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Former IBM exec says company told her to hide layoff age data from government (theregister.co.uk)
327 points by Dotnaught on Jan 19, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 183 comments

Going throwaway since usual username is my full name...

Honestly I’m glad this lawsuit is happening. I used to work at IBM and left a few years later. During that time, they killed the pension program, modified separation packages that significantly affected tenured employees, and we almost exclusively hired college grads. Our budget for experienced hires was so low that it made it impossible to get any takers. I witness very well qualified folks be let go for no reason. I’ve witnessed college grads getting paid much much more than senior employee.

There were jokes of calling certain employees “dinasaurs” since they were put on terrible jobs in hopes to make them quit, but they would stay strong doing something they hate to get their pension. I’m talking about full time support positions on software that has had no development in 10+ years.

I think a lot of this has to do with cost. Old people cost more money. Young people are gullible and willing to take a 60k entry level with no bonus. I think age discrimination is a result of shady budgets. They need a spanking by the government and I’m glad this person of such seniority cane forward. I 10000% believe the statement.

You mention colllege grads being cheap, then also say: "I’ve witnessed college grads getting paid much much more than senior employee.".

Its all about economics over time.

Those starting IBM straight out of school then sticking around for 10 years vs. people coming into IBM with 10 years of experience are two separate worlds.

For example: if you started IBM 10 years ago with an undergrad, you might have been offered $55k where I live.

Then over time, you might get 2 promotions and economical raises from software engineer -> staff software engineer -> advisory software engineer. You might work yourself up to $100k. However, they would motivate new grads with ivy league degrees with 100k offers. It made me physically ill at one point working in hiring and watching coworkers get turned down for minor requests for raises to amounts lower than what these fresh faces are getting before negotiations start.

If you want to hire someone with 10 years of outside experience, those people would command at least $150 - $175k, but IBM could get 3 college grades for the price of 2 experienced hires.

Thats what I mean about college grads getting paid more than more senior employees, while college grads are cheaper than experienced hires.

Those who worked at IBM for 20 years have less motivation to keep up with current trends and tend to focus on proprietary offerings they work on. As a result, college grads are better economical value since they come 'pretrained' with the new stuff. This is my theory why older people are first to go, especially in the short product cycles IBM tend to have.

A previous co-worker who still works at IBM has been there about 20 years and he pulls $140k... I have 6 years out of college so far and pull $150k + $15k bonus + 10% yearly RSUs at a listed public business down the road. Thats not an abnormal salary)

Pensions and other benefits run about 36% of base salary nationally (meaning it could be higher or lower for IBM). College grads aren't usually vested in their pensions, so they may be paid higher salaries and net a lower expense to the company. What's aggravating (especially from the younger posters) is the assumption that older people aren't/won't stay current. Currency is a dubious argument, if you're wedded to an older product, the new stuff doesn't benefit you directly on the job. After that comes quality/rates of errors. Younger employees tend to make hard-learned mistakes long after the older engineers have learned the same lessons. So cost/value isn't the same when comparing older and younger engineers. In the "real" engineering fields, younger engineers are universally required to work directly under licensed (read: older) for precisely this reason. It prevents preventable mistakes.

They can still be cheaper if their pension and other benefits are not at the level of what the older employees are getting.

Colleagues who were old school “bleed blue” types had low copay PPO plans, pensions and other fringe benefits. Benefits were probably 30-35% of salary.

Companies of this size also self-insure with the insurance company providing management. This means that having an older workforce means the company's insurance costs are much higher. Corporate self-insurance is the reason many companies invest in wellness plans, as they offset the costs of insuring less healthy employees.

They have no pensions and I assume worse benefits.

Forgot about the pension. Thank you.

If you're a large company and want to execute mass layoffs it's almost impossible to due so without affecting a disproportionate amount of older workers. This is not to say that ageism does not exist, but the main goal of a layoff is to cost costs and restructure the company to execute on a new strategy. Older workers cost more than younger workers, that's a fact: so most layoffs are going to be designed in such a way to reduce the amount of highly paid workers.

The company I work for executed a 10% reduction a few years ago and the most widely used criteria was to cut people was performance relative to pay grade. If you were grade 20 for example and had a standard performance review you were more likely to be cut than a grade 10 who had a similar review.

>Older workers cost more than younger workers, that's a fact: so most layoffs are going to be designed in such a way to reduce the amount of highly paid workers.

That is not something that makes sense to me. Shouldn't the higher pay be tied to higher performance expectations, so that right off the bat a medium performance review should be more in absolute terms at a high pay grade than a lower one? Are these companies paying older workers more for no reason? If so, there's the problem right there.

> Are these companies paying older workers more for no reason? If so, there's the problem right there.

