Business

By Joel Kranc

Ageism is a reality, but HR managers have the ability to recognize it in the workplace and take active action against it.

HR professionals will inevitably be dealing with an aging workforce, if they are not already doing so. But with an aging workforce comes issues, sometimes misconceptions and stereotypes that are hard to overcome. Older workers will face some of these obstacles put in front of them when entering or re-entering the workforce.

“The Business Case for Hiring Experienced Workers” was a panel discussion presented at the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)’s Annual Conference and Trade Show 2016, and looked at the issues facing older workers and how HR might address it within its own context or culture. The panel was moderated by Michael McMullen, MBA, professional services and workforce development associate and chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and consisted of the following participants:

• Janice Gair, CEC, CHRP – Executive coach and HR strategist
• Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman – Clinical psychologist and associate professor, University of Manitoba Medical Faculty
• Lt. Col Paul Fredenburg – Retired Oct. 2015 from the Canadian Forces and looking for new opportunities
• Lauren Bernardi, LL.B – Bernardi Human Resource Law LLP
• Dr. Marie Bountrogianni – Dean, The Raymond Chang School at Ryerson University and former MPP (Hamilton); clinical psychologist
• Susan Eng – vice president, Advocacy at CARP, lobbyist and advocate

The problem

Part of the problem, says Rehman, is the inherent biases we all possess in our daily lives.

“Bias is a belief that we hold,” he said. “The interesting thing is that we become complacent in the way we think and we accept it for what it is.” He says that moving out of a safe or complacent place is what is necessary.

As HR managers receive and look at candidates, they need to ask themselves if their “gut” feelings are, in fact, biases and what the evidence is for their thoughts.
“Even if we just take this into our own minds and ask ourselves, ‘Is my decision a bias?’ And if that can happen, we can change our decisions as a result of changing our bias and thereby change our feeling,” said Rehman.

Janice Gair says HR managers must recognize that we all come with our own “stuff” to the workforce. A 20-something-year-old might be set in their ways, whereas a 60-something-year-old might be more adventurous and open to ideas. It’s never the same or what the stereotypes might suggest.

Education and the older worker

Canada, as it turns out, has more people with jobs below their education level than any other OECD country, says Bountrogianni. And older workers, after having fulfilled many of their family obligations or after having been laid off, are going back to school, she says, with 10 per cent of the over-55 crowd taking design courses.

“It’s never too late. Analyze the reasons why you want to come back, look at the options and get advice, as well,” she said.

Diversity is another issue discussed at the panel that becomes part of the larger business case for hiring older workers.

“Does your work demographic mirror the demographic of the community?” said McMullen. “Because that primarily is your source of recruiting. And if it doesn’t [mirror], you need a very strong reason why it doesn’t reflect an age-diverse workforce.”

He argued that not having diversity within the workforce is not sustainable because you end up becoming an “outlier” in the community, rather than a company that is properly diversifying its workforce.

From a legal perspective, Bernardi says that age discrimination is often at the bottom of the list for HR professionals, but that low prioritization isn’t reflected in the law.

“At its core, if you get somebody that files a complaint and goes to a tribunal, [the court is] not going to say, ‘It’s age and it’s not that big a deal,’” she said. It will be examined the same way as any discrimination is examined, and HR managers should not minimize it.

Decisions like hiring or others need to be considered in terms of how they can be defended – not so much to one’s boss or manager but to a tribunal. HR and others need to ensure their decisions are defendable.

An attendee at the panel, Chantal Fraser, lieutenant-colonel (retired), CD, MBA and vice president
of consulting firm Empowered Path Inc., said she is a big believer in diversity and had not yet really looked into ageism.

“I enjoyed how the talk progressed from what ageism is to the legal liability aspect and the advocacy piece at the end. All knowledge is good knowledge,” she said, and it will come in handy at some point in her consulting. “As a mentor within HRPA, it’s as important to me to encourage older workers what they will do next as it is for me to encourage a younger person.”