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Look Past Stereotypes To Increase Performance And Avoid Staff Age Discrimination Claims

A former sales manager alleges in an age discrimination lawsuit that Facebook failed to hire him because it wanted "new blood." The employer hired a younger man who had been the 55-year-old plaintiff's subordinate for the position.

The plaintiff had worked as a sales development manager for Accenture, a global consulting firm, and was assigned to an outsourced project at Facebook. Accenture supervisors allegedly told him to act "young," because Facebook had an issue with the age of the previous sales manager. According to the lawsuit, Facebook was happy with the performance of the plaintiff, who was productive and was never disciplined.

When Facebook moved its Marketing Expert Program out of Austin, the plaintiff was one of only three out of 30 employees that Accenture did not reassign. Accenture later terminated him.

Several months later, a manager at Accenture contacted the plaintiff to tell him that Facebook was restarting its Austin program and that he would be "a good fit." The plaintiff applied, but was not hired. The manager allegedly told the plaintiff that his performance was not the issue, but that "Facebook wanted 'new faces,' 'new blood,' and to go in 'a different direction.'"

The plaintiff later learned that Facebook hired a man in his 30s with less experience for the position. He is suing both Accenture and Facebook for violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). "Accenture sued by former sales boss for favouring 'new blood,'" (Aug. 28, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

According to a Sloan Center on Aging & Work report, older applicants are often overlooked because of stereotypical thinking that they are burned-out, do not like technology or traveling for work; cannot work with younger supervisors; and will miss too much work because of illness. Employers may also think that older workers are not as sharp mentally or creatively and thus will cost more to employ.

However, these stereotypes are virtually all false, according to Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of Business who has studied older workers. His research shows that every aspect of performance improves with age, meaning that older staff will surpass younger staff in practically every area.

A 2011 study of workers at a BMW plant, conducted by researchers at the University of Mannheim in Germany, found that productivity increased consistently as workers aged, all the way to the mandatory retirement age of 65.

If family employers think that hiring older applicants or retaining older staff will reduce productivity and cost them more money, they are wrong. Learn to see past stereotypes and recognize older staff as individuals with experience and knowledge. Changing the way you think about older staff will not only reduce your risk of an age discrimination lawsuit, but will also improve your organization’s functioning.

Some of the traits that older staff could bring to your organization include:

  • Loyalty;
  • Reliability;
  • Experience;
  • Having a larger network of contacts;
  • Knowing how to get along well with others;
  • Leadership;
  • Being detail-oriented;
  • Listening skills;
  • Writing skills; and
  • Problem-solving.
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