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A mini round-up on the latest on age discrimination at work

I noticed a lot of items in our alerts about age discrimination over the last week. Here’s a handy round-up of them.

The Telegraph reported the findings of a study by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University. It was led by Dr Nick Drydakis, an economist, and was commissioned by the official magazine of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. The researchers carried out an experiment in which they used a series of carefully constructed CVs in respect of applicants aged 28 and 50 who had the same level of qualification and otherwise almost identical skills and interests. The older applicants’ Cvs showed more experience. Over a period of two years, they used these to apply for more than 1,800 jobs. The younger candidates were 4.2 times more likely to be offered an interview than the older applicants. There was also a gender effect: younger men were 3.6 times more likely to get an interview than their older rivals while among women the gap was 5.3 times.

A similar style of study is also reported in the Business Insider this time conducted in the USA. The academic who ran the study is Patrick Button, Professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. The research team (also economists) created about 40,000 fictitious applications and submitted them online for 13,000 lower-skilled jobs as sales people, administrative assistants, security guards and janitors. These jobs were selected because they are “common jobs that older workers actually get hired in”, the so-called “bridge jobs” that appeal to older workers as they near the end of their working life but still want and need to stay in paid work. The results apparently showed evidence that women experience age discrimination in hiring, and that the inequity intensifies with age.

The Actuary reports a survey commissioned by SunLife in which almost 40% of people aged 50 and over report having experienced age discrimination, with 62% of those believing they have lost out on a job because of it. The survey asked abut experiences across different aspects of life: so while the workplace was found to be the most likely scene of such discrimination, people also reported age discrimination in shops, while driving, in bars and restaurants, and on public transport.

Clearly legislation against age discrimination (while an essential step) does not on its own solve the issue and lived experience of ageism at work. It’s interesting how these studies and surveys were generated by economists and financial institutions (rather than, for example, work psychologists). Does this indicate a move towards the development of the ‘business case’ argument against age discrimination (as opposed to a rights-based equality discourse)? These aren’t of course mutually exclusive.

Career websites with in built age bias?

Illinois attorney general has warned a number of online career search companies about inbuilt age bias.  Reported recently in the Chicago Tribune  five US national companies have been warned about the inbuilt bias of drop down selection links that relate to setting up details of education and previous employment.  On one website the earliest possible date a use could select was 1980 for education.    However previously in relation to the cut off dates provided for employment categories, recruitment companies have justified the use of such dates as in the users best interest so that they profiles contain only their most recent and relevant work experience.  Indeed there is also an argument that doing away with dates for some categories such as education could be advantageous to older job seekers as it avoids indirectly declaring your age.




The contested nature of #retirement in the 21st century

Retirement as a concept is certainly being challenged and contested. Is it still meaningful? Has retirement become a luxury that only the wealthy can afford? Is it experienced differently by men and women? Does it involve (paid) working?

The Guardian’s ongoing series ‘the new retirement’ by Amelia Hill is looking at the changing nature of retirement and people’s hopes, fears, plans and experiences. This has featured – for example – an article exploring its meaning for five Yorkshire women all at different stages of approaching retirement, what it takes to achieve a successful and fulfilling retirement (‘a budget, good friends, a plan’) as well as an exploration of the history of ‘retirement’ which might point to more flexible notions of retirement age.

Elsewhere in online news, retirement crops up in wider discussions of age at work. This article on the AOL website, declares that ‘early retirement is dead – unless you have one of these jobs’. For the record, these are said to be:

Sportsperson; Soldier; Police Officer; Air Traffic Controller or Firefighter.

What these roles have in common is a requirement of high or peak fitness (mental and/or physical) related to job performance which mean these occupations also have actual or de facto mandatory retirement ages.  We have featured stories about these occupations on the blog – sometimes it’s been a case of individuals who have maintained fitness levels then challenging these mandatory retirement rules (e.g. Kevin Fulthorpe); othertimes it’s been collective action to prevent retirement age being increased (e.g. firefighters).  The thrust of the article is that it might be worth thinking about these jobs simply because of the early retirement (and pension) entitlement. Will we see these issues featuring in careers advice in the future? The retirement debate looks set to continue.

State Pension Age – @WASPI_Campaign women’s protest and more

Yesterday was International Women’s Day which was marked in many ways including a mass demonstration in London by Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI). We have blogged before on this issue. Their latest action was a protest outside Parliament about the lack of information given to them about their pensions and to raise awareness of the difficulties that this is causing for those affected. Women from different parts of the UK  including from Scotland, Manchester, the North East, and Wales travelled to Westminster. The aim of the campaign is to seek fair transitional arrangements. The UK government has been criticised for not making women properly aware of the changes.

The BBC article quotes Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris who chairs the State Pension Inequality for Women committee, as saying: “Some women are selling their homes in order to be able to survive, living off savings which are rapidly running out and I don’t think it’s fair, having in some way shape or form contributed to society all their lives.”

