Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Target (inadvertently) teaches the importance of avoiding age-based stereotypes


I do a lot of speaking. One speech that I’ve been giving over the past couple of years is entitled, “X+Y+Z = A Generational Mess for Your Workplace.” I teach how employers can best manage the diverse needs and abilities of four different generations of employees. I discuss some broad-based generalizations about Traditionalists (age 70+), Baby Boomers (50-69), Gen X (35-49), and Gen Y (under 35). I always finish by discussing the very real risk of age discrimination if you treat these generalizations as gospel, and do not treat each employee, of age any, as an individual, with individual talents and abilities.

Target saw the need to offer the same type of training to its managers, but it left off the part about age discrimination. Gawker (h/t Business Management Daily) published Target’s training materials, entitled, Managing Generational Differences,” which, among other things, describe its oldest workers as “slow to adapt to change,” “rarely question[ing] authority” and see[ing] technology as “complex and challenging.”

When you are sued for discrimination, your training materials are fair game in litigation. While you write them to aid your employees, you must do so with (at least) one eye on the jury that will read them during trial. You do not want to have your manager explain to a jury, in an age discrimination case, if he thought the plaintiff was “slow to adapt to change” when he made the termination decision.

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