What can an 82-year-old Hamlet tell us about inclusivity in the workplace?
While A-list actors may be able to find work whatever their age, it’s a different story for ordinary older workers who face barriers to work right from the start.
In this blog, Patrick Thomson, Senior Programme Manager for Work, looks at what the latest findings from the Good Recruitment for Older Workers project reveals about ageism in recruitment.
50 years after Sir Ian McKellen first played the role of Hamlet, he is set to take up the part once again when theatres reopen this summer. The production has been cast 'age, colour and gender-blind', benefiting actors and audiences alike. The aim of having the best person for the role whatever their age is just as worthy an aim in the workplace as it is on the stage. Unfortunately, we know that just as with actors, older workers get typecast and pigeonholed in certain roles, and too often don’t get cast at all.
People in their 50s and 60s do not think that recruitment is working for them
In the toughest job market in recent memory this really matters. Our latest research, 'Too much experience', shows that a third of people in their 50s and 60s feel their age disadvantages them in applying for jobs, higher than any other age group.
And this doesn’t only affect people for one role or one job, this has long standing impacts long after a rejection letter is sent.
Our nationally representative survey found that of people aged 50-69 who had experienced age discrimination in recruitment, a third (33%) felt stuck in insecure work and two thirds (64%) were financially less well of. Three quarters (76%) were put off applying for jobs and a third were put off work altogether or went into early retirement. Most alarmingly, 43% said it had affected their health and wellbeing, and more than two thirds (68%) said it had undermined their confidence.
The relationship between age and inclusion is a complex one
Employers look around the office, or the shop floor, (or these days the Zoom gallery view) and they see plenty of people of different ages. They also see lots of people who are older than average at the top of the organisation. If they see barriers to inclusion at workplace there are other factors that feel much more pressing.
A study published in the American Psychological Association found that people who were most likely to oppose ‘injustices and inequality in society’, and who were most likely to disapprove of racism and sexism, were also more likely to endorse 'succession-based ageism' – the idea that older people should step aside to improve younger people’s job opportunities.
Older workers may be there because they have been there a long time, but they aren’t often hired there. Not everyone who is older at work is senior. Many people do not make it to the top, or even off the bottom with research showing that older workers are more likely to be stuck in low pay for longer.
Applying for a job when you’re younger feels like an opportunity, applying for a job when you’re older feels like a risk
It feels like a risk because with any change comes uncertainty. People have something to lose and responsibilities to keep – mortgages, dependents, parents to care for, reputations to uphold, a working identity to maintain, security in working routines, patterns and conditions. On top of all those perceived risks of change, people shouldn’t also need to look over their shoulder and wonder how other people will judge them because of their age.
A quarter of over 50s in our survey said they had wanted to move jobs, but felt unable to do so because of their age. It is little wonder then that only 0.23% of people over the age of 50 voluntarily move jobs each quarter – less than half the rate of people in their 30s and 40s. This results in a lack of job mobility and people being stuck in jobs that become unsustainable.
Changing our thinking about changing jobs
We need opportunities to change jobs no matter our age, whether to progress, take on new challenges, or balance work with other needs. People need to move, up, down or sideways based on where they are in their life or their career, but they are often stuck because they are seen as too experienced, set in their ways, or lacking potential.
As the Bard wrote: “All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts…”
With more of us living a ‘hundred year life’ it is in all or our interests to make sure that we can move and change jobs free of bias at any point of our working lives. Age bias can affect anyone. Our research has found that even applicants in their 20s had been told that they were 'too old' for a role.
Time is of the essence for employers and recruits alike
Getting recruitment right matters to employers as well. Missing out on the best candidate, failing to represent customers and having a less diverse workforce all have business costs. In terms of the bottom line, a poor hire at middle-management level is estimated to cost a business over £130,000 to resolve. As employers try to recover these are costs they can’t afford.
We have found steps that employers can take to reduce age-bias in recruitment – considering where they are placing jobs, considering whether ‘cultural fit’ means more ‘people like us’, using structured interviews and processes, and collecting and analysing the age profile of applicants and recruits. We want to work with employers and recruiters to make these work in practice.
Many jobs have been lost, others are in limbo. The worst may still be to come but with half of UK employers planning to recruit this year, we need to make sure that we hire back better, for everyone, whatever their age.