On the subject of state pension age, readers may be interested in an event planned for later this year by the Westminster Employment Forum. This will look at the challenges for policymakers in the context of an ageing population and the independent review of the State Pension Age (SPA). The conference will take place on Thursday 2nd November 2017, further details to be found here. Speakers include Dr Joanne Crawford, Head of Ergonomics and Human Factors, Institute of Occupational Medicine and Christopher Brooks, Senior Policy Manager, Consumer and Community, Age UK.

(This post was updated on 9th May 2017 to reflect the revised date for the Westminster Employment Forum event.)

“Intergenerational Learning” top 5 trend for 2017 according to Sodexo

There are apparently 5 Global Workplace Trends for 2017 according to Sodexo.  Their research approach here is intriguing as according to their website: “We looked at global news sources focused on HR and the workplace and selected 10 trends relevant to Sodexo based on the services we offer and/or the way we partner with clients. Nearly 50 subject matter experts were consulted. Secondary source material and statistics were compiled from global news sources and research databases“.

The five proposed trends are:

  1. Next Generation Robotics
  2. Personal Branding (including by employees)
  3. Intergenerational Learning.
  4. Wellness in the Workplace (also described as Wellness 3.0)
  5. The Rise of Cross-Workplaces (rather disappointingly this is not organisations full of angry employees but a new iteration of collaborative working and work spaces)

So as you can guess I wanted to find out more about the new trend of ‘Intergenerational Learning‘.  This apparently requires ‘intergenerational agility’ to develop a new approach to talent management to take advantage of the ‘experience economy’ (I think this means older workers).   And I quote:  “Catalyzing intergenerational experience is a new source of competitive advantage that benefits all generations and organizations. Youth have specially focused knowledge, while older adults often bring collective knowledge about the culture and dynamic of work“.  We also need to celebrate “intergenerativity—the creativity that emerges from reciprocal exchanges across diverse identities, professions, ethnicities and ages” although given the list that seems like just plain old creativity to me!  But don’t worry, leaders in these new organisations will have ‘generational intelligence’ (seriously!) and therefore ‘the capacity to be aware of generational positions and to approach workforce management with a generational lens in mind.’ 

There are some good points in here about the need to avoid generational stereotypes for example (shortly after a sentence that reinforces them!) but the buzz words and jargon are completely overwhelming.  This reflects our long held concern that as a generational ‘problem’ at work has been constructed so the ‘solutions’ will emerge, packaged in commercially viable ways by consultants and the like.



CIPD poll says over-55s are ‘braced’ to work until they pass 70

One of the highlights from the CIPD’s annual ’employee attitude’ survey relates to the expectations of working in later life:

“In a survey of more than 1,600 UK employees, more than a third (37%) of all workers believe they will have to work past the widely accepted retirement age of 65, a figure which jumps to 49% among workers over 55 years old. Among those who predict they will work past 65, the average age they expect to actually retire is 70.”

The press relates highlights both ‘mental fitness’ and money ‘for holidays’ as motivations for this belief, but I would suspect that these are selected from a list of options provided in the survey rather than tapping into anything more meaningful for the individual respondents.  However it was particularly worrying that the poll seemed to suggest that there is still a lack of knowledge about changes to pensions age and entitlements in the UK.  For example it was said that “48% of 35–54-year-olds are still unaware that the state pension age is going to increase from 66 to 67 between 2026 and 2028”.  Of similar concern is the finding that most respondents felt that their organisations were doing very little to support older workers staying on in the workplace: “one in four (25%) employees believe that their employer is prepared to meet the needs of workers aged 65 and over”.

While this is a fairly simply survey, some of these figures should be of concern to employers and government, particularly in terms of the preparedness we are expected to make for our later life.  They also highlight the traction of terms such as pension and pensioner which have long been associated with state support in later life.  Much will have to be done if that stereotype is to be tackled.



Age and work in the Trump era

I don’t imagine this will be the last blog post on the topic of age and work during Trump’s presidency in the US.

There’s something of a mirror image to our earlier post this week going on in this article on the Michigan Radio website.

It reports that in the hospitality sector, restaurants are struggling to attract workers. They have traditionally depended on migrant labour as apparently nearly one in five restaurant employees in the US are foreign born. And restaurants also have the youngest workforce of any sector of the economy.

The article considers what the effects of this might be of Trump’s immigration policies (handily explained in detail here by the New York Times) but broadly in this context it involves favouring employment of nationals.  Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant Association, is cited as saying that “over the next decade restaurants will likely create more jobs than the U.S. born workforce can fill.” And he goes on to point out that with numbers of younger workers in decline, this is going to create vacancies which would otherwise have been filled by immigrants.

There’s no mention here of what other options could be explored – hiring older workers? – but again, we’ll watch with interest to see what happens.

Age and work in the post-EU referendum landscape

I don’t imagine this will be the last blog post that considers the impact of the Brexit vote for age and work related issues.

