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Age at work are off to EGOS

We are attending the EGOS conference in Athens this week so won’t be blogging for a while!  We will aim to do a post-conference-post shortly afterwards but full blogging service will be resumed on 13th July.

Are older workers the answer to boosting economic growth?

Accountany firm PwC have produced a report that suggests that older workers could be the key to delivering economic growth, as reported here in The Telegraph.  Jon Andrews, of PwC, is quoted as saying: “Our research shows there could be big gains for the UK economy from policies directed at keeping people skilled and motivated to stay in the workforce for longer.” The argument is that by increasing the numbers of older people in employment the Government could “boost tax revenues and reduce benefit payments significantly”.

Intruigingly, PwC have what’s referred to as a ‘Golden Age Index‘. I’ve not heard of this before. It apparently reflects the importance of older workers to the economy across a range of different countries. Britain is 19th in the 34 nation OECD group.

Of course, there is a counter narrative that we often report here in this blog, namely tales of ageism and age discrimination as well as the more general obstacles to older people continuing to work. It suggests much more is needed than simple exhortations to encourage employers and older workers to make this happen.

McDonalds sued for age discrimination

In Los Angelos, fast food chain McDonalds has been sued for age discrimination. As reported here in the Los Angelos Daily News, seven former employees of a McDonald’s restaurant in Northridge have brought proceedings in which they allege that they were fired because they were over 40 years old. In fact, the full complaint alleges age discrimination, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They are seeking unspecified damages.

The detail provided alleges that they lost their jobs as a result of a deliberate campaign by a new store manager to replace these staff members with a younger crew. Specifically, it’s alleged that the manager said she only wanted “puro gente joven” (meaning ‘only young people’) and that she “did not want old people to staff the Parthenia restaurant”.

The specific ages of all seven former employees isn’t given here (other than that they are over 40), though two of them are said to be 52 and 63. Interesting that this happens in the same week as a report by the Institute of Leadership and Management finds that older workers are unfairly overlooked. As reported here in the Independent, the survey found that managers rated team members aged 51 and over far lower than younger age groups for their keenness to learn, develop and progress. They also often wrongly assume that those 50 plus lack the desire and interest to progress into more senior leadership roles.

Is 16 years too young to join the military? And can Action Man prevent it?

We’ve reported before on the issue of 16 year olds in the UK being able to join the military. It’s a situation that puts the UK at odds with many other countries. As stated in this article in The Guardian, Britain is the only state in Europe or Nato that still enlists minors. The policy has been criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and other groups including Child Soldiers International and the British Quakers.

In the latest development in their campaign to change this, the organisation Veterans For Peace (VFP) is releasing what are described as a series of ‘darkly satirical short films‘ to highlight the cost of war. These will feature ‘Action Man dolls with accessories including antidepressants, wheelchairs, “benefits cancelled” letters and body bags‘. The films are said to have been inspired by official Armed Forces toys, which apparently include a Predator drone playset for five-year-olds.  The camaign is an interesting take on the use of dolls to promote (or not) particular careers, as discussed here in The Guardian in relation to ‘Entrepreneur Barbie’ targeted at girls (and the subject of research by Katrina and my colleagues at Birkbeck).

The films will be online from tomorrow 23 June at veteransforpeace.org.uk

The key argument is that, although recruits under 18 need a parental or guardian’s consent to join up, the act of doing so needs to be an informed choice. Campaigners question whether this is achieved through current mechanisms and structures which lock new recruits in until they are 22.

Age impacts unemployment and re-employment in the US according to new research

The Huffington Post reports on a new research article to be published in Psychological Bulletin suggesting that, based on an analysis of US figures, age has a significant impact on job search success after unemployment.  The full article is not yet available but one the authors (Connie Wangerg, a Carlson School professor of industrial relations) explained some of their key findings in the Huffington Post.  The article summarizes key findings as:

  • someone 50 years or older is likely to be unemployed for 5.8 weeks longer than someone between the ages of 30 and 49, and 10.6 weeks longer than people between the ages of 20 and 29.
  • the odds of being re-employed decrease by 2.6 percent for each one-year increase in age
  • older workers find jobs that are lower in pay and less personally satisfying compared to their previous jobs.

It is not clear from the information available so far whether the data simply categorizes all over 50’s as one group of older workers or whether there is a more fine grained analysis of age categories.  It does not appear from what I have read that the results are analysed by gender.  Nevertheless it looks like an interesting study to examine in more depth.

USA women’s football team win group and silence age critics

In continuing our occasional series of ‘sporting ages’ posts, we turn to the 2015 Women’s World Cup currently underway in Canada.  Despite less flattering headlines for FIFA of late, there is much to be said for this event, even though the late night coverage once again clashing with important exams in our household has caused some heated debate.

Similarly heated debate surround those who have been questioning the average age of the USA team, whose team selection was described as a ‘huge gamble’ by Fox News as their average age of 29.37 apparently makes them the oldest world cup team in either the men’s or women’s competition ever!  Well the USA have won their group and progressed to the last 16 so I’d like to think that might silence their critics but I suspect not.

Indeed, it is reported in an article on TakePart.com that the USA women’s captain, Christie Rampone, says that she is asked more often about her age than any other aspect of the game or her career.  Certainly it appears in many headlines today, in the Huffington Post for example, which despite singing her praises still focuses on her age NOT her footballing skill in the headline.  Certainly that this is her fifth world cup is a fantastic achievement but the emphasis on her approaching 40th does seem to overshadow discussions about what is happening on the pitch.  Let’s hope she has more to celebrate than her birthday as the competition moves to the knock out stages.