Exactly. An example, an older worker in my company can solve a complex, domain specific problem and have reasonable confidence it will work in months to come in a matter of days to weeks. A younger college grad would take weeks of on-boarding, weeks of mentorship, and then finally a couple weeks with some hand-holding and extra code reviews to boot, draining resources all around. After all of that, you STILL aren't guaranteed the problem will be solved for months to come.

And if your solution is to have the older developer work with the younger to solve it, congrats you are paying 1.5x salary to do the job slower.

That's not to say any of this bad you need to train new workers.

But the idea that older workers expect more pay, therefore younger workers are cheaper is absurd, and it is ageism 101. There is usually a reason older workers expect more pay and that is because they have become (ideally) good and experienced at their craft, and know the systems they are working on. They can ideally do the job of your 2-3 younger developers. Otherwise the company has given increases to the wrong people and needs to adjust their promotion criteria.

I don't see ageism being chosen as the tech industry's next social justice fight du jour. Oppression because our enslaving workers won't let us bring our dogs or cats to work is probably in the queue ahead of ageism, followed by the fight against plastic straws, so who knows when we will get around to tackling this issue.

This is often the natural result of older workers just being at the same company for a long time. If you assume a 5% raise annually even if you're not that great of an employee, over 20 years you'll be making 50% more after inflation than a new employee would. Then if you factor in pensions, 401k matches, etc. which tend to ramp up over vesting periods you end up with long-term employees being really expensive relative to a new/younger employee.

It would be nice if total compensation was always tied strictly to merit, but that's not the real world for large companies.

All of the things you listed are typically justified as being incentives for employees to stick around. If the value of an employee sticking around is not that high, why are they paid so much to do it? It sounds like the root of the problem is that the company is spending years paying for something that it does not want (long-term loyalty) and then having to enact painful corrections later on down the line.

I don't disagree with you - it often makes no sense, but this is still what I've seen after working with many large companies.

My best guess is that the loyalty incentives start out as a way to retain the best employees, but the incentives are usually applied to everyone (managers generally really don't like to fire people or have to tell them they're not getting a raise). The best employees might not stay as long anyway due to better opportunities elsewhere / desire to move, while mediocre employees stay longer because they have fewer options. The numbers then play out over time and you end up with a pay/performance imbalance.

Let me give you an example. A company I consulted with for quite a while moved its headquarters several states away. Informally (and of course completely off the record), they were expecting to lose about 40% of their employees in the move and were hoping that the majority of those employees would be the older (pensioned) and/or lower performing ones. What actually happened was the reverse - the majority of people who moved were the lower performers because they were unable to find other good jobs in the area prior to the move. They ended up having a lot of performance issues at the new location and had to bring in a huge number of contractors to make up the skills shortfall.

Perhaps other people can provide more view points to corroborate or disprove this theory.

Please note that this does not mean every old employee is bad. I've worked with plenty of amazing people who are 60+, but I've also worked with plenty of 20+ year pensioned employees who could barely work a computer, let alone do their jobs effectively. My comments are here are just to provide context for how large companies often see getting rid of older employees as an easy way to cut costs.

I get what you're saying, it seems that the opposite approach was used. Because of the higher expectations and compensation (higher pay grades got extra stock compensation per year) workers who underperformed at this high level were more vulnerable than those with lower grades.

But the thing is, if you are paying everyone the right amount, a low-performer at 200k/year (who might be delivering only 220k in value to the company) still implies a lot more performance than a low-performer at 50k/year (who is delivering 55k in value). If a layoff predominantly targets highly paid employees, then either 1. you are assigning raises incorrectly, 2. the performance reviews have a systemic error, or 3. your layoff program is irrational.

I guess this boils down to a critique of constant yearly raises, if it's true that everyone's pay always creeps above their performance with time.

> a low-performer at 200k/year (who might be delivering only 220k in value to the company) still implies a lot more performance than a low-performer at 50k/year (who is delivering 55k in value).

It's irrational to lay off either of those employees, and unrealistic that your low performers are all bringing more value to the company than you pay them for. More realistic is that the low performer on 200k is bringing 100k of value, and the low performer on 50k is bringing in 25k (or 0, or -25k...in either case it makes more sense to let the higher paid one go).

You might say, you've been irrational in hiring these guys at all, and certainly in paying them that much. But maybe they were making money last year and the marketplace changed - the irrational thing is that it's generally impossible to cut salaries and better to make 10% of your workforce redundant than to pay them all 10% less.

Or 4. the definition of an older worker is one who won't be overworked and underpaid i.e. more market-aware. Homo Economicus is the limit of an actor as its information about the market approaches infinity; the information asymmetry between IBM and recent college grads is vast, and starts narrowing as that grad ages.

