Government // Mobile & Wireless
Commentary
3/4/2013
01:06 PM
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?

There is bona fide ageism and there is failure to learn new skills in a constantly changing field. Let's not confuse the two.

10 Best Business Tools In Google+
10 Best Business Tools In Google+
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
A reader wrote me last week about my column "4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave," pointing to the practice of driving away graying employees as yet another leadership failure at IT organizations. "This is supposedly being done because senior IT staff are not keeping up, when it is actually being done as cost control," the reader wrote.

Not to be harsh, but we need to be clearer about what's happening.

I agree 100% that driving away senior, experienced personnel is just bad business. But there's a big difference between getting rid of people because they're old and shedding people who aren't cutting it. To put a finer point on the matter: Thoughtful cost control doesn't equate to age discrimination.

You often get what you pay for. But as we know in the innovation game, sometimes you can pay less because of market or business developments or because of new, less expensive processes. So the question gets reframed: Can you spend less and get the same quality of service? If you can, you have no choice but to make changes.

[ Computer programming is the answer to joblessness, says organization. Read Code.org Urges Students To Embrace Programming. ]

We see this in our IT environments all the time. For example, we got rid of expensive circuit-switched phone calling in favor of less expensive IP-based services. If there's a staffing equivalent in your organization, well, that's regrettable, and we hope that your business handles the matter in a way that preserves the employee's dignity and provides some transition time. But fundamentally, you must part ways.

Let's also consider the argument that companies are getting rid of older employees under the guise of competency issues. Let's all agree that plenty of senior IT pros are eminently competent. Looking to another field, my dad, in his 80s, is still practicing medicine. Lest you say that his patients are in danger, I'll point out that he once again passed his medical boards recently. And although medicine might not be moving at the breakneck speed of IT, when my dad started practicing in the 1960s, it was leeches and bloodletting compared to the sophistication of today. He has surely had to keep up. I've known his equivalent on the IT front lines as well.

But a fair number of senior IT pros rest on their laurels, not because of their age, but because of inertia. I once told an employee that we were getting rid of a certain type of technology, his specialty, in a few years and that it was time for him to start preparing for the transition. We wrote as much into his goal plan, but he didn't avail himself of the training opportunities. A year went by, and we had the same conversation and again wrote it into his goal plan. Nothing. The tech transition happened as planned, the employee wasn't ready, and it was time to have a difficult conversation about parting ways. Had I not documented our expectation, I could have been accused of ageism. My point: Don't confuse ageism with accountability.

All of the above points assume a competent, reasonable leadership team, when we all know there are plenty of dysfunctional ones out there. If all you're hanging on to is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, best of luck. It's a 10,000-word document that's incomprehensible by the common man. According to two of my trusted legal and HR colleagues, it does not prohibit organizations from laying off "the expensive people." Typically, if the layoffs have a well articulated, plausible reason and don't affect older people exclusively, it will be hard to prove age discrimination.

My question to you: If your employer is engaged in true age discrimination, are you better off taking it to court or finding another, more ethical company that will value your experience and talents? My advice: Leave the question of ageism to the class-action lawyers. If you've truly had a rich career with many accomplishments, and you've kept your skill set sharp, there's more work to be had and done. Leave the idiot employers behind and find it.

Attend Interop Las Vegas, May 6-10, and attend the most thorough training on Apple Deployment at the NEW Mac & iOS IT Conference. Use Priority Code DIPR03 by March 9 to save up to $500 off the price of Conference Passes. Join us in Las Vegas for access to 125+ workshops and conference classes, 350+ exhibiting companies, and the latest technology. Register for Interop today!

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
markdavidgraybill
50%
50%
markdavidgraybill,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2013 | 5:49:00 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?
Years ago I had the opportunity to experience Corporate Japan first hand. I greatly appreciated their cultural management and above all, the respect for elders.

That's not the case here, and IT techs aren't the only ones suffering age discrimination. It is across the board.

Also, Medicare has already been cut and larger cuts and lower age cutoffs for procedures are coming. Moreover, retirement age is rising.

All this adds up to is: "Baby boomers, please just die!"

Some companies even sneak in age discrimination into management training under the guise of generational education, only visible by statements such as "baby boomers can't do this."

Well I can do anything the youth can - I even hit the gym and run 5K every daily. My energy and enthusiasm is matched only by my confidence and leadership abilities. But, I still hear such tings as, "More bang for the buck", or, "We felt the other candidate's personality was a better fit" (no personality requirements in the job description.)

When you are passed over by someone with 1/3 of your experience, it speaks volumes to what is really going on.

So I'm working on additional streams income. Have to.
mattmc
50%
50%
mattmc,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2013 | 5:14:59 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?
You are right on pduffy.
TSRL
50%
50%
TSRL,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/11/2013 | 11:04:08 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?
The bottom line is just that. Many, if not most, companies today are only interested in short term goals "for the shareholders". Senior employees are usually paid more so they are the first ones to go if someone in upper management wants to reduce costs. The fallacy in the argument is that you can get the same skill set cheaper in a new graduate.

Try applying that to the medical field. Who would you rather have for your heart surgeon - a freshly minted new college grad or an experienced surgeon with a couple of hundred successful surgeries to his credit?

