As companies ponder downsizing, they usually look toward reducing labor costs. This means the biggest salaries, which encompass the most experienced, longest tenured employees. You may believe someone with years of relevant experience and great job history would be able to easily find another job. That is rarely the case. In reality, experienced 50-plus workers have vastly more trouble finding a new place than a relatively inexperienced 30-year-old.
Hard business decisions must be made at times, and the reality is that salaries and benefits are the largest expense for any company. When downsizing must occur, that’s where it happens. Logically, the biggest expenses – the highest-paid employees – are first.
We always advocate for giving any separated employee outplacement and career transition assistance. In the case of older employees, career counseling and job search support is crucial for several reasons.
- Like it or not, ageism is rampant in the business world. Companies use various methods such as graduation dates, years of tenure, or job history to piece together information to estimate an applicant’s age. They assume a person will require more money, a higher title, or will be unsatisfied in a lesser position than previously held, even before discussing these issues in an interview. In fact, many older workers have “been there, done that” and will be very happy, loyal and productive in a position for which an HR screener may decide they are “overqualified” without a conversation.
- The longer a separated worker is unemployed, the more it costs you, and an older worker could be unemployed for much longer as a result of the factors listed above. Unemployment insurance is a significant cost to any business, and the more being paid out, the higher your costs. In addition, if the separated employee decides to bring legal action against you, your legal costs plus settlement costs can be very high. Those who are provided support are much less likely to bring legal action against a former employer.
- The emotional cost to an older worker can be severe. This is a person who worked diligently and successfully for many years, had the respect of coworkers and supervisors, and is now separated from what may have been a very large part of his or her identity. He or she has been out of the job market for some time, and will need some kind of support to re-enter.
Many companies offering outplacement will offer only very limited support, such as resume review or coaching for 30 days. Any older, separated employee can tell you that is not enough! A job search for a person over 50 will take longer than 30 days, and that person will need encouragement and coaching during that time.
When making the tough decision to separate your older worker, remember the additional challenges he or she will face and offer an appropriate career transition program. It’s the right thing to do, for the worker and for your business.