So IBM catches applicants who are making their most rational decisions based on limited information (irrational ones), and fires them when they become more rational. Government regulation attempts to compensate for that.

Agreed, this criteria and execution of the layoffs were widely criticized throughout the company, points #2 and #3 were a major source of tension between workers and management in the following months.

If anything I assume that due to the sheer amount of folks that were laid off (around 10,000), and the fact that layoffs affected every business unit, a truly effective way of executing the layoff was close to impossible.

It would be less galling (not to mention illegal) if that “performance relative to pay grade” standard were applies to management, and C-levels. Your post sounds a lot less favorable if it’s in the true context of the highest paid and least performing were doing the firing.

I wonder if any of those young people were excited, desperate or naive, and not just gullible.

I'm sure the MBAs have calculated to the penny the cost of these lawsuits and decided it's worth it. Getting rid of one 62yo VP with 40 years of seniority will pay for at least a dozen young workers from a developing country, on contract, with no benefits or retirement plans to worry about.

As I have moved up at a larger corporation, I have come to realize that a lot of decisions are made with less calculation than you would think.

Then you're not high up enough yet. Look up what it takes to 'shadow' Jeff Bezos, for example. People don't get to that top echelon of a multi-billion dollar company without being insanely competent and calculating. These aren't people who get out of bed on Saturday morning and wonder what they're doing that day, or spend time idly browsing Hacker News (just, you know, as a personal example.)

Coresoft is more correct than not.

It does not take 'insane competency' to get hired at high levels. That kind of competency is very hard to measure anyhow.

Risk management is an excellent area to look at this because it's nary impossible to know if the correct decision was made. You do a big layoff, and 'there were no lawsuits'. Was that a win? Or not?

I worked at a large corporation that had to pay a huge amount of money to an IP troll. After that, our CEO made everything to through our lawyers and we just became very risk averse. It was not a calculation, it was an emotion.

Also, it's incredibly difficult to 'calculate' any of these things.

I don't care how smart your MBA's are, there's just only so much specificity that you can have when trying to calculate 'the likelihood of getting sued'. It's basically guesswork.

A far, far more intelligent thing to do would be to structure the layoff in such a way that the company could not get sued, by making sure they're not apparently breaking any laws.

Operationally rigorous companies like MS, Amazon etc. probably have some decent hiring practices, even at higher levels, but the vast majority of companies do not.

I realized a couple of years ago people are actually just much less capable of making decisions than people realize.

It's the corporate version of being a kid and thinking your parents know everything and then growing up and realizing that if you're winging it, you're parents must have been winging it and if it's true for you, it's true for basically everyone.

Because of the possibility of punitive damages it would be a really bad idea to do such a calculation, or at least leave any paper trail.

This calculation would obviously be done and actions agreed on verbally without any paper trail. They are not that stupid to leave evidence.

I’m reminded of the old adage “two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.”

The executive that made the relevant decision probably is no longer capable/inclined to do the detailed modeling necessary. It would be extremely foolish to trust his future to the discretion of a spreadsheet jockey two years out of bschool. I bet there was no such modeling exercise. Whatever weighing of discrimination damages that happened likely took place entirely on the backs of napkins.

Sometimes it's stupidity that leads to leaving evidence. Sometimes it's arrogance "Before I fire you, Mr. Bond." Sometimes it's mindset "She wasn't fitting in with the team" where the team happens to be a bunch of 20-somethings and nobody realizes that there was any issue at all.

You'd be surprised how dumb people are about this stuff.

This is why we need mandatory jail sentences for white collar crimes. Until we do something similar to that, the companies will simply continue to base these decisions on a calculation.

Mandatory jail sentences have no place in a fair legal system. They are just weapons to be wielded at the Boogeyman/out-group of the week.

The mandatory 5 year jail sentence for carrying a pistol in the UK seems to be very effective. And fair. Handguns are strictly not welcome there both legally and culturally. To the point that the neighborhood police do not carry guns.

>This is why we need mandatory jail sentences for white collar crimes...



Mandatory jail terms for discrimination?

I think these companies should be held to account, no question there. But putting people in prison if they discriminate against older people, or blacks, or women, or what have you, that's kind of a lot don't you think?

I mean, how many people would we be putting in prison if we started jailing people for discrimination? There is a LOT of discrimination out there.

We should be hitting these companies where they feel it most, in their pocketbooks. Take whatever you feel the damages might have been, and add a zero on the end. Or two zeroes, or three, until these companies get the message.

Yes. Mandatory jail terms for all sorts of white collar crimes. You gave no reason why we shouldn't other than that you seem shocked. I bet the first few people will be shocked. Much like Martha Stewart was. And then they will very quickly get the message. We've tried fines. Huge fines. Businesses don't care. They continue to do this stuff on a very regular basis.

