Employers, stop your Sweet Young Thing obsession

Difficulties in hiring staff and the high labour costs are being blamed for a revenue slump among the 1,000 top small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) here. This is according to the latest Singapore SME 1000 (SME1000) ranking that found the turnover for the top 1,000 SMEs was $28.3 billion for the period June 1, 2013 to May 31, 2014 – an 8.71 per cent slide from the previous year.

What if I tell you that there is a ready talent pool that are:

  1. Dedicated,
  2. Punctual,
  3. Good listeners,
  4. Mature,
  5. Good role model,
  6. Excellent communication skills,
  7. Lower labour costs,
  8. Pride in their job,
  9. Good organizational skills,
  10. Efficient and confident.

What if I tell you they are already here and has been here the whole time?

They are the mid-career Singapore Professionals, Managers, Executives or PME.

I want someone young and aggressive

I don’t have the official statistics to back this but having serviced hundreds of clients on their recruitment, we always begin by knowing specifically what they want. In my decade of correspondences, they would always reply, “I want someone young and aggressive, ideally between the age of x to y, etc”

There had never ever been a scenario where the HR or hiring manager would tell us that they want someone in their late fifties, composed and full of life experiences to mentor their younger workers. Never.

Google about the management of Gen Y/Z and you are looking at more than 11 million hits. Many management are struggling to understand them, let along manage them. The list of complaints is long – spoiled, lazy, poor work ethic, little respect for authority, self-centred, unrealistic expectations, and it goes on.

Even though Singapore’s Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP for short) has a guideline on age discrimination (and it was embedded into legislation around Sep 2013), many employers still insist on the “young and aggressive”. They simply stop listing down these qualifiers on their job advertisements and internalize them into their processes so it won’t be public.

To those employers, I got news for you – our population is shrinking fast. Our economy on the other hand is growing much faster than we can grow our babies. The discrepancy is huge.

Many employers are fighting for the same pool of young workers with better perks, fancier titles, and bigger pantries. Just so they can probably hold down their new hire for a year… before they job-hop to somewhere else.

When you have an unwritten rule of hiring just the young and aggressive, you are actually getting the diluted talent that everyone else has picked through. Think about it – the cream of the crop would have gotten a job even before graduation. The next echelon would be hankering for the sexy companies in the market (e.g. investment banks, tech giants). The balance are your only target pool. What are the chances of getting a Star Performer from that sample size?

But older employees are slow

Older workers can be as productive as younger ones. This is according to a brief on “Older Workers in the Workplace” by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. The findings are based on BMW implementing 70 changes along its assembly line in order to accommodate older workers.

As quick as the initial year, BMW experienced a 7 per cent increase in productivity. This is comparable to other assembly lines that are manned by younger workers. Furthermore, the company reported zero defects and a reduction in absenteeism from 7 per cent to 2 per cent.

Although older workers may be weaker and less agile, they hardly make any severe errors since they possess more experience.


Cost of wrong hire is too devastating

According to Singapore hiring expert FutureThink!, the total cost of a bad hiring decision isn’t just limited to direct costs. You would also have to consider indirect costs such as lower personal productivity among dissatisfied employees, disruptions caused by dissatisfied employees, higher turnover rates among productive employees, damages to reputation and market share, lost management time, increased stress and anxiety from people problems, poor employee morale and lost business opportunities

What about Direct Costs? Depending on the seniority of the position:

    • Recruiting Fees
    • Background Checks
    • Employee Referral Incentives / Fees
    • Hiring Manager’s time and expenses
    • Travel expenses
    • Base Salary
    • Benefits
    • Vacation/Time off
    • Legal Costs
    • Outplacement Costs
    • HR department time and expenses

Multiply this with the number of new hires that last barely a few months because they had “learned everything” or feel “something better’s come along”. Recruitment suddenly became a core business focus when it shouldn’t be.

A 60-year-old will outlast your typical job-hopper

Older workers also provide the consistency that business requires so they can plan a bit further into the future. Their presenteeism and productivity are among the highest and they also bring along strong experience and resilience built from years of employment that their younger peers may be less likely to possess.

Even if that 60-year-old worker only has only 10 years of contribution left, he will transcend at least 3 of his 30-year-old peer. How is that for consistency!

Time to re-think about hiring policies

Gen Y and Millennials are skewing the definition of work-life balance to the extreme edge of “life” instead of “work”. They need time to build up their leadership skills, lose focus so easily and their loyalty and job ethics remain questionable.

Older workers are more than up to the job and they bring unique skills and expertise that few can offer. Discriminating against them are just discriminating against the bottom-line of the entire organization.

Even DPM Tharman recently chided HRs for being agents of a “quiet, unstated discrimination” against mid-career and older workers and should aim do the “right and fair thing”.

Unless your company is anti-profit, the recruiting department must educate hiring managers on the issue of age bias that relates to hiring decisions. It is your job to contest the status quo and consider all competent workers for your open positions — not just the young ones. When a position sits open waiting endlessly for a younger candidate, nobody succeeds.

Originally published on HRinAsia.

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