Too old, too young or not suitable for the job?

Your correspondent has often wondered why people have to retire at a certain age in some public jobs, but country leaders, CEO’s and other senior board members can reign in office way beyond 70…

There is nothing wrong with having older leaders being elected by the free and fair elections, although many may later regret having certain 70 year-old presidents ruling like a six year old child! And then there is the matter of very young elected officials, like Mr. Macron (France) and Mr. Kurz (Austria), both of who subsequently fail to attract majority support because of later sins. It would be interesting to see if elections of really old or really young candidates produces far better or far worse leaders – present performance during the last ten years is not really convincingly positive – but this is another topic for later consideration.

The big and challenging problems of older age are to be found in the public and private markets where people are appointed, rather than elected.

The EIB and EBRD and many other big public international financial institutions actually appear to restrict hiring ordinary folk older than 55 to 60 years! They do not say this in the job adverts, but you will not see many people starting jobs in these places beyond that age. This is surely not a good result.

… and it is the same in the rest of the job market where you often hear stories about the difficulties of good experienced workers to secure a decent job who are 55 years or older. 

Employers never say anything publicly about not hiring older workers – except empty platitudes. They must not be seen to discriminate on age, but again you hear plenty of stories about the reasons – “older folk are slower workers”, and “they not able to manage to perform simple tasks on the computer”, “and they are not innovative in the fast changing world”. Some employers also complain about having to pay higher pension payments and also fear that older employees may become ill because they are older.

These arguments are pure fabrications – younger staff is almost always less experienced, less committed and equally exposed to illness. Nor can young people claim to have a monopoly on innovation – that only comes with experience gained over many years.

Naturally, physical tasks must take into consideration age and strength, but most office jobs do not require heavy lifting nor high level computing skills.  

This columnist is not arguing for employing older folk as a matter of policy, but there is a case for changing attitudes about hiring older folk because not hiring ordinary old folk as a matter of policy is just wrong.

There is also nothing wrong with hiring older folk for top public jobs either, but when the only reason is that it happens to suit Mr. Macron or Ms. Merkel then we should scream in protest. This is currently what is happening with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which has seen the departure of their CEO, Ms. Lagarde, to head up the European Central Bank, to be replaced by Ms. Georgieva, another of Macron’s favourites.

Ms. Georgieva happens to be over the prescribed age limit for joining the IMF, and Macron and Co. are now trying hard to change the rules to get her elected to the post. 

The question of age should not be a problem for such an appointment for Ms. Georgieva. The problem is that Macron & Co. are just looking for bosses that they know are sympathetic to France and Germany, rather than scouring the market for the most experienced and suitable candidate.

Although Ms. Georgieva is probably highly suitable for the IMF job, the fact that she and Ms. Lagarde are chosen because Macron/Merkel just want them invalidates the appointments! 

Surely there are other candidates that also merit deep consideration – these are public positions in big multinational institution that are not there for serving the interests of a few big countries. 

No normal industrial or commercial company would employ senior staff without careful reviews of a large selection of candidates – they certainly would not employ somebody just because he or she is a mate of the CEO – the media and shareholders normally react pretty quickly to such moves.

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