When you think of a typical tech worker, what mental image comes into your head? If the image was of a man in his late 20s, wearing designer clothes, trainers, and maybe goofing about playing ping-pong or snooker on his lunch break — then you might have just experienced a subconscious nod to ageism.
At the same time, you can be forgiven. Because this mental picture is also largely correct. Most tech workers really are that young. In fact, they are even younger. Apart from Google’s average working force at the ripe old age of 30. Other tech giants have demographics with median ages as young as 27, 28 and 29 years of age (that is AOL, Facebook and LinkedIn respectively).
So, why do tech companies only seem to favour the very young?
The tech companies have long been suspected of ageism. But the truth is this discrimination isn’t so much of a suspicion as it is an overt mentality. As the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg put it so succinctly back in 2007: “young people are just smarter”.
The overarching philosophy among tech companies appears to be that millennials are the cultural epicentre for Big Tech. Ageist discrimination is, according to Gareth Jones, the CEO of the UK-based tech company Headstart, even worse when it comes to the computer coding side of things. For some reason, ageism flies under the discrimination radar. The reason the sort of ageing culture described here is allowed to persist is, is because it just doesn’t seem as sensitive of an issue next to other discriminations — such as those to do with gender and race.
The apparent ubiquitous nature of ageism in our tech culture — and our wider working culture at large — has even prompted the director of operations at Age Diversity Forum, Paul Owen, to refer to it as “the biggest area of bias [today] receiving the lowest level of attention”.
Ageism might be pervasive, but it cannot last forever. It is an unsustainable discrimination. The reason being is that our society is ageing. In order to remain functional, Big Tech will not only have to open its doors to older employees, it will also have to fight to retain them.
The UK government’s own figures predict that by 2025 a third of the workforce will be 50 years or older. By the end of the decade, they will actually be the largest demographic. In some areas, we can already see the ageing demographic creeping up. For example, the average age for workers in mining and quarrying is a few decimal points shy of 45 years old. While the median age for a UK engineer, in general, is 42.
Fortunately, some businesses are starting to get wise of the impending tsunami of older workers. They are reconsidering age-old preconceptions about what it means to be young and old in a place of work. In a sobering series of surveys, the company Aviva discovered that about half of its 60-years-and-older employees did not want to retire. They only considered retiring because they felt pressured to do so, due to their age. On top of that, nearly 40 per cent reported ageism to be a real barrier to progress.
But there was some good news. In fact, the most interesting statistic the Aviva surveys picked up was this one: that people in their 60s generally appear more motivated at work than their 40 and 50-year-old counterparts.
New studies, like the Aviva surveys with their surprising conclusions, are helping to open new doors on how we look at the bigger picture. Of how society, age, and work all interact with one another. An important cultural shift occurred in 2017 with the government’s “Fuller Working Lives” report from the Department for Work and Pensions.
In the report, it was recognised that nearly a million unemployed over-50-year-olds would be keen on returning to work if the right support mechanisms were in place. That is, a standing army of a million people ready to fill skills shortages and bring invaluable corporate memory with them back into the economy. “Corporate Memory” being a buzzword for the lifetime of knowledge that older workers no doubt have.
This “missing million” might even be a necessary lifeline for some sectors. For example, the UK engineering sector has been haemorrhaging employees for over four years and is facing a steep recruitment crisis.
The recruitment crisis might explain why some engineering companies are already one step ahead of the game. They have actively changed their working hours and recruitment policies to attract veteran employees.
One example is Tideway, the company currently building a ‘Super Sewer’ under the Thames River in London. Tideway established a so-called ‘Returner’ programme back in 2015, that allows over-55s to transition slowly back into work. Another example can be found with the company Landmarc, which sources a quarter of all its labour from over-55s. It mostly recruits former military workers who already have a good knowledge of engineering. Both Landmarc and Tideway utilise flexible hours and transition phases to draw in the older crowds.
Another, more universal option, might be to bring in what’s known as a “Midlife MOT”. This phrase has its origins as a seemingly unremarkable comment — with barely a paragraph of its own — in the government’s Independent Review Of The State Pension Age report of 2017. A Midlife MOT basically gives over-45s a mixture of face-to-face consultations, lectures, access to e-learning tools, and even financial advice to prepare them for the next career-phase of life.
When Aviva introduced the Midlife MOT to its own staff, it was an enormous success with a 94 per cent enrolment rate. The enthusiasm here speaks volumes. It suggests that ageing workers really are looking for support to help orientate themselves for better working prospects.