Mandatory jail times to protect 60 year old VPs over low socioeconomic status workers?

Are you the one who gets to decide which ageist (, sexist, racist, etc.) employment practices are legal because they benefit a party you see as more deserving?

Being illegal and going to prison aren't the same.

I dont want to decide anything, and someone saying that the VP should be protected over the low income worker is already something i clearly disagree with.

Yes. Age/race/gender/national-origin discrimination in hiring and firing should by punishable by, say, 4 months in prison.

Four months for a crime that affects the lifetime earnings of hundreds of people to the tune of hundreds of thousands? That's not nearly enough.

It depends. The opportunity cost, measured in leisure and luxury and time away from family and kids, can make even short jail sentences scary for older wealthy people.

In addition to your career perhaps being over. Most companies do strong background checks for executive positions. Plus your reputation in the local community. I'm sure if Martha Stewart had to chance to choose again, she'd skip the insider trading and the jail sentence.

I dunno, Martha Stewart got a lot of street cred for doing hard time in the slammer.

And how many months do the people that support such laws get of jail, when their policies affect the poorer and younger workers disproportionately?

I don't get your question. This is not about who gets affected by what. It's about preventing intentional discrimination. Companies should not be able to discriminate based on age. That protects everyone. Fire everyone under 30 as a way of reducing staff? Just as bad as the opposite or racial or any other kind of discrimination.

The thread here is about increasing the wager/skin in the game of companies and executives that do anything that disproportionately disadvantages older workers: I turn that around and say that the people that advocate those policies should also have to risk something in case what they think is good for old people is actually bad for other group, for example, poorer untrained workers.

A relative advantage for one is necessarily a relative disadvantage for another.

That's not what the thread is about. It's not about disadvantaging older workers. It's about discrimination based on age. Just as an example, some states are no longer allowing insurance companies to charge a higher rate for younger drivers.

> is actually bad for other group, for example, poorer untrained workers.

Those poorer untrained workers will also eventually become old. What then?

> A relative advantage for one is necessarily a relative disadvantage for another.

Could you explain that in terms of not allowing companies to discriminate based on race? Who is that a disadvantage to in any sense that could be framed as just or ethical?

If you're young, you have less experience. Are you poor? Unlikely (speaking of the tech industry). Do you make less? Probably. You see "discrimination", I see a skills and experience gap, and faux outrage.

Are you willing to go to jail if your analysis is wrong?

If I'm aware of the consequences of a failed analysis upfront, yes.

4 months in prison for a VP of a tech company is not the same as 4 months for poverty-stricken career thief. It's rather absurd to mention this, but the VP has a lot more to lose; it could potentially ruin his entire life.

So a life is worth less because they are poor? If you're rich you shouldn't have to face the same consequences for your actions? That is insane.

A "VP of tech company" is likely to be wealthy and have a number of assets. They could liquidate or just pay out of pocket to maintain their assests while they are inside and still come back to wealthy life.

If you were already poor going into prison, living paycheck to paycheck, they have literally lost everything. Their life is destroyed.

If anything, prison sentences and fines should scale up based on one's position of power and income.

Justifications for punishment include retribution and deterrence.

Depending on how much importance you assign to each of those the appropriate policy will vary.

If you care about deterrence but not retribution you really might not need as long an incarceration. Your average inside trader might be just as eager to avoid a month in jail as your average burglar is to avoid a year.

I'm not saying that's necessarily the case. But it's something to consider.

This country already has a prison population of 2.2 million and you want to make it bigger? Who is going to foot the $31k to $60k per year per prisoner it takes to incarcerate all these prisoners, especially considering that you're suggesting increased jailing of the population of people that already pay like 98% of federal and state taxes.

If anything, we already put too many people in prison.

Hit them with a fine at the same time and they can fund their own stay on prison.

I’m sure it’ll pay for them, but will it do more for the company?

Don’t give people that much credit. Best case they are looking 4-5 quarters ahead.

This is part of the reason I'm working on setting up my own business rather than looking at moving back into corporate IT.

A regular salary and defined responsibilities in specific areas ("I'm building X" where X is project-level not project+financial/taxes+management/employment+regulatory) has its definite attractions, but I'm very concerned about long-term sustainability. "Flow"[0] only gets you so far, and if you have to worry about the viability of your employment vs the viability of the project, product or company it's an added set of stress.

Silver temples as a company owner negotiating a services contract seems like a very different thing than silver temples as a software developer looking for work.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

The thing with being over 40 is that it happens to everyone if you live long enough. If its proven that IBM did engage in this behavior, may they burn to the ground and be made an example.

I don't know if it's as effective to go after the company for this. In an ideal world, you'd go after the people who made the decision, even if they've left the company.