Commercialising childhood and the ‘voice’ of the next generation

At the other end of the age spectrum from our last post, comes this story from Australia that a three year old is “the voice of her generation”.  Shockingly she also has competition from other toddlers who already appear to be working hard and developing as social media brands.

The story (from news.com.au) describes how a child’s instagram feed, managed by her mother has turned into a multi-million dollar business earning her the label ‘kid-preneur’.  The child seems to have little say or understanding however of what is going on yet startlingly there seems to be no concern expressed that this is commercializing the little girl’s childhood.  The piece goes onto to ask the mother of this child: “And what does she say to critics who suggest she’s pre-determining her future? What if [child] wanted to be a criminal lawyer, say, or Prime Minister? “From a long-term perspective, I haven’t even really thought about it. For now she is having fun, there are opportunities – she’s in a position where she’s making money.”

All in all rather sad I felt.

What to do with (ageing) sexists?

So, unless you’ve been under a rock this week, the chances are that you’ve heard the comments made by Sir Tim Hunt, at a conference in South Korea. They are reported here on the BBC website under the rubric of ‘the trouble with girls‘ as “Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.”  You’ll probably have also heard that Hunt subsequently resigned his honorary post as Emeritus Professor at UCL and from his position on a Royal Society Committee. And I do hope you’ll have seen the rather splendid #DistractinglySexy hashtag on Twitter where female scientists have poked fun at the idea of women being a distraction to men in labs by posting photos of themselves – and famous female scientists of the past – in their lab settings. Indeed one of my key concerns with Hunt’s comments was his positioning of women as the problem.

While the many aspects of these comments and subsequent actions are played out in the media, this piece in The Guardian by Gaby Hinsliff, asks ‘Why sack ageing sexists? Send them to rehab instead’. I had noticed references to Hunt’s age (72) in earlier media coverage – including reader online comments – which centred around arguments that ‘at his age, what could you expect?’ versus ‘I know many people of his age who don’t hold those sexist views’. Hovering somewhere between, Hinsliff argues that Tim Hunt ‘isn’t too old to learn that his views of women are out of step with the modern world’ and suggests that he has fallen down a gap both generational and gendered, blaming his single-sex education in an earlier era for some of his attitudes. I must admit to veering towards the views of those that think that his age is no excuse; it seems just as likely that his status and field might have allowed him to carry on holding these views unchallenged over the decades.

She suggests that: ‘Ageing sexists whose personal prejudices interfere with their ability to do the job obviously have to be tackled. Getting to grips with the basic principles of equality should be as non-negotiable as – and frankly not much more complicated than – mastering the new office IT system, or keeping up with developments in your professional field.’  I agree – though for good measure I would extend this proposal to sexists of all ages.

Best practice protocol aims to end age discrimination in recruitment

A new initiative has been announced here between Age UK and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) to give older people a better chance of finding work. It will take the form of a best practice protocol with the aim of ending age discrimination in recruitment.

Recruitment procedures are generally the first step towards gaining a job if one is out of the labour market and of finding new employment if one is already working; they can often be seen as a barrier for older workers. Organizations which use recruitment agencies may rely on them to follow best practice to ensure compliance with the equality legislation – but anecdotally we hear of many instances where such agencies (particularly those servicing some industries like IT) are disinclined to put forward candidates who fall outside a limited age range. So it will be interesting to see what the protocol will say and how this issue will be addressed.

According to the REC website, the new guide will:

  • explain how recruiters can help employers look beyond stereotypes and that there are no reasons for older workers to be less productive than their younger counterparts.
  • ask recruiters to designate an internal advocate for older people who can defend their skills and experience to businesses
  • cautios against potentially discriminatory language in job adverts (words like “energetic” or “vibrant” which can be interpreted as code for younger workers).
  • call on the industry to use a range of platforms to advertise jobs so that some older people who do not use social media are not excluded from opportunities.’

I couldn’t see the actual guide anywhere yet but no doubt we’ll pick it up later on. I wholly endorse the idea of looking beyond stereotypes but I wonder whether this will extend to not using so-called positive stereotypes about older workers in the publicity for the protocol… I’ll also be interested to see whether the focus is on age discrimination just against older workers or in respect of all age groups.

Interns ‘forced to wait months’ for minimum wage inquiries

Over the weekend, this article in The Observer highlighted what’s been happening (or perhaps, not happening) regarding HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) investigations into complaints by interns that they have not been paid the minimum wage for proper work. The law provides that anyone who is “working” must be paid the national minimum wage. This is £6.50 an hour for anyone aged 21 or over. HMRC are responsible for enforcing this law.

Many interns are ‘younger workers’ and the campaigning website Graduate Fog has been involved in bringing this story to media attention, as here, focusing on the exploitative aspects of this in respect of young workers. One of the claims is that HMRC is taking up to 14 months before it even starts to question the employer organizations.

There are suggestions (denied by HMRC) that it has changed its policy by focusing only on cases where at least some money was paid. But the annual report of the Low Pay Commission concludes “This is a facet of the NMW that remains poorly understood. Moreover, because the harm of an agreement to work unpaid is borne by candidates unable to take up a role rather than just the worker concerned, there is a risk such cases will get deprioritised in an enforcement model that is focused on recovering lost wages.

Is this another example of how the burden (financial and evidential) is firmly on the individual to establish wrong-doing, as in pursuing claims for age discrimination (as discussed in this post on the blog last month)?

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