Ageism in recruitment

I want to ask what HR professionals really think about a company creating it EVP employee value proposition with the exclusive aim of attracting and retaining younger workers or creating an employer of choice package which works to retain them whilst not retaining the older workforce - do you think that having this as an explicit HRM policy and approach, overtly discussed, written about and planned for, is actually discriminatory? As a trainer of CIPD programmes for 30 years ive often come across research which talks about characteristics of younger and older workers and documents about X Y generations compared to the milleniells etc and I can udnerstand the need to consider succession planning in an ageing company workforce but to find HRM proactively using this to create barriers to our ageing population in tihe workforce, Seems too close to discrimination to me????  Id be grateful for any feedback! :-) 

  • Misguided and discriminatory.
  • It is discrimination and unfortunately it is the one type of discrimination that appears to be extremely common, open and mostly goes unchallenged. I can see no way that this could be reasonably justified even for succession planning. As the workforce ages then the replacement for a 68 year old could be a 28 year old or a 58 year old as you could still get many useful years from either.

    As an exercise try getting whoever is proposing this policy to take the words younger worker and older worker out of what they have planned and instead replace them with for example gender or race terms - how does it look to them now?
  • I think this is potentially a more subtle issue than at first appears.  To take the OP at face value:

    employee value proposition with the exclusive aim of attracting and retaining younger workers or creating an employer of choice package which works to retain them whilst not retaining the older workforce

    Yes, discriminatory on an illegal level because as expressed it focuses on age.  However, I wouldn't expect such an EVP to actually focus on age but, rather, on behaviours and priorities that, at first glance, appear to prioritise younger people but which actually is more to do with prioritising certain attitudes and values.

    For example, let's suppose that you're a manufacturer of upper-level high street fashion.  Your clothes are predominantly worn by people in the 16-28 age bracket.  You offer discounts on purchases to your employees.  That's an EVP element that prioritises an attitude (a desire to wear a particular fashion brand) found more prevalently among the younger age bracket.  But there's nothing in it to prevent older employees from wearing the same clothes.

    Or perhaps you elect to provide daily internal promotions through TikTok - an app almost exclusively used by under-30s.  This appeals more to those within the younger age bracket who are more likely to already be engaged with this app and its content.  But that doesn't stop older employees from using it.

    It is mistaken to assume that younger people behave in one way and older people behave in another.  Populations may behave in certain ways, but we deal with individuals.  If you have a corporate brand and EVP that emphasizes early technology adoption, digital communities and short-burst/low-friction interactions, that will certainly mould your workforce into one that tends to share attitudes and preferences with younger populations but it doesn't automatically mean that your workforce will be young or that your propositions are illegal.

  • In reply to Robey:

    very interesting thoughts - thank you - how do you think through this quandary with regards to succession planning? the company has an ageing workforce with no real way to attract and retain 'younger workers' and so the succession is a real risk to them - is there any way this can be couched in terms which are not discriminatory? i find this approach uncomfortable but do recognise the issues and risks of the business - so how do we ethically address this in HRM?
  • Could also look at some studies and stats that show how long employees in a particular age group are likely to stay at any one role? Pretty sure that typically the younger demographic switch around more so in terms of succession planning, you may have more of a revolving door than your organisation thinks they would?

    I'm 29 and the longest I've stayed in a role was 5 years and there were mitigating circumstances in my personal life which meant I couldn't really handle or face looking for a new job.
  • In reply to Mark:

    Thats really interesting Mark I hadnt thought of that quicker turnover of younger people - thank you ! :-)
  • I have a similar problem - albeit the opposite end of the age spectrum. We have a very young workforce as burn out is very common in our sector but many of our service users (complex and severe mental health and trauma) state that they would prefer to be supported by older workers "with some life experience". We don't get many applications from older workers at all and I haven't got to grips with how to make it a more attractive prospect for those maybe looking for a career change or to return to the sector, particularly as the pay is notoriously low. Will be keeping an eye on this thread for tips on recruiting a wider range of candidates!
  • In reply to Robey:

    As an example of tacit signals of employer attitude, we offer 3 days paid leave in a rolling year to care for a sick child and a couple of years ago we changed the wording to say the time off is to care for a sick child or grandchild. The reason we changed the wording was to signal our desire to be more inclusive, but if you think about it, it doesn't actually change the benefit at all as we hadn't previously said that the sick child had to be the employee's own child.

    If you have an ageing workforce and can demonstrate that statistically, then you should be able to defend your position if you ever face an indirect discrimination challenge. However, I think you could influence the kinds of applicants you get by thinking through your benefits package and including details in your recruitment ads. For example, listing an enhanced maternity pay package in your benefits signals to all applicants that you are a family-friendly employer but will also appeal directly to women who are of an age to have a baby. Even though there is no physical cut-off point for men to become fathers, an enhanced paternity leave package is going to attract men in a particular life stage which typically tends to occur years before retirement.
  • In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    But do you offer the benefit to care for a sick parent or grandparent?
  • In reply to Keith:

    We do. We offer 3 days paid leave for that too but we just say "relative", so it could be parent, grandparent, brother or sister, uncle, cousin or anyone else who is a family connection.

    I think there is a phase in life where the older generation starts needing care and that generally seems to be in the years when people's children (if they have any) are in their teens, but I have had young colleagues dealing with family illness in their twenties.

  • In reply to Fiona:

    the company has an ageing workforce with no real way to attract and retain 'younger workers' and so the succession is a real risk to them

    First, you need to tackle the assumption that the solution to an ageing workforce is younger workers.

    What is the average length of service at the company?  If it's more than five years, you're in a minority.  The modal average length of service of an employee is now around 3 years.  So if you're doing succession planning, it needs to start from the assumption that your successors are only going to be in place for 3 to (at best) 5 years.  Once you get your head around that idea, age immediately ceases to be a priority in recruitment terms.  In fact, a 50-year-old is far more likely, statistically, to give you 5-10 years service from an appointment, whilst a 20-something is more likely to stick around no more than 2 years.

    So check your assumptions, to start with.

    If, having done so, you find that it's not just length of service but, say, skills and attitudes that your leadership associates with "young people", then think about that.  If it's particular technical skills you're looking for, talk to local colleges or apprenticeship providers.  If it's attitudes, then define them and build a campaign around the attitudes, not the age.

    Meanwhile, if retention is a concern, look at culture, flexibility, appeal to women and minority groups (who are more likely to stay longer at an organization that treats them fairly) and the use of technology.

    We're coming out of lockdown with a better understanding than ever before of how much can be achieved without needing to be in the office every day or even every week.  This ought to encourage companies to throw a wider recruitment net by accommodating more remote and flexible working concepts, and more employees are going to be looking for such working.

    That said, we're also about to enter a time of record unemployment as hundreds, if not thousands, of companies make large sections of their workforces redundant as the government winds down the CJRS with no sign of an up-tick in many industries' earnings.  So you could be spoiled for choice and not have to worry about any of this.

  • Hi
    I work for a charity, we're in the final year of a programme of work to support the museums and heritage sector which is known for having an older workforce and volunteer pool. Our work has been helping young people understand the sector as well as organisations understand how to engage young people. I'm not sure what industry you're in but a similar approach might?