Ageism In The Workplace

For many people in this country, employment opportunities are being denied because of age…

Should someone now lose their job in their 40s or 50s, the chances of finding new employment in the UK presents a major challenge to even the most qualified of people. The media is now full of stories from older workers telling how they lost their employment through no fault of their own never to return.

Whilst official unempoyment figures may show that some 2.67 million people were seeking work as at mid February 2012, this figure fails to take into account those who may be in low paid part time employment and the many that fail to officially register with the Department of Work and Pensions. Other statistical analysis suggested that there were some 2.8 million people over the age of 45 without paid work in the UK as far back as September 2006.

On 1 October 2006 new laws were introduced to combat age discrimination in the workplace applying to staff under the age of 65. No longer will firms be able to deny an interview, refuse a job offer, deny training or sack someone under 65 on the grounds of age. Sadly this has had very little impact upon the attitude of employers towards the older applicant, yet it is something that is very difficult to prove. So why are so many people in their 50s and 60s without lucrative paid work?

One theory is that people feel discouraged to apply for jobs because of their age, whilst others attribute the inability to work because of health reasons. The older candidate is stereotyped as being inflexible, unable to adapt to new technology, and lacking creativity. They therefore fall outside the demographics of modern business methods. Whilst employers cannot specifically mention age in a recruitment advertisement, subtle phrases such as the ideal candidate will be expected to grow with the young company effectively exclude the older person from applying. In other words, discrimination is being shown but circumnavigates the law.

Another subtle form of discrimination against the older applicant are academic requirements. So many vacancies today specify a university degree, no matter how poor or irrelevant to the job in question that might be. This is fine for the younger applicant as at least 40% of school leavers move into higher education but some 30 years ago this figure was as low as 6%. This means that many older applicants do not meet the basic criteria and are therefore eliminated from the selection process. Potential employers overlook three important qualities here, namely that the older applicant will have considerable business experience, he or she is likely to be professional in their approach to work, and will undoubtedly be more reliable.

How times have changed! Back in the 1970s, nine out of 10 men over the age of 50 were employed. There was an attitude of respect towards the older worker, and in many industries, loyalty was rewarded. The next two decades saw a decline in traditional labour markets as industries closed due to a lack of competitiveness and in a period of rejuvenation, the emphasis on younger staff was born. Those who were in managerial or professional jobs have had most to lose if they were made redundant after their mid 40s.

With so many older people seeking new employment prospects, it is somewhat ironic that the government is forcibly extending the age before official retirement. Whilst this article is predominantly centred on the older generation of unemployed people, it must not be forgotten that there are currently over one million people seeking work in the 16-24 age bracket. Surely it would make economic sense to get some of these people into employment and training instead of prolonging the working life of those approaching retirement age.

Governments fail to acknowledge some of the major implications of long term unemployment. Firstly, people lose their self esteem and motivation as they see little to strive for in the future. In the case of a minority of younger people, this has led to recent riots, as individuals strive to make themselves heard in one way or another. For the older person, the onset of ill health is more prevalent as the mind ceases to function in a disciplined manner. Both scenarios subsequently put a considerable drain on the country’s resources, funds that could be used to support training for young people and, where necessary, paid to companies as an incentive to employ older applicants with the skills, knowledge and experience that are waiting to be exploited.

Anyone reading this who knows me will be well aware that I have first hand experience of age discrimination. Having been made redundant from a middle management position some years ago, I found it impossible to secure another position despite having had several interviews. Even recently, despite attending an interview for a position falling well below my skills and capabilities, the job was offered to a 30 year old! Whilst I am currently self employed and therefore not a statistic in the unemployment figures, I struggle to survive like so many people in a similar situation due to a considerable reduction in my workload over the last two years.

Speculation

Times of reminiscence are almost extinct! Here’s what was happening in July 2002 and 2003…

Regular readers will know that I was made redundant in May 2003. A few months later, rumours emerged from various sources within my previous employment that they were struggling without me! I didn’t know whether to be flattered by such comments or to treat them with a high degree of cynicism, as no-one ever took the trouble to say how valuable my contribution to the business was whilst I was employed. What I did know, however, was that there emerged a large void in people’s knowledge of business procedures, and I suspected that it was this knowledge that they missed rather than me as an individual.

To try and address this issue, two of my former colleagues desperately tried to have my previous role re-instated. Whilst I had no idea as to whether or not they would succeed, there was the small matter that a role cannot be filled for a minimum of six months after individuals carrying out a similar function have been made redundant. In this particular instance, the company might have had a legitimate reason for creating a new position being that they were the new owners of the business and therefore not technically responsible for my untimely demise!

Still, I chose not to rest on my laurels on the assumption that senior management might one day contact me, pleading for me to return. That is not to say that I would not have considered any offer, but any return would have had to be on my terms. Meanwhile, my search for new and challenging work continued apace. However, sketchy details were leaked to me that movements were afoot to fill a void within the business and that, in fact, three former colleagues had been championing for my re-instatement. Sadly there was one major stumbling block… a sole surviving member of senior management who was one of the instigators behind my redundancy. So, I suspected that hell would freeze over before me being invited to return to the fold!

In times of difficulty and relevant hardship, depression often manifests itself and my circumstances were not helped when some so-called friends deserted me in my hour of need. However, as the ongoing years have shown, a handful of genuine and caring friends is far more valuable than a collection of individuals who only befriend you for what they think they can get out of you. Perhaps one or two of them may be reading this…I do hope so!

It was reported in early June 2003 that a record number of UK beaches had been awarded Blue Flags for cleanliness and leading the way was Wales with 33 beaches getting flags for clean water, management and visitor facilities. The Blue Flag has become the definitive international measure of beaches since it began back in 1987, when only 14 beaches won the award. It measures the accessibility for disabled visitors, the number of bins provided, lifeguards and litter left on the beach. Water must be clean enough to have achieved the highest standard defined by European Law.

