Are ageist stereotypes affecting the job market?



The post-pandemic world of work is well on the road to recovery, but it would seem that certain sections of society are being left behind and are still struggling to find employment.

At the height of lockdown, workers over 50 were far more likely to be made redundant than younger employees, and their chances of re-employment within six months were half that of those under 50.

Many people coined the phrase 'the great retirement' as it seemed that perhaps the older generation was using the pandemic as an excuse to take early retirement out of choice – and no doubt some did - but it would seem that many couldn't find suitable new roles and still can't, even though there continues to be a talent shortage.

According to the Institute for Economic Equity, there were 3.3 million more retirees in October 2021 than in January 2020, a massive 7% increase. While some older workers may have decided not to return to the office due to Covid health concerns or perhaps because they didn't need the money and genuinely wanted to retire, recent research shows that others felt pressured into taking the option of retirement with companies either edging them out of existing roles or rejecting them for new ones.

Until the pandemic, the participation of those over 50 in the workforce had been growing, and this sharp reversal sees much wisdom and experience disappearing from the industry as the older generation remains outside of the business world.

Why are companies reluctant to re-employ older workers, and why are so many over 50s choosing not to stay in the workplace?

There are two issues. While D,E&I is a primary focus for organisations across the globe, and great strides are being made to tackle vital issues such as sexism, gender identity and race, many companies overlook ageism when it comes to inclusivity.

Firstly, this creates issues around recruitment, where managers may choose not to hire or promote older workers because of preconceptions that they will be too expensive, not want to learn new skills or not be digitally proficient.

Secondly, older workers may not feel valued and respected in their roles and are not being offered benefits which pique their interest or feel relevant to them. According to a recent report by McKenzie-Delis, only 14% of companies have training geared towards older workers, and many employers wrongly assume that more senior staff are not interested in career progression and personal development.

Constantly being overlooked for meaningful new projects or opportunities to progress at work can leave older staff feeling demotivated and disengaged, making the option of early retirement an appealing alternative.

What can companies do to help resolve the issue?

Not considering older workers when recruiting and not being aware of how to retain those over 50 in their current roles adds to the headache for HR teams when trying to stem the flow of talent loss.

Companies should look at strategies to attract older candidates and review how to make their working environment attractive enough to encourage them to stay in post. Initiatives such as inclusion training, focusing on ageism, and ensuring that equal training and development opportunities are offered to older generations could be a step forward for businesses that want to make their more mature employees feel valued.

When thinking about recruitment, job adverts can be worded inclusively, avoiding tech-heavy, modern jargon, which could be off-putting for older applicants who may believe that the role is implying that it is not aimed at them and that they would be unsuccessful in the process.

Not forgetting the other end of the scale

Remember that the youngest people in the workforce can also suffer. During the pandemic, there were significant issues for graduates where companies faced recruitment freezes and, in some cases, graduate training programmes were paused or cancelled altogether. Many young people who left university during this time found difficulty in securing employment in their chosen field. This has led many young workers to have extended CV Gaps and lack experience in their sector.

The good news is that graduate job vacancies are now 20% higher than pre-pandemic. However, many graduates are still facing a tricky situation where they often have no practical experience in their industry and long periods out of work, making them a less attractive proposition to employers. In addition, research shows that the quality of applicants has dropped, perhaps because some graduates have opted for a different career path if they were able to secure employment elsewhere during the pandemic and have not returned to graduate-level work since. Alongside this, those who had to study for their degrees from home during lockdown perhaps had a lower standard of education and a less enriched experience of being at university, leaving them less equipped for work.

Unfortunately, this feeds into the age-old stereotype and vicious cycle that school leavers and graduates don't have enough experience to secure a job even though they can't get experience if no one gives them a job. Although things are looking less bleak for the youngest workers, it could be time for businesses to consider hiring policies for those caught up in the pandemic years and look past the CV gaps. Instead, consider how they could pick up some top talent willing and able to learn and develop new skills quickly to help solve some of their recruitment issues.

To summarise, much can be done to address ageism in the workplace, and the benefits could be far-reaching for employees at either end of the working age spectrum and for businesses that find it easier to retain top professionals and recruit new talent to fill staffing gaps.

If you are looking to recruit new team members or if you are looking for your next career move, contact our expert recruitment team at McGregor Boyall today and find out how we can help you.