I think I see where you're coming from, but at the same time we shouldn't establish a precedent that makes it even easier for companies to hide behind some named scapegoat. The decision was carried out in IBM's name, and IBM bears responsibility for it.

> we shouldn't establish a precedent that makes it even easier for companies to hide behind some named scapegoat.

As opposed to just hiding behind the corporate charter?

Not sure what kind of answer you expect. The existence of one oft-used loophole is a reason to create another?

Porque no los dos?

IBM survived their instrumental role in Nazi Germany's war machine. They'll survive this.

Corporate crime seems to have become a slap-on-the-wrist offense in the US.

Downvoters perhaps need a history lesson: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/mar/29/humanities.hig...

The crazy thing is when I interact with IBM, it’s mostly older workers. I can’t recall a smart young person going there in decades.

One benchmark IBM recently passed is that it's now become a primarily Indian company in terms of overall workforce [1]. What this makes me wonder is how the distribution of roles works out. In other words when they fire older e.g. American workers are they then replacing these with younger American workers, or are the jobs just all gradually drifting to developing markets where they generally would be able to hire a dozen workers for the cost a single fresh graduate from America.

Seriously on that last statement. Here [2] are the glass doors for IBM India. An "Applications Developer" at IBM India averages 404,000 rupees per year. That's $5,672 per year. "Software Engineers" hit $8,432 a year.

[1] - https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/28/technology/ibm-india.html

[2] - https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/IBM-India-Salaries-EI_IE354...

I thought the same way for a long time but there's some vibrant development happening in Austin from what I hear.

They also bought Strongloop[0] a while back, so the developers from aqui-hires have to go somewhere.

[0]: https://strongloop.com/

> They also bought Strongloop[0] a while back, so the developers from aqui-hires have to go somewhere.

That would be somewhere else.

Strongloop is in SV, there's no shortage of opportunity for the devs who worked there.

Unless they got some serious golden handcuffs, in which case I'm sure some will stay for the 3-5 years these last.

Ah I didn't mean to imply that Strongloop was in Austin -- didn't know that Strongloop was in SV though, but I guess that makes sense.

I would think IBM has excellent golden handcuffs, not to speak of prestige and interesting problems. Like other big companies, it just depends on your distance from the C-levels and which team you get to be on -- do you get to do the interesting work or the boring work.

Do they stay after 2 years? They seem to be in the auditing and shareback business. Probably the right way to return cash to shareholders but not a high growth tech company. (And if the accusations are true, not an ethical one either, though the bar may be low)

Sorry I only worked in Austin (and not at IBM) -- I have no idea :(. I ran into some IBMers that were young and excited at a JS conference over 3 years ago.

Just wait till you hear what they were up to in the early 40s...

Calculating "layoffs" back then, calculating layoffs now

More to the likes of improving gas chamber efficiency or something like that.

for those that downvoted: "However, another invention did exist: the IBM punch card and card sorting system-a precursor to the computer. IBM, primarily through its German subsidiary, made Hitler's program of Jewish destruction a technologic mission the company pursued with chilling success. IBM Germany, using its own staff and equipment, designed, executed, and supplied the indispensable technologic assistance Hitler's Third Reich needed to accomplish what had never been done before-the automation of human destruction. More than 2,000 such multi-machine sets were dispatched throughout Germany, and thousands more throughout German-dominated Europe. Card sorting operations were established in every major concentration camp. People were moved from place to place, systematically worked to death, and their remains cataloged with icy automation. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ibm-and-quot-death-s-ca...

It's not just IBM, it's really any company that had a few consecutive bad quarters at this point.

IBM has a long history of this.

This is why we need unions.

Or just much stronger labor laws with harsher penalties that make it not worth discriminating. In terms of being realistic about what might happen I think stronger laws would be easier to achieve than getting programmers to unionize.

You don't get better labor laws without unions. You just don't.

To call that unverifiable would be polite. Do you have any evidince to support your claim?

Uhm, compare western European labour laws with US labour laws?

Can you provide a source backing this up? I worked in the EU for many years and was never a member of a union. I worked in technology. However I enjoyed strong labor laws. It could be as simple as voters choosing politicians who promise strong labor laws? So it's not self-evident that unions were involved.

I thought it was self-evident that most western European countries have a long tradition of social democratic parties with strong trade union connections.

Those politicians to vote for doesn't come about magically. In the US there's no such options, just two right-wing parties, and that's reflected in their labour laws. The labour movement in large have provided those options in Europe and the trade unions are where the practical power is through the threat or use of strikes etc.

It's not self-evident that the unions played any role or a strong role. If it had been, I wouldn't have asked for a source. It's a sincere request. I lived there for a long time and am not aware that unions themselves were responsible for the strong labor laws.

