There seems to be a disconnect in American society. The American Dream for the senior citizen community seems to be nothing more than a magic trick, especially for those who have fallen subject to Ponzi schemes or victim to the failing global economy. Seniors now have to enter the job market unlike ever before. Instead of taking on part-time work for extra money, many seniors are seeking out full time jobs either for the health benefits or because social security isn’t enough to pay bills and also eat.
The Age Discrimination Employment Act became law in 1967. The problem with the stipulations composed in the act is the failure of reported violations. Since the plight of most seniors seeking work today is one of desperation, most seniors feel embarrassed and intimidated when it comes to reporting age discrimination in the workplace.
As an example, I recently spoke with a greeter at a major retailer who was in her mid to late sixties. She was very frustrated as all her managers were in their early twenties. She referred to them as “the Glee club.” The employee went on to talk about her managerial experience and said each and every time she applied for a promotion or even to just transfer departments, she was denied. She said she spoke with other greeters who had encountered this same experience. She also went on to say younger workers, who had no real employment history, always got the promotion.
To make matters worse, the employee reported that she was afraid to ask for her law-required lunch breaks. These breaks were often not offered or skipped and when she did ask for a bathroom break, she was ridiculed for having to take one. Out of fear she would be fired, the employee tolerated the alleged illegal working conditions. She honestly felt like she was lucky to have a job. Maybe, given the recent trends, she was.
What Wal-Mart and many of these companies are missing out on is the life experience older workers bring to the table. They also have a disadvantage by not hiring seniors when it comes to customer service. The senior generation was employed when technology wasn’t relied upon as it is today. Follow through, thank-you notes and sincerity when a customer notated a challenged has fallen by the way-side.
I know younger branded companies, who may have a prestigious viral empire built up, seem to forget the customer has a choice to do business with them. I can’t tell you the aggravation I have endured with some younger companies recently. I get shoddy service and when I do complain, I get an attitude or I don’t even get a response at all. It is as if I am lucky to have done business with them!
It is senior employees, like the one I met at Wal-Mart, who don’t seem to be getting hired for quality positions. It used to be all teenagers working at fast food restaurants. Now, it is all seniors. A lot of these food chains are great companies to work for, but there seems to be a perception that seniors can’t handle new technology.
At one of the food chain’s competitors I had no choice but to speak up. A high-school student was training a senior to work the cash register. The student’s behavior should have caused her manger to initiate a write-up, if not firing, based on what could have led to a serious lawsuit if the manager decided to file a complaint with the EEOC. Unfortunately, the student’s manager wasn’t any older and stared at me with a blank expression when I went over all the laws that were just broken. Never mind the complete disregard for someone’s feelings. The student didn’t know if the older worker just lost her husband and had no choice but to go back to work. She also didn’t know if the senior had a very substantial retirement income from holding an executive position and just wanted to be around people all day.
What the student did in front of me, a customer, was rude, unjustified, ignorant but most of all illegal. She talked very slowly to the senior and said “This is a cash register. It uses a computer. I know you don’t know how to turn one on. I have no idea why you were hired for this position; you should have been hired to mop floors.” After my complaint, and when the manager had walked away, the senior told me she couldn’t afford to have any trouble. This was outright bullying and it was being tolerated. I understood and then again I didn’t.
A few years ago I knew someone who applied for a job at a major online retailer. At that time she was in her mid-sixties. She held previous positions as a marketing manager for a hospice, fundraising coordinator for various non-profits and also worked in a call center raising money for non-profits. She was computer savvy but even more so customer service orientated. This woman had a flexible schedule and was open to take whatever pay rate that may have offered. When she applied for the job, this lady was asked to take a test. She did and she scored within the top ninety-eighth percentile.
As she sat and waited for the actual interview she noticed a trend. Most of the other candidates were in their early twenties and all of them had the same look. Skinny jeans, chunky blonde highlights, they possessed no real job interview etiquette. Guess who didn’t get the job?
I met so many people with stories like these. Maybe some are coincidence and exaggerated, but I know of many that are validated. Seniors are a tremendous untapped resource in today’s web 2.0 culture. They can be used as a customer support system for online merchants, writers for SEO articles, and so forth. It appears seniors are only being offered low responsibility level jobs for an assortment of reasons. More worrisome is when they accept these jobs there is widespread, yet tolerated, discrimination.
Another disturbing trend is what I call “The Twilight Effect”. A group of workers fresh out of college, and even those twenty years out of college, form what seems to be “team Edward, team Jacob” like cliques. Usually, the senior is left out of lunch invitations, outside social events and even meetings. They are really made to feel like second class citizens who have no rights, even when they do. Just because Cloud computing technology is fairly new doesn’t mean only younger people can understand how to operate these systems.
There are so many social injustices surrounding this issue it is deplorable. Unfortunately, the trend of technology and the perception of who is more efficient using it has caused a lot of businesses to miss out on their ROI when it comes to hiring and investing in their employees. As a culture, Americans should be doing everything we can to propel the senior workforce into positions that will amplify their positive contributions to the work force.