With most of the country then basking in glorious sunshine, I made a visit to the beach at Weston-super-Mare, in the knowledge that the south-west of England had 22 beaches attaining the Blue Flag standards. Weston is renowned for its long flat and sandy beach, and also the fact that the sea water is a long way out. This beach, however, had not attained Blue Flag standards, and at the time, such attainment was a long way off. Litter, drinking cans, broken bottles, dog excrement and other debris literally covered the beach, making it a potential danger and health hazard for visitors, especially young children.

There did appear to be an absence of litter bins but I was amazed to see people actually discard their litter on to the beach and for dog owners to allow their pets to foul the area. Of course, there were some who were far more responsible in their actions, but the overall impression was of a dirty beach reflecting the standards of modern-day Britain. The beach was controlled by North East Somerset Council and seven years ago they charged £4.50 (€5.20) for the privilege of parking a vehicle either on the Promenade or on the beach itself. The question was just how much of this revenue was spent on maintaining the beach as it was a disgrace to both the town and the environment. Perhaps penalties for discarding litter in public places should be increased dramatically with on-the-spot fines for those caught in the act. Also the cost of employing a Litter Warden might well have been recouped many times over given the number of offenders who visit the beach!

Life is full of problems, and back in July 2002, these were some of the imponderables filling the storylines of EastEnders! Will Lynne stay with Gary or leave him for her former boyfriend, Jason? Will Ian and Laura ever resolve their difficulties? Will Anthony actually marry that dim-witted Zoë Slater? It’s only a matter of time before Lisa falls back into the arms of Phil, undoubtedly leaving Mark traumatised and unwanted. Will Pauline Fowler ever smile? Such matters, however, paled into insignificance when compared with the computer problems I encountered at that time.

I had set out to purchase an upgrade of memory and a new CD writer, but rather than mess around with things myself, decided to utilise the services of a specialist. This meant transporting the CPU, but as no extra costs would be incurred, thought it would be worthwhile. However, when it came to booting up the CPU, nothing would function, despite the fact that my PC had been working quite satisfactorily the night before. After isolating all the various components, the PC still failed to boot up, and it was decided that the mother board was to blame, having been affected either by a power surge or disturbed whilst in transit.

In short, a replacement motherboard was needed, together with a new processor, as the old board was no longer made and the processor would not fit the new one. It was then necessary to re-format the hard drive, resulting in me losing some four years of work, internet contacts, photograph albums and correspondence. The irony of all this was that the main purpose of the upgrade was to have a facility for backing up all my files! Looking on the bright side, I ended up with a PC which was much leaner and anticipated it lasting me for a few years. Needless to say it didn’t last too long but my PC days are now well behind me since switching to an Apple Mac!

Also in 2002, I had the unexpected opportunity of being able to visit Wimbledon, although much of the day was plagued by rain. However, this did not spoil the enjoyment or the experience of a unique atmosphere, especially within the confines of the show courts. I was fortunate in having access to the Players’ enclosure which meant that I was undercover most of the time when it was raining! For tennis aficionados, that year saw Lleyton Hewitt of Australia take the Men’s Singles Title.

Common Courtesy

Another brief trip down memory lane…

Exactly seven years ago this month, most days seemed endless and extremely boring. I was in the early stages of living life without gainful employment and even though I would often grumble about the daily routine of work, it does give a purpose to each day. With typical dull, cold and wet British weather, I had little incentive to venture out of doors, thereby exacerbating an already strenuous situation. Almost daily, my life was taken up with searching for new employment. For anyone not over familiar with this task, it is an extremely time-consuming and wearisome occupation, endlessly scanning the plethora of job sites available on the internet. One of the most frustrating things I discovered was that jobs were not classified under sufficient headings, so in order to find potential opportunities, it was necessary to search under almost every category. Once the slowness of page downloads was taken into account, the hours of the day quickly passed by! Of course, this was in the days before ADSL broadband connectivity was widely available!

In order to try and numb my boredom, I participated in the National IQ Test 2003 via interactive television. This was the one bright spark in a gloomy month… Normally, I’m not one to blow my own trumpet (perhaps that’s where I have been going wrong in life!) but I achieved an IQ of 136 which compared very favourably with the national average of 105! This was also in a period when the average IQ had been falling.

With only twelve days of employment remaining, it was very evident that certain people were keeping their distance. It never ceases to amaze me just how many individuals see a person for what they do rather than for who they are; indeed, inconveniences such as a period of unemployment (through no fault of my own, incidentally!) can prove to be a real test of true friendship.

Looking back, I made one of my final day trips to France. This was predominantly for the purpose of stocking up on some cheap booze…I anticipated being in need of copious quantities to drown my sorrows! There was also time to enjoy some of the local scenery in close proximity to Calais and the weather was fine, in marked contrast to that in Britain at the time. I stated that it was one of my final day trips for several reasons. Firstly, the costs of such day trips are now much higher since the abolition of cheap day ferry tickets. Secondly, the cost of alcohol in this country is now comparatively lower than several years ago, and thirdly, I no longer live within reasonable travelling distance of Dover for the short crossing to northern France. The trip from my local port takes in excess of 6 hours and lands in Brittany!

A final word on the subject of seeking new employment. I found it both frustrating and extremely discourteous that companies seemingly ignored applications and correspondence. Even jobs applied for via e-mail failed to generate a response, despite the fact that it takes but a few seconds to acknowledge a communication with minimal cost. Incidentally, nothing has improved with regard to replies from companies as recent experience will testify. Perhaps I am old fashioned and expect too much from people, but if more common courtesy was extended between human beings, then the world would be a far better place.