IN TOUCH : LETTER – Age of Enlightenment?

The University of Auckland Business School’s recent research report “Barriers to entry for the older worker” (see the “latest news” section at www.nzim.co.nz) is damning document, and one more enlightened employers should seriously consider.
Researchers Professor Marie Wilson and Jordan Kan found the steady rise in the number of older workers in the labour force has been accompanied by increased evidence of discrimination against them, both in New Zealand and internationally. The researchers believe age-based stereotypes distort employment markets and reduce the “perceived employability of older workers”, despite the need for talent and skills to underpin better organisational performance.
Among other things, the study assessed employer preferences (were the applicants seen as suitable), employment outcomes (were applicants short-listed) and employer rationales (why were some candidates preferred over others). And surprise, surprise, the report found that younger workers were “seen as more suitable” and were much more likely to be short-listed.
The report should, as the researchers suggest, serve as reminder to both senior managers and HR specialists that employment discrimination is both social and an employment problem which needs to be seriously addressed.
Employers can’t afford to overlook talent. And there is so much talent, institutional knowledge and work experience locked up in older employees and managers. And if logic isn’t sufficiently compelling argument, consider your risk management strategies. Not hiring on the basis of age is unquestionably bad business, but it is also illegal.
Finally the country needs these people to address the looming labour shortages and the flow-on effect this will ultimately have on our workplace productivity.

David Chapman, national chief executive of the New Zealand Institute of Management

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