Other strategies involve further challenging our preconceptions. At the beginning of this article, you were asked to think of a typical tech worker. Now think of a typical apprentice. The chances are, you thought of someone barely out of school. But actually, most apprentices tend to be a fair bit older. Over 40 per cent of them are 25 years or older, for example. It is now becoming more common for apprentices to be in their 50s or 60s. In fact, learning as an apprentice can be a great opportunity for an older worker as they start to ease their transition out of full-time work. Allowing them to learn new skills in other or similar job roles.
Finally, we should learn to avoid certain buzzwords that are ageist in nature. Sometimes without us even realising it. Terms such as “recent graduate” or “digital native” in job descriptions, for example. They are essentially a way of saying if you are old don’t bother, we haven’t even thought about you.
Like all societal struggles for change, confining ageism to the history books will not be easy. It also won’t disappear overnight. But by educating ourselves to the challenge, spreading the message to others, and showing our support and encouraging strategies like those listed above, ageism will be undone quicker than we might realise.
This article was written by Neil Wright, a writer and researcher for RJ Lifts, an lift engineering and maintenance company located in Stoke-on-Trent, UK.
According to the Office of National Statistics, almost half of all disabled people in the UK are unemployed (46 per cent). Considering that there is thought to be nearly 8 million people in the country with some type of disability, that is a massive number of undervalued and underutilised people.
It, therefore, seems logical to ask ‘Why are so many disabled people unemployed?’ The answer is, unfortunately, because there is still a certain amount of stigma around disabled people. Many businesses and hiring managers are likely to think of a disabled employee as an inconvenience at best, and an unnecessary expense at worst.
But thankfully, such stigmas and mentalities are starting to fade away. Especially because of the — as studies have shown — tangible economic benefits that are enjoyed by companies that have already invested in disabled talent.
While there is some truth that a disabled candidate may need some adjustments to help them in a typical workplace, most of these adjustments are inexpensive and very minor. And this could make all the difference between hiring a disabled person with the relevant skills and the right attitude, or just another able-bodied candidate.
In the engineering sector, the company Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure came to that realisation back in 2016. So they reformed their hiring policies in the hopes of building what we would now commonly call a “culture of access”. According to Dawn Moore, the company’s HR director, the reforms have benefited progress immensely. Wins include an increase in recommendations from 50 – 95 per cent; greater feelings of respect and inclusivity from line managers, and a near total agreement amongst employees that the company has their wellbeing as number one priority.
The company is now seeking ‘Leader’ status. That is, an official recognition by the UK government that a company is committing itself to building a culture of access within its walls.
The ‘Leader’ status is part of a hierarchy of status-levels recognised by the UK government’s Disability Confident scheme. When it was first implemented, Disability Confident openly sought to encourage employers to recruit workers with disabilities.
Initially, a lot of questions were asked about how the scheme could ever hope to be reasonably successful. After all, many businesses feared major adjustments would be necessary to their workplaces. There were also misgivings about the different approaches that would need to be adopted more generally to promote inclusivity.
These are legitimate obstacles for businesses that won’t go away overnight, but that hasn’t deterred the more-than 16,000 British companies that have already signed up to the ‘Committed’ level. At this level, companies have declared a promise that they will take active measures to recruit and hold on to disabled workers.
Committed is the lowest form of recognition by Disability Confident. After that is ‘Employer’ status followed by Leader status — the final level. In order to become a Leader, a business must prove that it has demonstrated a positive influence on having recruited disabled people into its workforce.
The benefits of a culture of access don’t stop with helping disabled people into the world of work. They reach every employee in the business. Once the mentality of inclusivity is introduced into a workplace, people tend to become more aware of the needs of others, full stop. It encourages greater levels of support for all employees and a greater sensitivity to others who may be undergoing changing family or health situations.
Lastly, as more people are waking up to the fact that disabled people, much like the general population, come with incredible individual talents and strengths of their own, the untapped disabled workforce may be a lifeline to many key industries at home.
The British engineering sector, for example, has been in a free-fall recruitment crisis since before 2016. With the curtain suddenly lifted on a standing army of nearly 4 million people, it becomes obvious that such skills shortages and recruitment problems only have to be an issue if we, as a society, let them be.
