Home / Age Discrimination: The Web 2.0 Bigotry

Age Discrimination: The Web 2.0 Bigotry

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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.

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About Helene Vece

  • Great article that expounds on the important issues regarding age discrimination in the workplace. You brought out a key point that I whole-heartily agree to: “What Wal-Mart and many of these companies are missing out on is the life experience older workers bring to the table.”

  • You raise an important problem, but ADEA is not going to solve it.

    There is no question that violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) are rampant, and they are particularly tragic given the economic need that is forcing many senior citizens back into the workforce.

    I think you are onto something with the idea of cliques. People tend to hire people who remind them of themselves, including their younger selves. If seniors are underrepresented in management positions with hiring authority, seniors are less likely to be hired. A vicious circle.

    There is also an economic motivation behind age discrimination: employers want the greatest return possible on their investment in employees; they therefore favor the employees and applicants whom they expect to stay with them the longest.

    It is hard to argue with seniors who don’t want to file complaints against their employers for fear of losing their jobs. The process of obtaining legal redress is slow, even though ADEA expedites the usual discrimination complaint process by allowing complainants to circumvent the administrative stage and move more quickly into court. More importantly, the seniors you focus on — people who need the money and cannot afford to lose their jobs — stand to lose more than they would gain by pursuing justice.

    Rather than placing the onus of eradicating age discrimination on the backs of impoverished seniors, it’s worth considering what the rest of us can do about it. Raising public awareness with pieces like this is certainly a start.

    A different approach to the same problem: improve seniors’ financial situations with a more robust Social Security/pension plan, like every other industrialized country has done. No one who has put in a lifetime of work should be in the position of having to choose between buying food and buying their prescribed medications. This shame belongs to all of us, not just to American employers.

  • William Waite

    When I was a much younger fellow, I operated a vehicle leasing business. I would routinely use senior citizens to pick up and sometimes deliver vehicles for me. I paid them $10/hour and was very happy with the arrangement; they showed up when I needed them and they had the presence-of-mind to solve minor problems if and when they arose. Primarily, these were gentlemen who had retired from positions in corporate America. My experience with most (though certainly not all) workers who were of college age was that they were much more unreliable and unable to think on their feet when needed. Someone asked me how I could pay these retired guys so little and yet get so much from them. My reply was simple; I wasn’t paying them what they were worth – I was paying them what the position was worth. For their part, they were happy to have a few hours of something different and a little extra poker or golf money.

    While it’s very fashionable to bash and disparage the evil Wal-Mart whenever possible, I wonder if the greeter in question had really polished up his or her resume and made a sincere effort at getting a promotion. I don’t believe the system is so broken that all managers fail to see stellar employees with promise even if they happen to be in their golden years. That said part of the reason I choose to be self-employed at my particular stage of life is that I recognize that there are few employers who would want to make a substantial investment in me. Is that fair? Perhaps not, but I learned long ago that life isn’t always fair. I can however completely understand why a senior worker who is forced to work (by circumstances wholly beyond his or her control) wouldn’t want to “rock the boat” but rather put up with less than ideal working conditions.

  • Once upon a time there were FORTRAN and COBOL, acronyms of the 70’s for program languages that brought us from the non-digital age to Cloud computing.

    The cultural divide occurs because the children of the ‘70s are the beneficiaries of Nintendo, the PC and Atari. They are now the hiring managers who use Human Resource software.

    Helene has touched a nerve.


  • Matt

    First in reference to Tommy, I do not know how he came to his deduction when PCs DID NOT EVEN EXIST IN THE 70S. He would have to either be an Xer who condones such bigotry or one of the older Boomers who still does not realize that the birth of his generation exttended through to ’66 and I
    will not be denied my heritage.

    What I initially intended to say is that such bigotry has distubingly found a zeilgeist since the 90s and is all but shamelessly applauded in the mainstream(tv-advertising) culture in an apparent effort to discredit, debase,and finally disenfranchise an entire generation.

    What THEY FAIL TO REALIZE,HOWEVER IS THAT THIS IS NOT ONLT NOT GOING TO MIRACULOUSLY REVERT ITSELF and should logically assume that now they have hit 40 that they can expect the same from THEIR children, but on sterioids, as cultural changes of this nature are alwaays far more likely to get worse. Though no rational solution I truly beleive that the only thing that could possibly reverse it would be the inevitably humbling expierience of the reenstatement of the draft -as we know what living in that kind of unpredictable angst does to a culture for years after and the wonders it does for aquainting one with his?her
    mortality as well as inducing a healthy sense of humility as well.