Please no.

Can you state why, with supporting evidence rather than “everyone knows” retelling of propaganda?

When we had a "force reduction" being friends with three people who were let go I was given a copy of the paperwork they had all of which was in PDF form. There was a section that detailed their rights and such but also included was a list of every position and the age of the person in that position for those being let go. No names, sex, or race.

In the UK?

Ageism is real. The older I get, the more and more I see it with my eyes. I have seen people denied jobs purely on age and have to work for peanuts because of their age (old or young). I sometimes fear the future because we are all getting old and the only ones living comfortably will be the elite money hoarders.

I am afraid I am risking to be misunderstood, but I think, it is a question worth asking and considering.

One's outlook and productivity changes with time and age, just like an athlete's fitness. I suppose the hard question is, if a productivity and alignment with organization attitude and culture index correlates indirectly with age, what is to be done?

In the USA, we decided that we're willing to make that trade off.

We have 'protected characteristics' and we don't hire and fire people based on those characteristics, or proxies of those characteristics.

It might be less efficient for businesses, in some cases, but through the courts and our legislature, and within the bounds of our constitution we've decided it's a good trade-off for society.

Declaring protected classes is the easy part, but how do companies are to deal with it in an effective manner?

Say a company has to fire 10% of it's work force and the people who are least fit for the culture and provide value happen to be over X years old. Should they fire n number of people under X too to balance it out? should they go halve-halve? don't fire and wait for bankruptcy?

That logic only works in isolation, and because the particular class under discussion doesn't "feel like" discrimination. Seriously, would you really willing to go on the internet and explain how women aren't a "fit for the culture" or how south asian workers don't "provide value"?

But there is no data that shows women or south asian workers are less productive.

However, there is data for age, so much that in many countries there is mandatory driving test with ever shorter intervals as you grow older. This isn't discrimination or a risk factor that jumps overnight once you pass certain age, it is simply decline of cognitive and physical capacity as we age.

I am not saying people should be fired because of their age, but if people who are subject to firing happen to be mostly aged, what is the solution?

We're talking about programmers in their 40's here, not retired drivers with dementia. Please cite the study where these workers are less productive. I'll wait.

You're just taking on faith that these employers are making completely rational judgements that just "accidentally" affect a disadvantaged group. First, that's shockingly naive: what they're really doing is preferentially terminating these people because they are paid more (i.e. punishing them for being part of the system that gave them those raises in the first place).

Second, it's directly refuted by the linked article! IBM didn't accidentally fire a bunch of older workers. They fired a bunch of old workers, knew what they had done, and tried to hide it.

The same issue works the opposite direction. If you're so sure she discrimination is harmful to the companies doing it, why do you have a problem with them biasing themselves out of business?

...because I'm more concerned with the welfare of the employees fired than I am with the abstract darwinian fitness of their employers?

I mean, it's not abstract: I'm in that demographic. And while my job seems stable right now, I'd like not to be fired because I'm 47, thank you very much.

What are you willing to give up in exchange? If the employer can't end the relationship because they got a better offer, are you willing to offer the same in return? If you get better hours and more money, can we decide you're not allowed to take that offer?

My salary is renegotiated every year. If my employer truly thinks they can get a better offer they can reduce my salary to whatever they think my market rate is. Obviously they don't, because that kind of strategy is, well, completely batshit if you want to run a successful business.

Yet you're saying that the same thing is just fine if the business waits for a "lay-off" and then preferentially fires me for reasons having nothing to do with performance?

I'm saying either of you should be able to terminate the relationship at any moment for any reason. You can discriminate in any way towards your employer if you're racist, sexist, ageist, etc.

These kinds of policies subsidize relatively wealthy, disproportionately white workers at the expense of poorer and increasingly minority workers.

Uh. No? The people working at a business matter more than that business. This just is not that hard to noodle out.

It's confusing to me that you want to subsidize a relatively wealthy demographic at the expense of the young and relatively poor.

That's a huge jump from mandating driver reevaluations in > 70 year olds to cutting a 50 year old programmer to make room for two 25 year old entry level javascript developer.

Make it illegal, which the U.S. has done, and prosecute companies which do it.

There is a very long history of exploiting labor in the U.S. This country was built on it (slavery, railroads, etc...). If this behavior is not curtailed, history tells us that it will be exploited more than it is engaged in innocently.

In practice, compaines end up doing signaling: have a rock-climbing wall, go-karts, different marketing.

You cant make people do things they dont want to do. You can force them to pretend , or to not do them. But if there is a will, there is a way.

Don't fire and wait for bankruptcy. If it's illegal for every other company to do such firings, then it's a level playing field, and just the cost of doing business.

