Hundreds of chicks wait for food at poultry farm in Malacca, outskirt of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, Jan.  27, 2004.  Malaysian officials on Monday brushed aside fears it might become the next country hit by bird flu, which has swept through most of its neighbors infecting millions of chickens and possibly killing 12 people.  (AP Photo/Teh Eng Koon)

Are we only interested in employing spring chickens?

Does an insidious form of age discrimination operate in your company or industry, and if so, when does it kick in? Is 60, 50 or even 40 in some industries the age where you suddenly feel like a “veteran”’ and at the end of the queue for pay rises, promotions and other office perks?

What about in recruitment? Is there an age in your industry at which recruiters consider you a relic, or too overqualified for the role, even though your knowledge, experience and networks are terrific assets – certainty worth a lot more than the salary you will accept to be employed?

And is the unofficial “use-by” date in your company or industry dropping quickly? Are the 50-year-olds who in previous decades would have been at the peak of their career, now an endangered species if they can easily be replaced by younger and cheaper people?

I thought about unofficial career “use-by” dates after reading 141 reader comments in a recent blog, “Does Business Want Older Workers?” A surprisingly large sample of older workers felt their company had thrown them on the scrap-heap, and that recruiters unfairly viewed them as unsuitable for too many roles. It was powerful anecdotal information.

Comment after comment was about feeling betrayed and underappreciated, unable to overcome the stigma of being an “older worker” – even though nobody should be defined by their age. And what even is an older worker these days, given the general ageing of the population?

The Federal Government wants workers to retire at 67, but the average retirement age is about 59, according to latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data. I wonder how many are retiring out of choice, or because they no longer have meaningful full employment or have been retrenched. And how many would keep working if they felt genuinely valued by their employer, challenged and engaged.

What an odd, sad, labour market now exists: university students getting into their full-time career later than ever after a gap year and procession of part-time jobs; and more businesses culling older workers, or at least underappreciating them, way before their time.

At the same time, many university students are loading on debt to pay for overpriced degrees so they can eventually buy into one of the world’s most overpriced property markets and be crippled by more debt, before paying private school fees or hoping underfunded public schooling will help their kids.

And, to rub it in, having less time in their corporate career at a peak salary to pay for it all, let alone save enough for retirement. Something has to give in the next three to five years if these trends continue.

Isn’t it strange that banks lend all this money on 30-year home-loan terms, based on a current salary, when a growing number of people will never have constant full-time employment for 30 years -- at least based on their peak salary -- such is the ongoing casusalisation of the workforce? Or that people buy houses knowing they will never be able to pay them off, such are the inflated prices?

Too many “careers” these days seem to boil down to a 20-year sprint, if that – in and out of the industry, exhausted, used and suddenly overqualified and underpaid. Your career is over before you know it, just as you master your profession through insight and intuition that comes with experience. It’s sad seeing people no longer able do a job they love and excel at.

Discrimination against older workers will surely intensify in coming years as three powerful trends collide: a weaker-than-expected economy, possibly even an economic shock in the next 3-5 years as the resource investment boom rapidly slows; the coming new-machine age, automation of more jobs, and increasing impact of technology on business models, which will create higher demand for tech-savvy workers; and the mother of all trends, an ageing population.

Is corporate Australia prepared for these trends? Is society? How many companies have genuinely embraced an ageing workforce, created outstanding opportunities for older workers, and eradicated even the slightest form of age discrimination, so that people are judged – and rewarded – only on performance, not their date of birth?

I’m sure these companies exist. The ones I see keep axing older workers (even those in their late forties) at every opportunity because they cost more and are supposedly change resistant. Even more galling is an assumption that every older worker wants part-time work and can afford to be at the back of the pay-rise queue or overlooked for promotions.

The irony is old workers – at least those I know – have never been more engaged or productive. Or less wanted by a growing number of companies, in higher-paid, full-time employment, such is the pressure to cut costs and be more responsive to technological change.

A final thought: Australia now has some of the world’s oldest boardrooms in the top 200 listed companies. The average age of male non-executive directors in top-100 companies has increased from 59.5 in 2001 to 64.1 last year, shows the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors report Board Composition and Non-Executive Director Pay in the Top 200 Companies, released in September.

It’s funny how those at the very top are getting older than ever, and the rest of the workforce is seemingly getting younger. Perhaps Australia’s greying boardrooms need to spend more time ensuring other older workers in their organisation are also recognised – and paid –  for their knowledge, experience and corporate loyalty.

Worst Customer Service Awards 2013

As usual, last week’s annual Worst Customer Service Awards generated hundreds of reader comments. I can summarise the results in one word: telcos.  They dominated almost every category of the awards, with a dishonourable mention for energy companies.

I thought telecommunications companies had improved service in recent years. Not according to readers who, again, blasted telcos for incompetent service. Was the criticism overdone? Judge for yourself through the reader comments and add your own.

Clique