I just watched a short segment on the morning news program that upset me greatly and most certainly should upset the population of baby boomers. The statistic that generated the broadcast program segment was that the unemployment rate of persons over 45 was 40% greater than those of younger years. If nothing else, that reveals a deep seeded social moray existing in corporate culture; that older people are less productive and cost more than a younger workforce.
While we know about the “Age Discrimination in Employment Act” (ADEA of 1967), and that violations of the act itself are extremely hard to prove it is still one of the most violated laws of our land. In this country, age discrimination is probable going to be the last of the socially acceptable discriminatory acts by employers to meet its demise. Most employers know not to ask your age, it is outright rude and the question itself is illegal and probably one of the only ways you could prove the company was discriminating on the basis of age.
In most instances, they couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve spend over 40 years as a corporate executive in the fast moving high technology industries. If a persons’ age, and the ability to maintain a contributing and competitive advantage would be a key issue, it would be felt in spades in this fast moving industry. I’ve found over the years that experience more than offsets youth and exuberance.
One of largest obstacles that need to be overcome in most industries is the “Don’t know, Don’t Know” factor. That is, you don’t know what you don’t know until you’re confronted with an issue where you have no experience. When this happens, there is a higher than 50% chance the employee will choose an inefficient or even wrong path in solving the problem. These misdirection’s are not only expensive, but are usually not observed, recorded or even recognized in the general work environment. But they affect every company’s bottom line far greater than any wage discrepancies that may exist because of tenure or past positions that were held by a more experienced employee.
In the past, I ran a company that posted 40 straight profitable quarters before I retired. During that period of time, we expanded our business by well over 20 times. That translates to a lot of hiring and training. As we were growing, I found that if I didn’t staff with experienced individuals, the projects or units that lacked good experienced employees soon began to underperform, despite the fact they seemed to work longer hours and with great enthusiasm. Since we had a number of projects, manufacturing can-ban’s and customer service centers, it was easy to compare the metrics and draw some significant conclusions.
As our company matured with its outlook and policies, we did find a hiring metric that seemed to work a large percentage of the time. When we applied this metric, it shortened and lowered our training costs, reduced our turn-over and increased our productivity. That, in my mind is a three-fer. Here’s how it worked:
Score the candidate as follows: (ED*10 + Q*10 + 2EX*10) * A = Hiring Quotient
Here is how it works:
- ED = years of education (use resume)
- Q = Approximated IQ (you can use a short vocabulary and math test to approximate this) (You can also ask, it’s not illegal)
- EX = years of experience in the workplace (note you double the time)
- A = Attitude. You judge attitude on a scale of 1-10 based on questions regarding how the candidate perceives the opportunity.
The outcome: Note, attitude is the multiplier and the swing factor. But if all other factors were equal, experience has twice the weight compared to education and generalized intelligence.
The take away: Interview for attitude, it is the swing factor in all hires and is the one predictive element that can make a difference in you’re companies competitiveness and profitability. A good employee is an asset you can’t buy and you can’t keep unless you respect their ability to think, produce and become a part of your winning culture.
Note, however, experience does have a significantly higher weight than the other major parameters. Here’s why;
- Better developed communications skills
- Ability to determine efficient methodology from experience
- A willingness to ask when directions are not clear
Leadership does play a role in ensuring that each employee is as productive as possible. The managers, group leaders and executives must be willing to challenge methodology and promote change where necessary. The more mature workers may present some of the initial resistance to changes, it is a function of maturity and most are willing to share why they are reluctant. We found, if our change requirements were well founded, the resistance from the more experienced workers became more superficial than the passive resistance exhibited by the less mature employees. All employees need guidance and leadership, the CEO does not produce efficiently without the guidance of the company’s Board of Directors.
That brings me back to the initial reason for writing this message. Our culture allows it and companies are clearly discriminating against age. Most companies are doing it legally but in my opinion at their own peril. One major misstep in this economy can cost far more than any possible salary difference, benefit costs or organizational harmony. I ask. When was the last time your youthful employees were there to help you work through a deep recession?