From Paul Rumbold
Laws concerning age discrimination came into effect this October and businesses must now look closely at their policies to ensure they are not ageist.
This latest ‘ist’ follows legislation on race and sex discrimination. It was deemed necessary because of extreme and unfair practices in the workplace – and is right up there with its predecessors in terms of illogicality.
Would the ‘typical’ older person be a technophobe who clogs up the doctor’s waiting room and leaves damp patches on office upholstery? In this day and age, this image is ridiculous. People are living longer and are far healthier. There are insufficient young people to fill all the jobs that need doing, and were it not for our new friends from Eastern Europe there would be vacancies everywhere.
Anyway, what would make employers want to be ageist? Traditionally, older meant more expensive but this kind of pay differential is now illegal.
It’s true that younger people might be more technologically adept and quicker to grasp new ideas, but how real is this benefit when the downside of a greater tendency to skive off (it’s true, I checked) and change jobs comes with the package?
And what of the jobs themselves? Does the age of the incumbent make any difference? As most of us will soon either work in a call centre or at Tesco, the age of the average employee is an irrelevance.
Ageism has been rife in the financial services environment for a long while as ‘new operating models’ have been introduced as a thinly disguised way of replacing older staff with call centres and modern technologies. These have scythed through branch networks.
I’m all for the convenience and speed that internet technologies have brought to financial services – indeed I would dub myself an early adopter – but I sometimes wonder whether there will come a time when banks, for instance, rue the loss of their most experienced people.
Credit scoring models are quick, efficient, accurate and cheap but if we are honest, they have only been tested in a benign economic environment. When things go bad, will the gnarled old cynic who used to underwrite finance applications be missed? Perhaps not in small ticket transactions where a sausage machine process is needed to offset low margins, but bigger institutions will feel the draught when losses start being incurred. I will be surprised if a return to the old model is not seen when the inevitable economic downturn comes.
In my own field of specialised lending experience is everything, and the more wool on an underwriter’s back the better. Direct customers and brokers gain comfort from dealing with somebody who knows what they are doing and asks the right questions first time, rather than following ‘policy’. ‘Computer says no’ is a much used catchphrase but often that computer is a non-commercial and customer-unfriendly idiot that cannot spot an op-portunity for good business when it sees one.
In the field of sales and marketing it might fill the heart with joy when a beautiful young thing of a BDM appears in your office, but when you discover that person has no experience, no depth and no sway back at head office they become little more than irrelevant.
To conclude, the best position is one of balance, whereby an employer can incorporate the energy and vigour of youth with the knowledge and experience of age. The old pass on wisdom to the young and it will always be thus, notwithstanding the remorseless ad-vance of technology.
Marketing and sales director