Employers are turning their backs on younger generations, according to a recent poll of 1,000 SME owners from one of the UK’s largest not-for-profit organisations. 
In a study published on 8 October, Benenden Health says that more than a third (36%) of the business leaders surveyed would rather hire a 55-year-old applicant than a younger person – with just a fifth preferring a 24-year-old with similar experience on their CV. Respondents cited a number of disincentives for hiring younger – or ‘snowflake’ – workers, such as lower productivity, higher absence rates and a poorer grasp of the English language than older candidates.
However, a wider-ranging analysis from Rest Less – a jobs and volunteering advice site for the over-50s – suggests that the situation is nothing like as rosy for older workers as the Benenden figures indicate. 
In its scrutiny of the Office for National Statistics’ latest Labour Force Survey, Rest Less found that, despite their overall lower unemployment rate of 2.51%, UK 50 to 64-year-olds are more likely than any other age group to remain unemployed for two years or more. The analysis also showed that one in five (21%, or 272,000 in total) of unemployed people in the UK are aged over 50 – and that of the 171,000 people who have been unemployed for more than 24 months, more than a third (37%) are also over 50.
Rest Less founder Stuart Lewis said: “There are nearly 60,000 50 to 64-year-olds who have been out of work for more than two years – but this doesn’t take into account the many more who simply stop looking when they can’t find work and therefore drop out of the unemployment numbers. Unless more support is provided, we risk the creation of a ‘forgotten generation’ who can’t find work and simply stop looking – withdrawing from the labour market and often suffering from loneliness and isolation as a result.”
Dr John Philpott, director of work think tank The Jobs Economist, added: “Unfair discrimination in hiring leaves older jobseekers frequently confronting a choice between long-term unemployment or joining the burgeoning ranks of self-employed odd jobbers. While employers are becoming ever more aware of the strong business case for employing and investing in older people, it’s therefore clear that much faster progress is needed.”
What measures should leaders implement to ensure that they don’t write off younger workers as substandard ‘snowflakes’, and don’t leave valuable older talents on the shelf – but instead make the best use of younger and older workers, and encourage collaboration between them?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Since the publication of our 2015 report Untapped Talent – which highlighted discrimination against older workers in terms of access to training and development – we have been campaigning for equal consideration for the over-50s. As the Rest Less research suggests, it doesn’t seem to be the case that there’s a massive shift towards including or favouring older workers. The disappearance of the statutory retirement age has confronted people with the possibility of being in the workforce for longer. Plus, the UK’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis hasn’t reached the levels we would have expected it to by now.”
She notes: “Against that backdrop, we’ve seen a number of campaigns highlight issues such as gender pay gaps and the inclusion of individuals from particular demographics. When they recruit, organisations are being encouraged to think far more about what’s required for the job – and that’s the real, critical point, here. In some industries, youth has been overvalued. Indeed, certain organisations have made a virtue of their youthfulness with declarations such as, ‘The average age of our staff is 30,’ as though that statement was entirely laudable. But diversity is about all sorts. It encompasses ethnicity, gender, age, neurodiversity – everything – to ensure that organisations are able to harness all the different perspectives they need to inform their products and services.”
Cooper adds: “The real solution is a working environment in which inclusivity is taken seriously, and where there is an expectation of equality – that no one is favoured because they have certain characteristics; that there is mutual respect; that everyone is recognised for bringing something individual, valuable and important to the table. It’s also vital for leaders to be careful about the language they use: age is just one area in which workplace banter has the capacity to be harsh and dismissive. So let’s think about what we are saying – because if leaders were being truly respectful and conveying a genuine commitment to equality, we wouldn’t be having these issues in the first place.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on appreciating diversity
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