Ageism is a problem across most industries, but it is felt more acutely in the technology and technology-enabled sector. This is quite a broad group of workers because so many jobs today are powered by technology – even if the company is not directly considered to be in the IT industry. Look at the modern banking industry today and just how many startups have achieved unicorn status.
Recent research by the University of Gothenburg found that anyone over 35 working with technology is often considered “old” and 30 is the upper limit of where many people consider a worker to still remain “young.” This is a major issue because there is a very widely believed stereotype that older people cannot quickly adapt to new technologies – this instantly creates a stigma for older workers in jobs that rely on technology.
Some companies that are heavily reliant on technology have been accused by employees of easing them out of the front door once they hit their 40s – regardless of their actual performance.
HR managers have heard all the myths about age with criticisms directed to both the young and old. The young are stereotyped as inexperienced and older workers are stereotyped as unable to adapt to modern processes and technology.
Thankfully, most jurisdictions, including the UK, have legal protection to prevent this type of age discrimination. Anyone with any exposure to both younger and older workers will know that age is rarely the only variable that determines if someone is making a valuable contribution to their team.
I feel it is less to do with the age of the employee and more to do with the culture of the organisation. Does your business actually value innovation by allowing people to experiment with ideas that depart from their day job and encourage proactive changes. Many companies struggle to create an innovative culture because it requires an acceptance that employees will be doing things outside their regular responsibility.
The customer service industry has generally attracted a diversity of employees into the contact centres that are at the heart of most customer interactions. Many customer service jobs have traditionally been seen as transient and only a stepping stone into a different career. This has changed with the increasing professionalism and technical complexity of the industry. I have even stated in my previous blogs that I believe it’s now one of the most exciting career choices for the 2020s.
The dramatic shift to designing customer service processes that can be delivered by workers in their own home is now opening up so many more opportunities. The contact centre is still thriving, but a hybrid mix of customer service teams comprising agents in a contact centre and people based at home, I believe will be normal moving forward.
This opens some real possibilities for the customer service industry to focus on creating opportunities for diversity that brings with it additional value to the brands they support. Those with years of work experience to be able to navigate quickly certain roadblocks or issues. Those with skills in specific industries, that gives an understanding of the right message in their interactions. Those with great communication skills and cultural awareness to be able to engage and have deeper conversations. The CX industry can only thrive from adopting diversity as part of its DNA and a flexible working pattern that fits with the life of the employee.
The pandemic has led to a real opportunity to create a more blended workforce of all ages and abilities. It should be possible to retain and hire even more experienced workers that would otherwise not be interested in being part of the industry.
With flexible hours, home-based contracts etc. to ensure they are more comfortable all enabled by cloud technology that connects everyone into a virtual team regardless of their location.
Work from home has created the opportunity for companies to dramatically boost their diversity and inclusion policies which could mean a more meaningful and valuable interaction with customers, but we must not forget that seeking out some more experienced workers is a great way to boost skills and knowledge inside your teams and share best practice and provide a very different culture.