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Never Ever Have An “Attracting Younger Workers” Strategy

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Every company that plans to be around for a while wants to attract younger workers, right? But that’s a terrible idea. Or at least, talking about it is a bad, bad move.

My friend Scott Armstrong was recently at a conference, where an exchange between the presenter and him went something like this:

Speaker: “What would be the steps to develop a strategy around attracting younger workers?”

Participant: “Well, I suppose the first step would be to never say that out loud or write it down anywhere or you’ll be sued into the Stone Age by every over-40 applicant you don’t hire.”

Millenial Workers

© Flickr user Bob Collins

This might sound like a flippant response, and it is. But it’s also true. And it happened at HP, leading to a huge lawsuit. Public statements made by the company were part of the filings:

[CEO Meg] Whitman was asked by an interviewer: “You did announce significant job cuts about a month or so ago.… Is that going to be it for HP?” (HP announced cuts of up to 30,000 jobs in September last year)

Whitman responded: “That should be it. That will allow us to right-size our Enterprise Services business… to make sure that we’ve got a labor pyramid with lots of young people coming in right out of college and graduate school and early in their careers. That’s an important part of the future of the company….”

There are three factors here to understand:

Diversity is Not “Checking a Box”

You don’t have to look far to see people promoting the idea of a diverse workforce. And it’s easy to find examples of dialogue around the idea that diversity is more than making sure you did “that one thing.” For example, the local Indianapolis firm LUNA Language Services blogged about diversity with this exact topic in mind. Or as another blogger wrote

“Checking a box” indicates that you don’t have to worry about something any more because the item is complete. Training: check. Recruit 3 women: check. Attend a supplier diversity fair: check. When we check boxes, however, genuine relationships, measurement and evaluation become difficult.

A comment like “What would be the steps to develop a strategy around attracting younger workers?” might indicate a stronger interest in having younger people, rather than having the best people—some of which should be younger. It’s the box-checking that gets us into trouble.

Strategies Should be Holistic and Inclusive, Not The Opposite

If your goal is to attract more ________ workers, where _______ is any particular group that is a protected class, you’re actions will likely be interpreted as exclusive and divisive. That’s not to say you mean that, but if you’re targeting certain groups, people will think you’re, well, targeting certain groups.

Instead, workplace strategies should be inclusive and holistic. We should try to get more people engaged in the conversation and involve a wider range of opinions. That’s often the difference between a happy workforce and a lawsuit.

Age Discrimination

There are lots of types of age discrimination. You’ve got adultism (adults are better than children), juenism (young people are better than older people), the adultocracy (people are mature or immature, and the mature ones should run the world), gerontocracy (old people should run the show because they are experienced) and chronocentrism (my generation is best.)

Of course, these sorts of nuances don’t matter much if you feel like you’re being discriminated against because of your age. If we want to avoid age discrimination as employers, we have to focus on ensuring that age is not a factor in hiring. We need to be only focused on people’s skills and contributions, nothing else.

Young Workers in a Class

© Flickr user Ted Eytan

How should that interaction have gone between presenter and participant?

Speaker: “What would be the steps to develop a strategy around attracting younger workers?”

Participant: “Well, I suppose the first step would be to never say that out loud or write it down anywhere or you’ll be sued into the Stone Age by every over-40 applicant you don’t hire.”

Speaker: “You’re right! It’s actually a trick question. We should never focus on hiring younger workers, because that would be a violation of non-discrimination laws. Instead, we should develop mechanisms that reduce our bias toward older workers. Any ideas on how we could accomplish that?”

Now, we’re talking about what can and should be done to improve workplace diversity.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter

@robbyslaughter

Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. https://t.co/lJk8tIwe9q. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@BigLiciousT Not for you or in your field, but for many people it will subconsciously communicate they can email yo… https://t.co/qHnyntz6jp - 4 months ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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