Americans “of a certain age” know that their working days, at least in their current jobs, are numbered. Companies have opted for decades to replace older workers with younger, less expensive employees. This happens despite legal protections older workers first received in 1967, with passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Who doesn’t know of a story in which an older worker lost a job under circumstances that appear suspiciously like age discrimination? Perhaps a pension failed to vest, or a large salary was lost, or some desirable perks were costing the company money. We have seen it far too often in our business and in our families.
What went wrong with age protection? In its “wisdom,” Congress applied age-based discrimination standards to everyone over age 40. How many actual senior citizens are protected by a law that covers everyone 40 years or over? For any employer to skirt this law, only a breath of creativity would be required. Replace a 64-year-old with a 41-year-old, and voila, no age discrimination! Both workers are covered by age discrimination protections.
Age-related forces in the labor market are morphing from quantitative problems to quality problems. Quality of Labor has suddenly risen to the number 1 small business problem, recently mentioned by 25% of small businesses surveyed. For perspective, the number 2 problem cited was Taxation, mentioned by 16% of businesses, and Cost of Labor, which was only number 8 (at 8%).
A recent incident from our work at Van Wie Financial brought to our attention a subtle change in the outlook for older workers. We were discussing the job market with a client, who is nearly 55 and could soon retire with a vested pension. He announced that he was not going to take advantage of retirement benefits available to him today. Instead, he would continue to work for a few more years, with no fear of layoff or termination.
During our questioning we uncovered the reasoning for the employer’s actions, as it was hidden in plain sight. New hires have been of such poor quality lately that the senior employees are absolutely necessary for continuing smooth operations. People of “that certain age” have been proven to be invaluable to employers, and so much so that retention bonuses are now becoming commonplace among this age group.
Isn’t that grand?
Employers are being forced to reach down in age to find available workers, and that is where trouble is brewing. Preparation and work ethic in the younger generations is proving to be of questionable quality. Maintaining quality standards within an organization is easier when retaining older workers.
In 2019, we are in a strange new world; one where people “of a certain age” are not only getting jobs, but they are getting bonuses to stay put or join new companies. Baby Boomers have come a long way.
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