A fellow I spoke with about his lifelong love affair with film told me he’d just relocated to the Bay Area for a wonderful new full-time job: architect for the Veteran’s Administration. The VA is fortunate to be able to hire someone who understands their service population from the inside out: this gentleman is 74. Clearly, the VA recognized the value of a lifetime’s expertise.
Yet even his achievement pales compared with that of Elena Griffing, who has been working at the same company for — wait for it — 71 years, missing just four days of work in all that time. The 91-year-old hospital patient relations coordinator arrives each day with a spring in her step, delighted to be of service. She’ll only retire “when they push me out the door or carry me out in a box. End of story,” she says with the feistiness characteristic of many nonagenarians, who drop all pretention in their later years.
A generation ago, landing a full-time professional position in one’s seventies, or working into one’s nineties, would have been laughable; today, it’s acceptable, if not commonplace. But that doesn’t mean age discrimination is dead.
The Many Faces of Discrimination
These days, “discrimination” typically calls to mind racial and/or cultural bias. Despite the glowing examples cited above, while other countries may revere their elders, the U.S. still lags when it comes to workplace perception of those in the second half.
Global CTO Oleg Vishnepolsky, who has more than a quarter million LinkedIn followers, recently posted, “I hired a person over 50. Should not be a big deal, but it was.
“You can’t imagine the resistance I had to overcome:
‘He will never work hard enough’
‘He will not fit into our culture’
‘He will be taking a lot of sick days’
‘He is overqualified’ etc.
“Nobody said he was too old. They were all ‘politically correct’.
“Even now, many years later, I am still upset about those remarks. I had to put my foot down to get him hired.
“Long story short, he was one of the best hires I ever made. We all learned from him. He made a huge difference for the company.
“We should STOP calling people over 50 ‘overqualified’ and ‘over the hill’. Instead let’s consider using these: veteran, very experienced, someone I can learn from, someone who can make a huge difference because of their experience.”
Vishnepolsky makes an enduring point, especially for reverse mortgage professionals, many of whom are in the same cohort group as their clientele. Some past posts that may help you rethink your perspective on working far beyond “retirement” age — for yourself, and for your HECM prospects/clients, include:
Yet hiring is only one side of the equation. Executive recruiter and employment compliance expert Jack Kelly maintains that most of the “older people” — those 45-55, which seems absurdly young by HECM standards — have been fired. Pulling no punches, Kelly writes,
“The perception, I believe, is that young college graduates will be eager, enthusiastic, motivated, work hard, not talk back, are proficient in new and emerging technology, and do as they are told. Whereas, experienced — old — employees have the annoying habits of having wisdom, experience, and accumulated knowledge, and are apt to share it with everyone. Unfortunately, these positive traits can be viewed as being a pain in the a–, difficult to work with, and a know-it-all. As it relates to Compliance, perhaps companies would rather not have these older people who witnessed booms and busts, scandals and schemes, and could offer lessons on how to avoid them, because it would stand in the way of making money right now.”
A Great ADEA
That’s not a typo; it’s an acronym for the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects individuals age 40 and older from age bias in the workplace. ADEA was passed in 1967, so this law is now 50 years old — just like many people who are preparing to embrace their second act. The ADEA specifically prohibits:
- Statements or specifications in job notices or advertisements of age preference and limitations. An age limit may only be specified in the rare circumstance where age has been proven to be a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ);
- Discrimination on the basis of age by apprenticeship programs, including joint labor-management apprenticeship programs;
- Denial of benefits to older employees. An employer may reduce benefits based on age only if the cost of providing the reduced benefits to older workers is the same as the cost of providing benefits to younger workers.
So whether you as an LO have encountered work-related age discrimination, or engaged in a discussion about job challenges with a reverse mortgage client, know that legally, everyone 40+ is fully protected. Now it’s a matter of shifting mindset, so that the VA architect and Elena Griffing’s examples become a given for mature adults who are eager to remain employed — even if they have a reverse mortgage to cushion their later years.