But then businesses will keep doing so secretly and indirectly, which will just hurt people who share correlating traits with the disadvantages hires, e.g women with no interest in having children.

I'm not sure advocating that we remove the law in order to prevent businesses from quietly breaking it is really solving the problem here.

Its cost vs benefit. Trying to remove the law seems way more expensive and difficult compare to doing it secretly and indirectly.

At least if that was the case we would be able to quantify it, and people would know which industries it was worst in, and how much (eg. you should expect your income to peak at 42 years, save accordingly).

Sure, we can also legalize murder and learn a lot more about people that do it, why and a whole bunch of other data, but we don't do that for obvious reasons.

This is just a less fantastical example of that. And you can see how successful their attempt at hiding it was.

Why would age discrimination be easier to quantify if it was legal?

Here's a thought experiment: Legislate a cutoff age right before the next election.

don't tax people because they'll just find ways to avoid paying them. don't set worker safety rules because companies will just bribe the inspectors. dont punish thieves because they'll just find wats to hide their thievery. don't punish murderers because they'll just do it less openly. don't set fuel efficiency standards because companies will cheat and lie to meet them. don't require good security hygiene because hackers will just find more devious means of hacking. don't outlaw discrimination in hiring and firing because they'll just find other indirect ways to do the same thing. /s

To you and me, that’s sarcasm. But there are regions of the world, and even entire nations, where that is not only popular thought, but public policy.

Given the international nature of HN, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the bewildered comments in this thread come from people who grew up in that kind of culture.


I think you mean inversely.

The question is a bit of a red herring. By all means, get rid of unproductive and troublesome employees. But if you try to use age as a simplistic predictive proxy for productivity or attitude, I think evidence shows that you'll fire a lot of the wrong people, as well as court the wrath of labor attorneys.

Indirect (negative) correlation is used when something goes up but the thing under discussion goes down.

I think you were thinking of inversely proportional.

Searching Wikipedia, inverse correlation is also valid but I've always heard it called indirect or negative.

I knew what you meant and you were on the right track.

> I think you mean inversely.


> But if you try to use age a simplistic predictive proxy...

Well, that is obviously the wrong thing to do, but I am not sure how that relates to my question.

Your comment above would make more sense had you said inversely.

Ok, then I have no idea what you were asking. Can you state it in a different way?

Bluntly stated, young fools who work 80+ hours a week provide a greater short term return for employers than older persons who have a life and a family that also makes demands on their time.

I don't think omeid was talking about time spent in the office but rather cognitive ability.

>> One's outlook and productivity changes with time and age, just like an athlete's fitness.

According to the former exec's claim, the workers laid off were over 40. The following is a list of 40 athletes over 40:


Which should lay to rest any sweeping assumption about the fitness of athletes that are older than some arbitrary cut-off point after which it's all "downhill from there".

And that's not before pointing out what a huge assumption it is that your ability to perform office work declines at the same rate as muscle fitness. Or that having say 10 years of experience in an industry is rather more valuable than having firm biceps.

"process x is temporal like y" does not suggest that they follow the exact rate or trajectory.

My intention was not to suggest that cognitive skills decline the same rate as muscle fitness, though, physical fitness certainly does impact cognitive health.

Nor I suggested that 40 or any age as a cut off point, but age related cognitive decline is a fact, specially in relation to complex tasks, so it is given that as people get older there will be a higher change in their productivity.




There are many reasons to be cautious when drawing any conclusions from the three studies you quote.

The first is a neuroimaging study that is rather inconclusive and even poitns out that some cognitive abilities are thought to deteriorate with age, while others are thought to improve. The second is a discussion of various assumptions and results and asserts that the decline of cognitive abilities can be averted by engaging in certain activities. The last concludes that changes in cognitive abilities in the same individual over time do not necessarily reflect the results of aging ("maturation").

In other words, those studies do not support your assertion that "age related congitive decline is a fact". None of the studies discusses "productivity" (or "outlook" as per your earlier comment).

Cognitive function is not a single thing. Look at the highest ranked Go players and they are not nessisarily young. At the same time Starcraft players peak very yong.

Business is not about twitch reflexes.

It sounds more like a budget issue more than anything else. If companies want to exploit young, cheap labor for free 'overtime' then maybe it's a business ethics problem.

> One's outlook and productivity changes with time and age

On what data do you make this statement? A quick cursory search shows its completely false and based on not much more than ignorance or prejudice.

True. We gain in experience, knowledge, and webs of relationships as we age. When somebody proposes a project, we sometimes know enough to say "we tried something like that on the frobozz contract. Here's what we learned about the pitfalls."

Productivity: Maybe older workers can't / won't pull lots of all-nighters. The same is true of working mothers. But we plan ahead and get our work done.

