Research, analysis, and thought leadership for enterprise communications.

Questioning Age Old Discrimination Policies

by in rant

I’m going to argue FOR age discrimination here. I know that’s politically incorrect.

I’m “elderly” now, and boast nearly a 40 year career that’s been pretty amazing, actually. I’ve worked as an engineer at several of America’s best R&D organizations, started companies, and been a corporate executive. I’ve done HR and international finance, and have friends in a bunch of countries. In some ways, this makes me uniquely valuable. I save the company a lot of money and apply a degree of practicality and common sense. I can smell and identify problems when I walk into a branch office.

But the truth is that I am not the person I once was. My memory has faltered a lot. I don’t learn as quickly. I don’t have the energy that I used to. I am perhaps less passionate than I was. I take fewer risks. And, when a new idea comes along I hesitate before endorsing it. To be brutally honest, I am not worth as much as I was at the peak of my career. That’s the truth.

The law prohibits age discrimination. At age 40 you become a “protected class”. That means you can sue your employer if they so much as compliment you on your hair coloring or remark that you look “chipper today.”

But the elephant in the room is that us older folks should be discriminated against unless you are in a position where all of that experience matters.

Now, in some jobs there shouldn’t be discrimination. But in others, well, there should be if you were honest.

I fly United Airlines a lot, and I often fly business class or first class. I’ll tell you the main reason why first class sucks: its staffed by old battleships who have the most seniority. Talk about grumpy service: these bitter flight attendants would rather skip serving you a meal than interrupt their griping about United in the galley. But they can’t be terminated or even disciplined.

This is a serious problem in HR today. Older, established companies have a lot of senior, older people who are less productive. Start-ups are notable by their blatant age discrimination. When you go to almost any start-up what you will note is a complete lack of over-40 employees.

I don’t know what the answer is, but the fantasy-land we now have where we pretend we don’t discriminate but really do can’t be reconciled. This leaves a lot of employers in constant jeopardy.


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Colin Berkshire is a highly technical HR executive in the Pulp and Paper Industry. Colin has an engineering and voice background, and is currently on assignment in Asia. NOTE: Colin does not respond to comments, and does not Tweet.