We say people are the most important assets in the business but do we really mean it? Ageism against older and younger candidates could be keeping you from getting the right people on your team.
Judging by the latest clickbait, we might assume there’s some kind of generational war going on in the workplace. It seems like every day we see headlines like, “10 Reasons Why Millennials Are The Worst Generation” or “Why Baby Boomers Have Ruined It for Everybody.”
And sure, there are valid distinctions between groups of people born and raised in different eras, but if we take a closer look, it seems like we’re on exaggerated course, one that’s only deepening the generational gap.
As the author of Unfairy Labeled, Jessica Kriegel points out, “The human mind craves categorization, so the tendency to lump people together is natural. It may, however, be holding your organization back.” If you’re guilty of buying into generational stereotypes, don’t feel bad. It’s what the human mind is conditioned to do. But here’s why you may want to consider changing the way you think about — and hire — people of different ages.
What’s the deal with generational stereotypes?
As with any sweeping generalization, the thing about generational stereotypes is that they’re just not true across the board.
Still, we have plenty of thoughts and feelings about “lazy millennials” or “out-of-touch boomers”. And any time you have four generations in a workplace, you’re bound to end up with some unhelpful judgments.
So let’s take a minute to break down the biggest myths about each generation of employees.
Baby boomers 👶
Named after the influx of babies right after World War II (between 1944–1960), boomers are often described as hard-working, self-sacrificing individuals. But they’ve also been described as less productive, uncomfortable with change and afraid of technology. Which is, in many cases, a load of hooey. (After all, how many of us have a caring, tuned-in parent regularly dropping insights on Facebook?)
Generation X 🥪
Gen X-ers are known as the “sandwich generation.” Born between 1969 and 1980, they’re stuck between experienced boomers and the “fickle” millennials. Common myths are that Gen X’ers aren’t as tech-savvy as millennials or as hard-working as boomers. (For more on this group, Jen Hauck’s ‘Seussical Flip on the Generational Script’ is a must watch.)
Generation Y (a.k.a. Millennials) 🥑
The big one. Most experts agree that the birth years for millennials are from 1981 to 2000. Myths about millennials are that they’re self-centered, have high expectations and that they change jobs as often as they change their socks. (Oh, and they’re also obsessed with avocados.)
Generation Z 🤳
Born after the year 2000, Gen Z’ers have no problem keeping up with the latest tech trends and gadgets. The majority are likely still in college, though some are now entering the workforce. Much remains unknown about Gen Z, but that hasn’t kept them from being pigeonholed. Gen Z has been described as “Millennials on steroids,” who are technology-dependent and wary of the future.
But these generations are not as different as we think.
When we talk about remote work, we’re usually talking about millennials, right?
But a 2016 PwC survey found that 65% of workers over 50 wanted to work independently. And while it’s often the “reckless” millennials or pressured Gen Z’ers who are called out for financial trouble, baby boomers have plenty of their own money worries to grapple with. And across the board, recognition for a job well done really matters.
So let’s take a minute to sit back and think.
How amazing would it be to combine the energy and innovation of Gen Y with Gen X’s focused leadership? What if we could add in some of Gen Z’s cutting-edge tech savvy and reinforce it with rock-solid mentoring from experienced baby boomers? 😍
And what if you could attract them all by tailoring your recruitment and hiring process to appeal to their similarities?
How to keep ageism out of your recruitment and hiring practices
The other problem with generational stereotypes is that they’re a slippery slope for ageism. And despite the fact that age discrimination is illegal, job seekers over 50 are often told they’re “too old” (though, not always in those words). And believe it or not, discrimination against younger workers is also a thing.
But as with all bias, this stuff usually happens on an unconscious level. Here are some things to look out for.
- Check for ageist language in your job ads — Youth-oriented words such as “flexible,” “energetic,” and “cool” could be keeping older talent away. On the flip side, stuffy industry jargon can be a barrier to younger candidates. Always aim to keep it balanced.
- Root the unfair questions out of your interviews — Think about how the following question sounds for older candidates, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”. And other questions like “When did you graduate college?” or “When do you expect to retire?” aren’t fooling anyone. Candidates know you’re trying to figure out their age.
- Create a balanced hiring board — Conformity bias is real and if one person feels the majority is leaning towards or away from a certain candidate, they’ll tend to go with the group rather than voice their own opinions.
Educating your workforce about the benefits different age groups bring to the company is key to attracting awesome candidates, regardless of their birth year.
As HR specialists, our job is to understand people as individuals, not members of a generation. Focus on the unique talent, potential and attitude of the applicant or candidate in front of you and you can’t lose.