At the moment none of the Leader-status businesses under Disability Confident are in the construction and industry sector — in fact, very few of them have anything to do with technology. This attitude will have to change soon for these businesses to avoid a deep crisis. But the key to success remains remarkably simple: it is all about creating a workspace where everyone — including disabled people — can work, thrive, and most importantly stay, with a business.
This article was written by Neil Wright of Webster Wheelchairs, one of the NHS’s leading suppliers of wheelchairs, rollators, and other elderly and disability-friendly equipment.
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All of us are under pressure at some point in our lives. Chronic, or long-term stress is often the result of high-expectations; usually in a job role. Other ‘acute’ moments of stress may be single-events. This could be having to give a speech, make a presentation, or meet a tight deadline. It is how we deal with the pressure that is important, and that which has captivated psychologists in recent years.
Most people can be divided up into two camps. There are those with a ‘positive’ stress mindset and those with a ‘negative’ stress mindset. If you ever attended university, you might recognise the positive stress-heads. The ones who crammed an entire paper or exam’s worth of notes into one long-night before the deadline. These are the people who tend to think of stress as a challenge. They use it as an opportunity to strengthen motivation, sharpen the mind, and really achieve something.
In contrast, those with ‘negative’ stress mindsets view the entire phenomenon as unpleasant and negative. Not surprisingly, this view is harmful to the body. People with negative mindsets are more likely to engage in self-deprecating humour, which actually invokes more distress. Worse, they tend to go into a situation admitting defeat. When a person already has low expectations of themselves and the work they are doing, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The sufferer tends to sink down to those low expectations.
It isn’t surprising that positive mindset-people are less likely to be stressed out in the wake of difficult life events. But there is hope for their negative peers — because there are ways to unlearn the negative mindset. For example, after listening to a presentation on how stress is actually a good thing, even the most negatively minded people performed better when placed under stressful situations.
Another — albeit strange — remedy for negative stress is to get scared instead. Studies have shown that watching horror movies can temporarily calm the brain, and “recalibrate” emotions. In fact, the more stressed a person was before watching a film, the calmer they felt afterwards.
Time pressure also has the curious quality of being able to make people act more like themselves and to improve decision-making. One study by Fandong Chang and Ian Krajbich forced their volunteers into making tough decisions with money. The more selfish individuals acted more selfishly under time pressure, and the more prosocial people acted more socially. Perhaps crucially, the same study found that, under great time pressure, the experts often make the correct decisions.
Impending moments of acute stress can be very unpleasant, even for more positively minded people. Impending moments can be as varied as a surgeon waiting to go into surgery theatre, to a singer anxiously stepping out in front of a large audience to perform.
What can make the difference between thriving and choking? Research suggests that a text message from a close friend, family member or partner really can help a lot. One study, carried out by psychologist Emily Hooker, found that a simple text message can help to reduce heart rates and blood pressure. The message doesn’t even have to be particularly supportive! Even generic messages work, as long as they remind the brain that there’s someone out there who cares, regardless of what it is they are saying. In the event that no message is received, just visualising someone who you can rely on also works to calm the brain.
Other, not-so-obvious ways to bring down stress in the workplace is to simply make support services available. In a similar way to the mundane text messages above, employees don’t even have to use any of the services for their stress levels to drop. Just knowing that there are counsellors or equipment, or systems in place is enough to reduce the negative mindset of stress.
A common occurrence in high-profile sporting events is for a sportsperson to suddenly choke under pressure. This phenomenon happens when the pressure becomes overwhelming and can lead to a rapid deterioration in technical ability. Male athletes are more than twice as likely to choke when the pressure gets too much. This is because men suffer bigger spikes in the stress-related hormone cortisol when they become stressed.
But there is another stress-related phenomenon in high-profile sports that you might not know about. It is the opposite of choking — psychologists call it ‘clutch performance’. Athletes who experience clutch performance excel under pressure, not the other way round. An analysis of athletes who all showed signs of clutch performance reported feeling completely involved in their task. They become unaware of everything except their objectives — even the audience. But the most important thing that each of the athletes described was this: in such circumstances, they visualise success and never thought about what the consequences would be if they failed.
This feeds back into recent research carried out by the psychologist Vikram Chib. Vikram concluded that altering how you look at the stakes can dramatically reduce the chances of choking. It really is mind over matter, in many cases.
If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you have either a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ stress mindset. This can greatly determine your behaviour in times of pressure. The former naturally have it easier, but not to worry. Negative stress can be unlearned and even turned into a positive thing.
