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Age Bias – The Facts

Negative stereotypes and age bias are keeping people over 50 out of work. Research published by the Centre for Ageing Better reports that more than 1 in 4 over 50s had or had considered concealing their age on an application form. Perhaps they had good reason to? Anglia Ruskin University research found that the older worker is 4.2 times less likely to be invited to interview than their younger counterpart.

This is not the only reason of course. There are other factors keeping people over 50 out of the workforce such as poor health and increased caring responsibilities but research suggests that if you are over 50, you are more likely to be made redundant, less likely to be offered training and less likely to be hired. Older workers face negative stereotypes; yet there is no evidence to suggest they are less adaptable, flexible, innovative or incapable of adapting to change compared to their younger counterparts. Then there’s the classic; he/she is “overqualified”. What exactly does this mean? That the candidate has significant experience to draw upon? That he or she has worked hard to develop themselves and/or studied to gain additional qualifications? Surely these are positive factors and equally could be said of many candidates regardless of their age. I recently came across somebody who had taken redundancy from a company where he had worked for several years. He described himself as an “old war horse” but not ready to retire. He decided to try something new and moved into a different industry in his sixties. My perception of the company he moved to is that they are a forward thinking employer who has embraced the true meaning of a diverse workforce. It’s a win-win; they’ve gained a vast amount of experience and increased their employer brand.

Recruitment advertising

The key to tapping into this market is to strip age bias from your recruitment process. Job adverts should be written in such a way that they are age diverse and inclusive; upper age limits or x number of years’ experience are a big no-no. Consider alternative recruitment channels such as face to face recruitment in local community groups.

Get to know your workforce

If you’re looking to take advantage of your existing workforce you should consider alternative career paths internally. For many people the goal now is not to retire at 50; but to start a new career that will see them to retirement. There’s no reason this shouldn’t be a different path with the same employer.

Value transferrable skills and experience

Teach your hiring managers how to be age-inclusive and how to spot transferrable skills and experience. Teach them to see past tenure on a CV and how to ask effective behavioural questions at interview that test transferrable skills.

Improving workplace culture

There are others things you will need to do to embed workplace culture to be age diverse such as listening to your older employees and focus on what they bring to your organisation. Develop mentor programmes which match older and younger employees to create win-win relationships – this is not about somebody older mentoring somebody younger; this is about creating a relationship where two individuals learn from each other.

It is clear we have a long way to go to change these sadly unsurprising figures but understanding how to remove age bias is the first step.


CFR UK January 2019