Question: We recently interviewed an older candidate for a position. She’s well qualified, but the team she would be working with is made up of people who are much younger, and we are worried about how she will fit in. Can the criteria to hire for cultural fit outweigh potential age discrimination concerns?
Answer: Your obligations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that protects workers from discrimination on the basis of age still apply, and you should weigh any employment decisions you make based on nondiscriminatory factors that include the applicant’s ability to do the job over age or generational concerns. While you should certainly think about company and even team culture when considering new hires, you may be putting the cart before the horse by worrying about how this new employee might fit, or not fit, with her new team. And, you might be overlooking the notion that older workers and millennials have more in common than you think.
For example, older workers may appreciate flexible work hours or alternative working arrangements, like many younger people in the workforce. Their responsibilities to children in the home may be done, while their younger counterparts may be pre-child-rearing stage. Older workers’ life-long experience, along with their work experience, may be highly valued and respected on a younger team. Older workers may be driven to learn new skills and new ways of working, just like their younger counterparts.
The experience of learning isn’t just about your older worker teaching or mentoring her younger teammates, however. Older employees benefit from working with younger generations in many ways, such as learning new technology, expanding mindsets to think more out-of-the-box when problem solving, and even finding encouragement to learn new skills and to think more creatively.
Adding a new employee of any age will pose challenges to a well-established team. If your candidate has the experience and the drive that will fit the position, assume all involved will enter into the relationship with open minds and will listen and learn from each other.