Employers and coworkers often see older employees as less productive and incapable of learning new techniques and technologies. These perceptions often cause older workers to miss out on promotions.
“Ageism is a systemic problem with enormous financial and social consequences.” -Brent Holland
So more seasoned workers are being pushed out while applicants of their age are discreetly not hired.
But here’s the rub: there are strong signs that this ageism hurts employers-including contact centers-and the economy as a whole.
In a recent interview with Contact Center Pipeline, Brent Holland, founder and CEO, Intelliante, who has a deep background in contact center recruiting and whose company provides automated pre-employment testing, cited these data points:
AARP estimates that the U.S. economy underperformed by $850 billion due to age discrimination in 2018, including $87.4 billion in the professional and business services industry. Making matters worse is that the impact of age discrimination is forecasted to rise to nearly $4 trillion by 2050.
“Ageism is a systemic problem with enormous financial and social consequences,” says Brent.
Here are the key issues covered in our conversation:
Brent Holland: Here are the data based on our research and estimates, and drawing from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S.) and Statistics Canada (Canada).
In 2021, the number of men declined by 1.5%, and women increased by 5.1% in U.S. customer service representative jobs, producing a net increase of jobs over 2020. Within the Canadian contact center industry, the percentage of men increased by .004%, and women decreased by .006%, producing a net reduction of approximately 300 workers.
Although not exclusive to the contact center industry, nearly 12% of office and administrative support workers identify with one or more disabilities, most of whom are women (17.9%).
Canadian data for Business, Building, and Other Support Services suggest that most workers are men (56.5%) and between 25 and 54 years of age (62%).
Brent Holland: Many changes (e.g., work-from-home [WFH] and headcount) reflect the COVID-19 pandemic’s direct and indirect fallout.
First, before the pandemic, job applicants ranked corporate citizenship, shared values, and environmental improvement as the most important factors.
Fast-forward to today. When allowed to work flexibly, nearly 90% of workers take it. Moreover, job applicants rank a flexible work arrangement as the third most crucial consideration behind better pay and career opportunities.
Second, many companies reduced their headcount in early 2020 due to the global upheaval caused by COVID-19 and the ensuing economic slowdown. The U.S. and Canadian governments responded with stimulus packages to reignite the economies.
The interventions worked. By Q3 2021, the U.S. GDP exceeded pre-COVID-19 levels, with Canada reaching the milestone in Q1 2022.
The consequences of the stimulus packages — inflation and recession — began taking effect in early 2022, with the first signs of a U.S. economic slowdown; Canada was not far behind. Many forecasts pointed to significant economic headwinds heading into 2023.
Contact centers are demand-driven businesses, making them susceptible to economic ebb and flow. As consumer spending slows, demand inevitably follows, creating downward pressure on headcount.
Finally, I anticipate a shift towards outsourced contact centers in 2023 as companies combat rising costs and lower spending without sacrificing the personal experiences that consumers demand.
Ultimately, the impact on the industry’s headcount will depend on how quickly the economies recover. As of today, I anticipate an overall reduction in agent headcount over the next 12 months.
Brent Holland: Looking to the future, U.S. and Canadian employers must adapt to an increasingly aging workforce.
Between 1951 and 2021, U.S. and Canadian birth rates declined by 50% and 63%, respectively. These long-term declines are causing the population to age at an alarming rate. Between 2000 and 2021, the median age in the U.S. increased from 35.4 to 38.8 years and from 36.8 to 41.1 years in Canada.
Over the next two decades, I anticipate that the most successful companies will be leaders in hiring, engaging, developing, and retaining older workers.
Brent Holland: The age of the U.S. population increased by 3.4 years between 2000 and 2021 to 38.8 years.
Based on these trends, it’s reasonable to expect the average age of customer service representatives to increase too, but data suggest otherwise. The average age of U.S. customer service representatives was 36.4 years in 2014 and 34.6 years in 2021.
Canadian data are less precise but portray an aging workforce. Table 2 shows the relative percentage of workers in different age groups. The proportion of 15–24 and 25–54 workers declined, while the 55+ age bracket increased by 5.1%.
Brent Holland: Historically, contact centers targeted recruitment toward workers in the 18–34 age bracket. However, as the population ages, contact centers must begin catering to older workers to sustain growth. There are at least five advantages of hiring older workers, including:
What are the disadvantages of hiring older workers? Some articles point to concerns such as an unwillingness to embrace technology, inflexibility, higher costs, and resistance to feedback.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of these concerns are myths. As we discussed above, the data does not support them.
Sophocles said, “No enemy is worse than bad advice.” Across Canada and the U.S., many company policies, whether explicit or implicit, reflect misinformation about the value of older workers.
“Historically, contact centers targeted recruitment toward workers in the 18–34 age bracket…as the population ages, contact centers must begin catering to older workers to sustain growth.” -Brent Holland
One area where data show a significant difference between younger and older (> 40) workers occurs with some high-fidelity pre-employment tests.
For example, CC Audition’s technical manual (Harver.com), a contact center simulation used to screen job applicants, reports that applicants under 40 score significantly higher than people aged 40 or higher. The under-40 scoring advantage remained intact across the original (2011) and revised manuals (2015).
“Today, most older workers — are more familiar and comfortable with technology. As examples, they flocked to social media in the early 2000s and video with the pandemic.” -Brent Holland
Brent Holland: The World Health Organization defines ageism as “the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) directed towards people based on their age. It can be institutional, interpersonal or self-directed.”
The types of workplace behaviors construed as ageism include direct employment discrimination (e.g., hiring, promoting, firing, and compensation) and other, more subtle acts, including:
The U.S. and Canada protect workers against age-related discrimination.
Workers must show that an employer discriminated against them because of their age, and that’s not always easy to prove.
At a minimum, an applicant or employee must meet the following criteria: (a) be 40 years of age or older, (b) demonstrate qualifications for the position, © demonstrate an adverse action by the employer (e.g., not being hired or being fired), and (d) demonstrate that the employer’s decision was because of the person’s age.
Suppose an applicant or worker meets the above standards. In that case, the employer can show that their actions were legitimate and unrelated to age.
For example, laws protect people aged 18 or older in Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan from discrimination. In British Columbia, age discrimination laws apply to people aged 19 or over.
Like in the U.S., Canadian applicants or employees must demonstrate that the adverse behavior is due to their age. And, at least in British Columbia, the person must file a complaint within six months.
“Contact centers need to rethink their employer value proposition to capitalize on the value of mature employees.” -Brent Holland
Brent Holland: The economic benefits of employing older workers are clear. Why wouldn’t a contact center hire more reliable, less expensive, productive, and competent employees?
Contact centers need to rethink their employer value proposition to capitalize on the value of mature employees.
They can take four steps to begin the transformation:
Originally published at https://www.contactcenterpipeline.com.
Intelliante’s latest articles provide valuable insights and expertise on various topics, including hiring, talent assessment, contact centers, leadership, training, and essential key performance indicators (KPIs).
Employees resigning en masse, 4.5 million people quit in November 2021, has left companies scrambling to fill jobs, an event referred to as the Great Resignation. It’s a convenient corporate-self-serving description because it implies a worker-driven search for greener pastures, similar to the wildebeest migration that inspired it.