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Why SMEs shun young employees as “snowflake” workers

Companies often find younger workers lack experience. However, many SMEs place a high importance in bringing in skilled workers to take their business to new heights.
21 October, 2019

Companies often find younger workers lack experience. However, many SMEs place a high importance in bringing in skilled workers to take their business to new heights. But what if the only qualifying factor was age? A recent study found majority of small businesses would rather hire an older worker than a younger one – even if they were equally experienced.

A study by UK’s leading healthcare provider, Benenden Health, revealed that 36% of SME business owners would rather hire a 55-year-old employee than a 24-year-old, even with the same skills, experience and a similar CV.

“Millennial” and so-called “snowflake” workers were perceived as having “lower productivity”, “higher absence rates” and “a poorer grasp of the English language”, the survey found.

However, younger workers admitted to feeling discriminated because of their age more so than older recruits. The study, which surveyed 1,000 employees, found that more than half of workers aged 16 to 23 felt they were overlooked for roles because of their age while 47% of those aged 24 to 38 claimed to have had similar experiences.

In comparison, only 29% of workers aged 39 to 54 felt their age mattered in the hiring process, compared to 34% of those aged 55 to 72.

Health and wellbeing packages are becoming more important to workers, and some are even willing to sacrifice their wages for it. Nearly half of workers said a good healthcare package will increase the chances of joining a company and staying in one on a longer term, while younger workers (aged 16 to 23) said they wouldn’t mind their pay dropping by a third for a suitable package, according to the survey.

Despite the increasing popularity for healthcare benefits, majority of SMEs said they did not have one in place, and many felt it was unnecessary to do so. 85% of small business owners said they did not provide healthcare packages and 44% of these said they do not think it is essential.

Helen Smith, Chief Commercial Officer of Benenden Health, commented: “Our research has highlighted some interesting differences between the attitudes of employers and employees when it comes to identifying what makes a business attractive. Healthcare is becoming increasingly valued by workers – often moreso than other benefits and even salary – indicating that businesses should move away from a one-size-fits-all healthcare offering and think about tailoring a plan to meet the varied needs of a modern workforce.”

More than half of businesses said they did not consult their workers on what sort of healthcare benefits they would prefer, with younger and older employees reporting different needs. Younger employees placed greater value on mental health support, counselling sessions and life skill lessons, while older workers placed greater value on regular medical checks and flexible working hours.

“Younger generations told us that mental health support is of great importance to them, but these priorities change over time,” Ms Smith added. “Generation X workers often have the dual commitment of looking after children and parents so flexible working is valued by them, and with employees working longer than ever, ensuring your older workers are catered for as well – through regular eyesight and hearing tests, and ergonomic offices, for example – is vital to maintaining a strong modern workforce.

“At Benenden Health we firmly believe that a healthy workforce is a productive and motivated workforce and having these open conversations with employees and tailoring a healthcare approach to suit will put businesses in prime position for recruiting, retaining and maximising talent.”

There are pros and cons in every generation within the workforce. Employees of different ages can bring in varying talents and skills, providing many opportunities for growth within the business. Therefore, it is essential SMEs see past this and strive for a more equal workforce.