Senior living should be the least ageist place in the world. Unfortunately, this is not true. I have had too many cringe-worthy moments in senior living communities where the staff treated residents more like little incapable children than revered elders.
Not only that, I have watched older leaders struggle to find new positions . . . except that . . . I have over the last few months found myself wondering if I am as guilty as the rest.
Too Old to Hire
Over the last couple of years, I have had a number of conversations with people in their 50s and 60s, in and out of senior living who, for one reason or another, were out of work. And were having a horrible time finding a new position. A big part of me thought “ageism.” But another deeper internal voice whispered, “I won’t hire them either, because they seem old and worn out.”
That internal voice triggered all kinds of guilt feelings and made me wonder about my own character.
Then Something Happened
It has become clearer and clearer that we need to add another team member to our organization and I was looking for a new grad for a couple of reasons. The first is that they would be less expensive but the second would be that they would bring a fresh perspective.
I was introduced to someone who seemed like an ideal candidate and we did a Zoom call that went pretty well. But it seemed as if she was not all that enthusiastic about the position. A few days later she confirmed that. We then asked her if she wanted to take on a couple of short-term projects for us and she said yes. We set a time to talk about those projects and she just never showed up.
So this got me thinking:
- It would be easy to excuse her behavior as that of the youngest working generation and write it off as youthful foolishness, which was my first inclination. But what she did demonstrated a character flaw. She would not have been a good employee.
Someday she, too, will become an old employee. And while she may figure this out and turn into a great employee, maybe she won’t. This means that if she is old and can’t get or keep a job, it will look to her and others like her employment challenges were ageism, but in reality, she was just a bad employee grown old.
- We forget that just because someone is old, doesn’t mean they can’t be a bad employee. Because, in fact, they can. As we become more sensitive to ageism, which is a good thing, it’s easy to think when an older person doesn’t get a job, a promotion, or a raise, it is because of their age. And certainly, this could be true, but it might also mean they don’t deserve the job, raise, or promotion.
Let’s Be Honest
We need to be honest with ourselves and our organizations about how we make these decisions. When I look at my organization you would be hard-pressed to accuse us, to accuse me of being ageist, unless toward younger people. We run from mid 30s (just one person) to eighty something, and I am proud of that.
My point is twofold:
- Sometimes older people are not the right fit and it actually has nothing to do with age.
- At the same time, we need to carefully guard against age bias both in hiring and in how we interact with residents and prospects.
I would love to hear your thoughts.