I and my team were recently "retired" from a marketing/sales/engineering post at a large computer company. We had been successfully selling large high performance computer clusters (10,000 machines and above) to a wide variety of customers world-wide. We were replaced within two weeks with a new team with no experience but much lower salaries. It has been almost 3 years now and the new team has yet to make a single sale of any size. Did the share holders win that one?
bkohlhepp287
50%
50%
bkohlhepp287,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/11/2013 | 3:24:08 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?
Apparently you've never had to search for a job when you're over 50. "Just go somewhere else" doesn't work. Check the job postings - "degree with 5 years experience" is the standard profile (and these days employers hyper-specify experience down to package versions). It doesn't matter what certifications you have, what you've accomplished, or what you know. Every employer is looking for that young guy who will work his ass off to prove himself, trying to find the lowest price per pound, and avoiding "insurance risk" professionals over 50, even over 40. The older computing professionals I know love the field and their specialties as much as they ever did, are computer nerds still tinkering in their bedrooms on personal time, and can contribute accumulated wisdom along with specific tech skills. Yet it takes years for us to find a new position, frequently at a lower salary. I know some who have not been able to get a new position at all and are now bank tellers and retail clerks. Instances of age discrimination far exceed the few cases of technical dissonance or "inertia".
MikeMorales
50%
50%
MikeMorales,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/10/2013 | 1:58:04 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?
It seems that older workers, IT or otherwise, have become the victims of their own success. If they have done well over the years, and gotten raises and promotions they inevitably become "expensive" and as replaceable as "old circuits". Those younger workers that are commenting here should consider the fact that they too (if they are lucky) will become an older worker and have this to look forward to.
Dutch Clogger
50%
50%
Dutch Clogger,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/10/2013 | 1:02:43 AM
re: IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?
Many of my peers, as well as myself, have spent the majority of our careers at Boeing in IT and then ALONG CAME A SPIDER. We negotiated with India to buy our planes and the offset for that deal cost Boeing EO&T employees their jobs. We had to cut costs in order for our share holders to increase their profits - More senior EO&T employees are let go. Remarkably, the SPIDER found enough money to hire younger, less expensive employees, not batting her deceiving blue eyes as she destroyed lives. It's bad enough we've been fed a crock of B.S., so that SHE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED can create her legacy, calling herself a transformational leader all the while raking in the big bucks while telling us we're overpaid. EXCUSE ME???? She brings all her Yes men with her under the guise of infusing new blood into our ranks. The latest visionary change the SPIDER unleashes is that in order to gain efficiencies and to save money she is creating centers of excellence. We're a global company and have managed to meld the best IT members from all our mergers and acquisitions, regardless of their work location. Ms. SPIDER has the notion that everyone has to sit together, come from the same geographical region, never question the status quo, follow the leader or be banished for life. What's ironic, it's not because we're old and not keeping up with advances in technology or our output has diminished. It's all about the mighty dollar. Now, one of Spider's yes men just told us that St. Louis is a low cost center, so that's the direction we'll most likely be headed. Can you believe it? Oh and those of us who are vested and working until we retire are just draining the profits. I quote, "We're a company that builds planes, not a retirement company." Up until two years ago the St. Louis salaried pay scale was identical to Puget Sound and now that sequestration threatens the military side of our business they're low cost. Someone needs to tell Ms. Spider that the legacy she strives to achieve is only in her head and that the Boeing EO&T employees across the company don't consider her transformational, visionary or even a leader. If SHE continues to get raises, bonuses and retirement, will she want to leave? What if someone told her she was too expensive to keep? The canyon between the upper crust and the middle class continues to widen, but it's now so deep there's no crossing the great divide.

Yes, I ranted and raved. When are the big shots running these large companies going to get it? If they keep letting American workers go so they can increase their bottom line there's not going to be consumers with enough discretionary funds to purchase and/or use their products.

Note to Ms. Spider you are making a big big mistake. All the young IT talent doesn't live in St. Louis and they all don't want to move there either. Keep an open mind, keep your resources eclectic and you may just earn that legacy instead of creating a false one only recognized by your country club friends.
rpeterson537
50%
50%
rpeterson537,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/8/2013 | 11:05:02 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?
Older employees may get retired early to reduce medical insurance costs.

There is an effort to deskill the workplace with IBM, SAP, and Oracle leading the charge.

Mid-level managers want to protect their jobs by not having any potential replacements around.

Age should be an affirmative action category.
jfeldman
50%
50%
jfeldman,
User Rank: Strategist
3/8/2013 | 7:05:42 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?
MyW0r1d, of course. You are on the money on that one. I have been very fortunate in that I have mostly worked for good organizations that invest in employees and understand the long-term value of experience and seasoning.
Wakjob2
50%
50%
Wakjob2,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/8/2013 | 5:58:40 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?
We live in a superficial, shallow society.
Wakjob2
50%
50%
Wakjob2,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/8/2013 | 5:57:52 PM
re: IT Age Discrimination Or Employee Inertia?
We live in a childish society.
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - August 27, 2014
Who wins in cloud price wars? Short answer: not IT. Enterprises don't want bare-bones IaaS. Providers must focus on support, not undercutting rivals.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.