The workplace is always changing, but there is one thing that seems to stay the same: Employers are often reluctant to promote workers over the age of 50.
Legally this shouldn’t be an issue. After all, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in the U.S. and the U.K.’s Equality Act have been in place for some time. Yet, among older workers, there is a genuine feeling they are being treated unfairly.
In fact, two-thirds of people aged over 50 have been overlooked for promotions, and one in five feel their employers misunderstand them, according to recruitment consultancy Robert Walters. Additionally, about 80% of older employees say they have experienced age discrimination at work, according to AARP, the U.S.-based interest group dedicated to issues affecting those 50 years old and older.
There are exceptions, of course. Joe Biden was 78 years and 61 days old when he was promoted to the highest office in the U.S. But considering how many organizations say they are struggling to hire and how they bemoan the lack of skills and available talent, it is perhaps surprising they do not do more to make their older workers feel valued.
This is not the right move, according to recruitment consultancy Robert Walters’ U.K. managing director Chris Poole, who said employers are wrong to overlook and underestimate such a crucial segment of the workforce. “Older workers have bags of professional and personal experience and have sought after resilience to economic upheaval considering the number of political changes they have weathered in their career,” he said.
Poole stressed that employers need to compete with the allure of early retirement and more casual work options by implementing skills-sharing schemes to help stimulate promotion opportunities for mature workers. “Or they should establish more accessible hybrid-working options to accommodate the need for flexible working,” he added.
This view is echoed by Ali Hanan, CEO of Creative Equals, which shows organizations how they can grow by being more inclusive. She said it makes no sense that so many mature workers are being passed over for promotions, being denied training opportunities and being laid off.
“A third of the current workforce will be over 50 by 2030 and one in five of us will be over 65,” she said. “Yet taking the advertising and media sector as an example, only 6% of the workforce is over 50. In not hiring and retaining more, companies are missing out on sales revenue. There is also a negative impact on workplace mentoring and resilience.”
The issue is especially perplexing, considering that companies have invested time and money in diversity strategies in recent years, but biases against older workers have been largely ignored.
“The focus on ‘culture-fit’ at companies with younger leadership teams may see older workers sidelined and left out of conversations and the opportunities that lead to promotions,” said Khyati Sundaram, CEO of ethical hiring software firm Applied. “Hybrid working and the perception that over-50s plan to retire sooner rather than later might be making things worse.”
Companies need to reverse the trend, Sundaram added, especially as many sectors navigate the Great Resignation. “We are seeing a growing trend for ‘unretiring,’ and the companies that address age-related biases will be best placed to overcome staff shortages and benefit from this group’s wealth of experience,” she said.
Research by Renovo, which supports employers and employees through redundancies and retirement planning, found that 49% of organizations in the U.K. face challenges around the loss of key skills. The situation is likely to be the same in the U.S. and across Europe, and the research highlights the problem of not doing more to retain people or upskill older workers so they can be promoted and take on new roles.
Of course, older workers have a responsibility to market themselves more effectively at work as well.
Workers over 50 still need to exploit their expertise and nurture their professional network, according to Sharath Jeevan, executive chairman of global leadership and motivation company Intrinsic Labs, which works with brands such as L’Oreal.
“They need to harness what is different between the older and younger generations at work,” he said. “Older employees tend to understand the culture of their industry better and offer non-technical solutions to problems based on their experience.”