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Age biases in employment Essay

This paper reviews an article on Age biases in employment by Marie Wilson, Polly Parker and Jordan Kan, (2007) Business Review, Volume 9 No. 1 of The University of Auckland Business School, New Zealand. The article researches and discusses the effects of age and gender on perceived suitability and short-listing of candidates. Based on field experiments, simulation and interviews from multiple perspectives focusing on the process of selection decisions and outcome of recruitment, the article concludes that younger workers below age 50 are seen as more suitable than older workers. Younger workers are more likely to be offered employment although the effect is moderated by talent shortages. The extensive argument in the article advocates that recruitment should focus and base decisions on job-related information against required qualifications, previous experience and competency rather than age stereotypes.

Summary

Ageism and discrimination is defined according to Dr. Robert Butler – Washington Post 1969 as “a process of systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish this for skin colour and gender”. According to the research article by Kan, Parker and Wilson (2007) the rise of older workers in the work force has been accompanied by increased evidence

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of discrimination against ageing workers while international research claims that age was a primary barrier to employment. The literature identifies old age as being from 50 years and above based on the concept of age-stereotyping which involves use of negative occupational schemas by members of one group to judge members of another.

The article estimates that 44 percent of the New Zealand workforce population is composed of those over 40 years of age. Given such a high estimate of the population the risk of discrimination against older workers is likely to increase in New Zealand. Research suggests that this is also the case internationally. The article further postulates that older workers are more likely to be made redundant or less likely to be up-skilled resulting in their discrimination from employment.

However age based discrimination in New Zealand is significantly suppressed by the legislation on Human Rights and by market forces given severe skills and talent shortages. This is mainly in the healthcare industry which has worked to force employers to focus more on skills rather than on gender, age and ethnicity. However this does not eliminate the risk of age discrimination against older workers because they are generally considered to be less adaptable, than younger candidates.

The article suggests that age based discrimination could be either positive or negative. Positive discrimination includes favourable treatment based on physical work activities of which older workers may be exempt from heavy lifting or could be favoured with managerial and supervisory roles. In contrast negative discrimination may block or restrict older workers from professional development opportunities as it could be seen as wasting resources. This could disadvantage their recruitment and selection to meaningful employment for non managerial posts.

The results of the research in the article clearly shows that older candidates were less preferred and seen as less suitable in the jobs with lower talent shortages. However there was no evidence of barriers to older workers in nursing as the candidates were seen as equivalent although preference was given to older workers because of their work experience. In the field study, older candidates who were either 40+ or 55+ years of age were rated far behind their younger counterparts with female applicants being disadvantaged in sales and HR roles. Over 40% of the variance in rating of the candidates was based on age, with employers favouring younger workers over older workers, assuming that younger workers are more flexible and adaptable. Older workers were described as resistant to change and technology while young workers were described as trainable and easy to get up to speed.

These findings were consistent with the literature on influence of age on selection decisions indicating the 55+ age group suffering hardship in jobs that are age stereotyped. The selection panel’s rate on suitability was biased on age schema rather than by objective differences in job or applicant’s characteristics. The literature review indicates that the implications from age discrimination can be wide-ranging with employers still harbouring preferences for younger workers even where there is a labour shortage. This suggests that employers are failing to tap and capitalise on the valuable talent that older workers bring to the labour market while managers are acting irrationally when they ignore or disadvantage older workers in their hiring.

The article suggests that age biases in selection will also provide lower returns to job search, leading to an increasingly demoralised body of unemployed and under-employed older workers. It is also noted in the article that hiring or employing on age based discrimination has economic and social consequences which must be addressed by the policy because discrimination is illegal under the Human Rights Act (1993). In conclusion the article challenges the companies to focus their recruitment on skills required as opposed to being limited by the age of an applicant. Failure to overcome age biases will not only increase risk of legal challenges, but will compromise retention of quality staff as inability to acknowledge skills across all applicants is unsustainable.

Analysis and application

This article discloses some of the grey areas where we are complacent and ignorant of the legislation against Human Rights violation in New Zealand and the world at large. It is clearly articulated that older workers are prejudiced in employment industries because of age classification while employers fail to tap and capitalise on the valuable talent that older workers bring to the labour market.

Grossman (2005) suggests that there is need to get serious about addressing the stereotypes and focus on reducing the alienation those older workers feel as this may hinder their production. According to the research report by Kan and Wilson (2006) age discrimination is slightly suppressed in New Zealand as we rely more on full participation in the labour force given scarce skills and critical labour shortages.

Given that no one is exempt from achieving the status of old age at some point in life unless death occurs at an early age, this makes us all vulnerable to the experience of ageism making it imperative that we do not discriminate and stereotype older employees. Grossman (2005) claims that age discrimination has become a fact of life in the workplace across ethnicities among Americans as older workers aged 45 to 74 see little evidence that they are competing on a level playing field.

The article serves as a reminder that ageism along with every other prejudice should be addressed robustly in the employment industry. This includes finetuning the legislation on discrimination. Olson (2003) cited in Grossman (2005) argues that the law does not contemplate affirmative action, but only makes sure older people are not treated differently, it is about equal treatment not preferential treatment on hiring of labour force.

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