There is still much research to be done but, in the meantime, if you happen to be facing a particularly difficult situation, why not try embracing it — as an opportunity to thrive, develop and grow — and imagine first and foremost, that you have already succeeded?
This article was written by Neil Wright of De-Risk, a strategic programme risk management company based in Surrey, UK.
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Many of us — an estimated 10 million in Britain — work in medium-to-large sized organisations. Companies which employ between 250 and 1,000 staff. But the most common source of employment remains small businesses. And very small businesses at that: about 13 million Brits earn their living in organisations with workforces that average around just five people.
Obviously, as anyone who has made the jump from small to large business (or vice versa) can tell you, life can be very different at these two ends of the employment spectrum. But which is better for employee wellbeing and mental health? As it stands, far more research has been compiled on the functions of large businesses, the government’s own civil servants, in particular. But with investigations of small businesses finally catching up, a picture is beginning to emerge that might reveal a definite answer.
Large organisations, which often have more money to invest, often provide valuable training and avenues for their employees’ development and progression. Yet at the same time, employees tend to be suspicious of larger companies and trust them less. This may be down to two reasons: one is a simple matter of size and communication. That it is difficult to always communicate clearly to larger bodies of teams. The second is that larger corporations can be more ‘political’, with their being inevitable winners and losers divided along these political lines.
To contrast this with smaller business or self-employed workers, there are much higher levels of trust, job satisfaction and job involvement. But there are also higher levels of conflict between the spheres of home and work. In the initial advantages of flexible home working and more autonomy, there are also jarring gender differences. With women tending to be more than likely the ones with the highest home/work conflict.
While it is true that more autonomy and control over one’s work can help to reduce stress levels. The problem is that small business-based workers report having so much more of it. And with these heavier workloads comes — paradoxically — raised cortisol (stress) levels. Small business-based workers have also reported increased loneliness and isolation than their larger-organisational counterparts.
As larger organisations struggle to communicate with their employees. It should not be surprising that they also struggle to recognise the individual contributions of their hardest workers. The resulting effect is that people often feel like they are nothing more than invisible cogs in a huge machine. Efforts to identify hard work, such as performance management systems and KPIs, are only understood to have short term benefits. In the long run, asymmetric salaries, bonuses, and promotions, only serve to punish and demoralize workers who feel they’ve been left behind.
Competitive cultures can make the workplace an unpleasant environment, and drive out pro-social behaviour. And if the competition is valued above learning and development this can lead to what is known as ‘knowledge hoarding’. Where team members guard the secrets to their success to ward off rivals.
Small businesses, on the other hand, tend to lean toward so-called ‘mastery climates’, which are the opposite of knowledge hoarding ones. Here people are encouraged to emphasise learning and collaborations with co-workers. Yet that doesn’t mean mastery climates are only available to small businesses. On the contrary, such a climate can be replicated by local managers able to implement model knowledge sharing behaviours by putting a great degree of trust in the employees. In large organisations, positive organisation and support can go a great deal to overcome the conflict that can come about in hierarchies.
It seems that there are not a lot of opportunities to determine what and how the work is done in larger, hierarchical businesses. The result is that work is often fragmented into smaller pieces for employees to work on. Who then fail to realise the bigger picture and the true meaning of the work carried out.
‘Job crafting’ has been shown to be effective in helping to not only retain staff. But also in engaging them and enhancing their happiness levels. Crafting in itself does nothing to reduce the demands of the job, but it does force employees to think about the resources they have and to engage and use them more effectively. This type of crafting is more familiar with smaller businesses (though it isn’t a guarantee), but there is no reason why it couldn’t be implemented into larger businesses under local managers as well.
Job crafting also encourages greater co-operation and dialogue between employees. And can help to unravel a toxic work atmosphere and reduce feelings of isolation in smaller businesses.
There are advantages and disadvantages to working in both large organisations and smaller businesses. It is too simplistic and unfair to say that working in large hierarchical businesses is bad for employees within them. After all, working freelance, or for small companies can also be depleting and bad for mental health. What is crucial to good mental health, is that all employees recognise or find meaning in what they do. After all, work plays a hugely important role in our personal identity and wellbeing. So does making sure that we are paid well, and fairly, for the tasks at hand.
What is equally important is that, whether one is working for a large or small business, there are positive organisational supports in place. Support in the way jobs are designed, and executed; preferably by good local leaders. The use of fairer ways to track performance management is also very important. Especially if it is to lead to the development of a ‘mastery climate’.