Monday, November 10, 2008

Boomers Who Refuse to Quit

Recently while reviewing past JobsintheMoney stories, I came across one with a striking message – not in the article itself, but in the seven reader comments published beneath it.

Both the story and the reader reaction dealt with the attitude of employers toward "mature" workers. The thing that struck me was that every one of those reader comments came from a perspective far less cheery than the article's.

The story first appeared a little more than three years ago. Arguing that the aging of America's work force will ultimately force many companies to relax their boycott of older job applicants, the article cited soothing comments from the Conference Board and a Robert Half recruiting manager. But author Jane Carruthers didn't sugar-coat the issue. She wrote,
Entrenched age prejudice and traditional retirement patterns have created a work environment which does not accommodate those mature workers with little desire to sit in a rocking chair and reflect on their lives.
It's not all clear sailing for mature jobseekers, however. "Being viewed as overqualified is a risk many older workers face," (Robert Half manager Keith) Feinberg says.

However, those cautionary notes pale beside the poignant testimonies of JobsintheMoney readers. Some had backgrounds in financial services – an industry with a special reputation, in one reader's words, as "more inclined to value you at your age, not your qualifications."

Having the resources to retire from full-time work while still in your 50s is a bit of a luxury, as a few comments pointed out. That's something you never hear in all the HR publicists' rhetorical hand-wringing over "Baby Boomer retirement" (another theme that seems more ubiquitous in the financial services industry than anywhere else). A reader who identified himself as Paul M. LeBas wrote,

There are many of us, like myself, 56 years old, MBA in Finance, with over 20 years of professional experience, who while aging, have not achieved financial independence, who are still physically and mentally robust and energetic, who have no desire ever to retire completely, and who are just hitting their professional stride. Nor are we all in a financial position to retire. I certainly hope that we can remain competitive participants in the workforce. Can we expect an end to age discrimination?
My personal feeling is that the answer will forever remain "No" until some organized group musters the will and the resources to mount a comprehensive campaign of blind testing and presents their findings to a court or a regulatory body.

The blind testing technique – in which identically qualified individuals who differ only in one legally protected attribute apply separately for the same openings – proved highly effective in combating race discrimination in both employment and housing.

The fact that no one seems to have used it to fight for mature workers is another reason why the laws against age discrimination in the U.S. are taken about as seriously as the laws that still exist on some states' books that define adultery as a criminal offense.

Mature Workers: A New Challenge for Employers [JobsintheMoney]

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