetings or talked over in the meetings they are invited to. They don’t understand why they are no longer considered for training opportunities or for that new job opportunity in an expanding market or division. They tell me about having to smile through gritted teeth at some of the ageist comments or jokes people make. I suspect that much of this ageist behavior is non-intentional and likely based on some unconscious and long-held biases about older people in general. But intentional or not, these all add up to an employee who can’t help but feel devalued or diminished – some even go so far as to say they feel “invisible” in the workplace.
Ugh. It hurts my heart to hear about what the end years of long, successful careers are like for many. Leaders do so many things right to make sure they have an engaged, happy, and productive workforce but many miss the boat when it comes to ensuring the same for their older workers. No one should have to feel this way (presuming the obvious, that they are adding value to the company) simply because they got older.
I promise you, if you walk around – virtually or otherwise – and talk to your workers over 40, and especially those over 50 and invite them to talk freely and without judgement about their feelings and experiences as an older worker you will be both enlightened and motivated to do better.
I know I was.
Over the course of an impressive four-decade career, Patti Temple Rocks has held senior leadership positions in three different sectors of the communications industry: PR, advertising, and client side. She served as the Chief Communications Officer for The Dow Chemical Company and Chief Reputation Officer for Leo Burnett Worldwide. She is an inspirational leader, builder of teams, creative thinker, problem-solver, and agent of change.
The author of I’m Still Not Done: It’s Time to Talk About Ageism in The Workplace, Patti is passionate about discussing and fighting age discrimination and helping people understand how ageism stunts business growth and reflects poorly on our society. As a public speaker and consultant, Patti works with businesses that wish to change for the better and implement effective practices to fight ageism in the workplace. During her impressive career in marketing and advertising, her valuable ideas and strategies were implemented by world-class organizations including McDonalds, Unilever, Bacardi, and Walmart. To learn more about ageism and get in touch with Patti, visit http://imnotdone.rocks.
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