The COVID-19 Impact & the Amplification of Ageism: How to Tackle Healthcare Hiring in the New World

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By Jeannette McClennan

While this pandemic has shown us just how vulnerable we are in innumerable ways, no one is more vulnerable—economically and physically—than older workers. For many, savings have been depleted and their ways of earning have disappeared. Others have been forced into early retirement, and worst of all, they are most at risk when it comes to COVID-19.

Because of that, it might seem like hospitals are the last place older workers should end up once COVID-19 has been contained, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s why hospital systems should hire older workers and how they can avoid age discrimination in the hiring process:

Older workers are stable employees

According to research, mature workers tend to have greater loyalty toward employers, less absenteeism, and better mental health. Loyalty alone is worth its weight in gold, as training new staff  is costly and time intensive.

Older employees actively participate in the gig economy

Flexible work options don’t just appeal to Millennials; older adults have myriad responsibilities, often taking care of their own parents while still providing support to their adult children. This makes the gig economy an attractive option, since, either by necessity or choice, many don’t want to retire completely. That said, even in the gig economy, offer basic health insurance and paid sick leave whenever possible.

Older adults are prepared to work in-person

Put another way, older adults are the least prepared to work remotely. While in-person interactions involve some level of risk, this can be mitigated by the use of PPE and social distancing guidelines. In order to give mature workers the opportunity to earn, we need to offer environments that match their skill sets and experience; in many cases, that means working in-person as opposed to working from home. 

Older adults bring great value to the workplace

There is simply no shortcut to wisdom and older adults have it in spades. Anyone can be wise, but the level of work experience you find in older adults means that, on the whole, they know what works, what doesn’t, and how to focus on getting the job done. It’s hard to measure the value of that but just think of how much we lose when we miss out on their perspective.

We have a moral obligation to support the dignity of older adults

We’re in a period when a sense of mission and purpose are coming into sharp relief, even at the organizational level. It’s the perfect time to reassess core values, which gives hospital systems the opportunity to see how they can employ a large sector of the workforce which otherwise may never recover.  

Avoiding Age Discrimination

Even though those 65 years of age and older are most vulnerable to impacts of COVID-19, that doesn’t mean we should shut them out of the workforce, and in particular, out of working in healthcare. As long as we’re creating safe work environments and following the steps from the CDC, workers of every age need to be considered. While it may be tempting to dismiss older applicants out of hand ‘for their own protection,’ this wreaks of paternalism and age discrimination. In fact, recruiters and human resources would do well to train their employees to avoid such pitfalls. Not only could it hurt employers and potential employees, it could also lead to lawsuits.

We need to remember that while 65 is an age with a lot of meaning behind it – it’s when many begin to retire and it’s also a group that’s particularly affected by COVID-19, it’s far from the finale. Since 1900, we’ve gained another 30 years, 10-15 of which are productive and generative. Wouldn’t you, as an employer, want to take advantage of that skill and experience?

The bottom line? Older adults have a lot to offer any workplace, and we can’t keep them at arm’s length out of fear for their safety. Their economic wellness matters as much as their physical health, and they need to be active participants in deciding what’s best for them. Finally, the many assets they bring to the workplace make older adults an incredibly interesting market to tap into. 

Jeannette McClennan is Co-Founder and President of the digital innovation firm, McClennan Masson.   

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