Last week, there was a lively discussion here about ageism in media coverage of older job seekers. It is worth debunking some other dumb ideas commonly repeated about employment of older workers.
Start your own business
Those who fancy themselves experts in advising older workers on how to get hired, invariably include this at the end of their list of suggestions as though there’s nothing to it.
I did that once for a couple of years – a research company for film and television producers. I loved the work, both doing it and overseeing employees who were doing it. Three short-lived talk shows, with John Tesh, Whoopi Goldberg and Greg Kinnear, were among our clients along with HBO and other film production companies.
But I hated the business end, the marketing and the sales. I’m not good at it and although I got a little better with time, I never wanted to do it. And it took two full days out of the seven I was working that I wasn’t upholding my end of our production process.
It is my belief that, within reason, anyone can learn to do almost anything if they put their mind to it, but talent, aptitude and interest are also factors. Many people, like me, are good at their jobs – the tasks involved - but to suggest that all the same people can also run a business is disingenuous. It is specialized work that not everyone can do well enough to keep a business afloat.
That “overqualified” bugaboo
Who makes up this stuff? If someone who had been the managing editor of The New York Times had walked into my research business office and told me he wanted to write research for movies and television, I would have sat him down then and there.
If he became bored, that’s his problem as long as the work was good. If he left in six months for a better job or any other reason, that is a risk with any employee just as employees risk being laid off (whether they’ve worked somewhere a month or 20 years) because of business decisions they have no part in. It happens every day.
Until we are living in a business world where tens of thousands of jobs go begging, this is the emptiest excuse for not hiring someone ever devised.
The “older workers cost too much” excuse
Back in 1975, CEOs were paid, on average, about 45 times as much as the average employee in their company. Today, that number is 500 times the average worker’s wage. In comparison, Japanese CEOs are paid 20 to 30 times their lowest-paid workers’ salaries, and in Europe, CEOs take home about 40 times as much.
Here are some examples of CEO compensation in the U.S. for 2004:
Ray R. Irani of Occidental Petroleum was paid $52.6 million.
Terry S. Semel, CEO of Yahoo!, took home more than $109 million in salary and other compensation.
The CEO of MBNA, a giant credit card company, raked in $168.9 million.
To be fair, the compensation for the average CEO of a top U.S. company in 2004, was not quite so eye-popping at $9.84 million, but still a 12 percent increase over 2003, according to The New York Times.
This is monstrously unethical when it was recently announced that for the past year, worker salary increases have lagged behind inflation, and for the past decade, have barely kept even with inflation.
Some basic arithmetic
Let's start by using the average CEO compensation figure - $9.84 million. First, we’ll cut it down to $5 million. I’m pretty sure those guys can still live fairly lavishly on that. We now have an extra $4.84 million floating around the average company.
Now let’s take a nice round worker salary of $50,000, a bit above the current national average of $42,000. Add a third for the cost of benefits, health coverage, employer portion of Social Security, etc. and we get $66,500. Which means that average corporation could hire 72 extra employees and not spend a penny more than they are now.
Even using a potential older worker salary of $100,000 adjusted to $134,000 with benefits, 35 more workers could be hired without costing our average company a dime.
Of course, no corporation is suddenly adding a bunch of new workers these days. But the point is, if CEO (and other executive) salaries were more in line with the average in the rest of the western world (and some of these guys are running companies whose stock prices, which it’s their job to improve, have dropped precipitously during their tenure), no one could claim that older workers cost too much.
Older workers, these days, will take any job at any pay they can get. But experienced workers are worth more than entry-level employees and it is depraved and indecent to claim they are too expensive with executive pay at such piggish levels.