This recent article in People Management cites a CIPD Labour Market Outlook (LMO) survey that reports 27% of UK employers say they have seen evidence that EU nationals in their organisations are considering leaving the company (or the UK) this year. The survey also reports that employers say they are struggling to fill nearly 750,000 vacancies in the UK labour market because of a lack of suitable labour and skills. And it’s the low-skilled sectors such as retail, manufacturing, health and hospitality that account for 45% of the vacancies.

How do organizations say they would address this shortage?

  • 26% say they would absorb the extra cost of recruiting staff from the EU;
  • 19% say they would retain older workers;
  • 17% said they would invest in more in training;
  • 17% said they would hire more apprentices;
  • 16% said they would recruit more UK-born graduates.

So is it possible that the post-Brexit landscape would be good for older workers (via higher retention rates) and workers of all ages (via more apprenticeships and graduate schemes, assuming these are not restricted to younger workers)? Enter David Davis, the Brexit secretary. According to this article in today’s Guardian, the UK is not about to ‘shut the door’ on low-skilled EU migrants and apparently it’s not ‘plausible’ that British citizens would immediately take low-skilled jobs in sectors such agriculture, social care and hospitality. So immigration restrictions will apparently be phased in.

There’s a long way to go before a clearer picture emerges of the UK labour market post-Brexit landscape. But we’ll be watching with interest to see the implications for age and work.

As promised I’ve read the report!

At the start of the week I blogged about a new report by the Intergenerational Commission called as time goes by.  I promise to read the while 45 page report, which I have now done.  Well almost.  I will admit to getting rather hot under the collar which made it a bit difficult to concentrate.  This wasn’t helped by spotting this article in the Daily Mail this morning: “A Generation with a huge sense of entitlement: Bosses complain that millennials are spoilt, full of themselves, averse to hard work and expect ‘success on a plate’ so what does that mean of society?”  (Short answer of course, nothing.  It’s a stereotype that tells us nothing about those born in a particular year; but of course the impact of the stereotype perpetuated in this way is a real concern to us @ageatwork).

So having been side tracked here are some quotes from the Resolution Foundation / Intergenerational Commission report and my views:

Progression between generations is described as “the natural order”.  This is intriguing.  I wonder if the continuing wealth gap between those at the top and the bottom of the income levels is also the natural order?  The report tries to address this by saying “while inter and intra generational equity are different concepts they are nevertheless intertwined”.  This gives the impression that generation is the pre-eminent lens through which we should view issues of inequity.  This seems very odd to say the least, particularly as there is no academic agreement about the divisions between or labels for different generational cohorts.

There is much discussion of ‘typical’ and ‘average’ here.  This can provide a broad sense of one view on the distribution of income – but only one view.

It is claimed that millennials are suffering from generational-specific trends.  But this argument is not clearly explained.  Particularly why is a cohort lens the only one that is relevant to understand the experiences of this age group?  There is some but insufficient comparison of the generational categories at particular chronological ages.

A lot of attention in the report is given to comparing ‘pensioners’ to ‘working age families’.  The whole notion of ‘working age’ is currently undergoing a radical change.  And this is indeed an issue of importance to us all, as notions of retirement are being radically overhauled.  Why not open this up for debate?

I will return to the point I made on Monday.  To stereotype any generation – negatively in the (insert word of choice) Daily Mail article today – or to portray the millennials as hard done by in comparison with the well off Baby Boomers, as is the tendency in this report, is problematic.  These stereotypes have real effects, and perpetuating them is not helping anyone of any age.


Rising pensioner income in the news again

Accompanied by stock photos of a couple cycling in the sunshine and relaxing on the shores of an Italian lake (I’m guessing a bit on the location), this BBC story headlines news from the ‘think tank’ The Resolution Foundation.  Unusually for the BBC there is no direct link through to the research cited, so it took a bit of digging to discover the origin is a report they produced for The Intergenerational Commission

I hope you are keeping up as it turns out that ‘The Intergenerational Commission’ is a thinktank founded by The Resolution Foundation and chaired by David Willetts, who amongst other things is author of ‘How the BabyBoomers took their children’s future’.  Another few clicks and it turns out the David Willetts is also chair of the Resolution Foundation.

I know – its only Monday!  Some crass stereotypical stock photos and a story on Generations already.

Interestingly the BBC story doesn’t mention generations at all.  But its all there in the report.  Now this is a 45 page report so I am going to read it properly before I actually review it in detail on this blog.  There is a first time for everything!  But in 45 pages, full of discussion of intergenerational fairness and the intergenerational social contract there doesn’t seem to be any definition of the term generation.  Rather generational labels are discussed as though they are clearly accepted and comparable groups.  There is also some conflation of familial and cohort sense of the term generation and the usual conflation with age.  While even from a quick skim read we can see that there is some acknowledgement of intra-generational inequity this seems brushed aside as already receiving enough attention elsewhere.  I look forward to reading the whole 45 pages and adding more to our blog later in the week!

Just to reiterate, at @AgeatWork we research issues relating to all ages at work.  Our concern here is the impact of stereotyping all generations – whatever labels you chose to use – particularly when generation is used as a explanatory mechanism for  difference in  socioeconomic status.

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