The anti-discrimination laws aren't supposed to shackle companies to pointless costs and dead-weight people. They're intended to promote company culture that values people for what they bring to the table.

What is a company to do when external forces throw it into relentless decline? It takes a lot of guts to exit entire businesses or markets and refocus. Closing an office or shutting down an entire department isn't age discrimination. It's still nasty.

Look, western culture allows companies to have limited liability (to be corporations). The culture grants them patents for their inventions (hi IBM!). We trust them to take lots of risks to build their businesses, and give good rewards for success.

In return it's reasonable to expect compliance with laws.

Cognitive decline is not the same as drop in productivity.

It is correlated as aging also slows reaction. Slower reaction and worsened cognition together put a ceiling on how fast you can produce.

>It is correlated as aging also slows reaction. Slower reaction

Slower reaction in terms of milliseconds and for reflexes.

Not for thinking and programming -- which experience helps you improve, understand computer systems more holistically, know to recognize tons of patterns that emerge again and again, and deep thinking is what makes the difference.

So unless programmers in your company also have to juggle balls or avoid daggers, the "slower reaction" is irrelevant.

Produce what, exactly?

Because anything beyond pushing a button N times per hour is going to benefit from experience, and it gets more important with task complexity.

I would much rather have someone with 30 years of experience writing code I depend on than a 20-something who can type 10 times as fast.

Realistically cognitive decline, especially that sort, isn't the reason developers in their 40's and 50's are more frequently worth laying off. I'd rather hire the me of my 40's and 50's than the me of my 20's. (I'm in my 30's.)

I wonder how much of it is that bad younger developers are more likely to attrition themselves, but older ones stay. So you get these old guys who, after five to ten years, it's really obvious they've got to go.

I feel like I am taking crazy pills as I read down these thread chains. Exactly what kind of jobs are you all doing? Is everyone on here a professional gamer? Nothing about my job requires me to have heightened reflexes or high APM.

Because you say so? Because you feel it's intuitive?

This Handwavy denial of a biological process does not help the discussion or anyone on the long term.

Reaction time and reasoning skills are cognitive skills that declines with age, specially in relation to complex tasks.

The studies are worth reading or skimming thorough at least, more importantly, everyone should look into how they can manage aging tax on cognitive skills, you can't stop it, but you can slow it down, just like physical health.

Reaction time is irrelevant in programming -- at any specific rate of decline in one's 40s and 50s and even 60s.

Cognitive skills are not, but they're not declining in any significant rate to make any difference (some of the best programmers are old), and are balanced by experience.

Also, let's see what tune you will sing 10 or 20 years down in your career.

What the companies mostly want is to eliminate people who have personal lives, and don't care for constant death marches and bro-ing it away at the office.

Experience increases with age. That is also a concrete biological fact. If you want to claim that your argument is based on fact rather than opinion, you need to prove that the factors you mention outweigh experience. I don’t believe it’s true, and certainly isn’t proven.

Experience is not a biological aspect, it is "knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what one has observed, encountered, or undergone".

More importantly, I am yet to get my hands on any research that shows there is conclusive correlation between age and wisdom or experience. I would be keen to read up some!

Experience is just what happens to your brain with more exposure to things. Time is a fundamental part of it, so it clearly must correlate with age.

If you’re going to argue that experience and age may be uncorrwlated then I have to conclude that you’re not making a sincere argument.

You need time to experience things but time alone is not enough. Not only it is possible to have an older person with less experience at any given task or job, there is also no correlation between wisdom and age either[0].


Of course you can find counterexamples. “Correlated” does not mean “every single instance follows this relation.”

Consider a more obvious example. It is possible, even easy, to find a pair of people such that the older person has spent less time living in France than the younger person. Despite this, time spent living in France is highly correlated with age.

If you base your argument on a sub-section of data then you are only trying to support an opinion.

Is 'reaction time' relevant? Is 'cognitive decline' relevant on an individual basis?

What are the other variables that prove relevant to performance you're ignoring? And what is performance?

The reason I ask if this is your opinion or intuition is because of your simplistic argument. It looks like you're trying to defend an opinion. So I ask.

Experience counts for nothing?

If you agree that experience counts for something, how do you find the equilibrium between experience and cognitive decline? Do you purport to know this without evidence? How can you make these claims?

Your argument produces holes at a greater rate than they can be patched.

You’re assuming that rate of production and reaction time are the relevant factors under consideration.

Let me ask a slightly modified version of that question: if alignment with organizational attitude and culture correlated with being white, what is to be done?

This is only a problem if you believe that racial bias provides real economic value to the ones doing the biasing. Otherwise, why do you care if a bunch of racists make their businesses less economically efficient? Someone else who is otherwise equal but not racist will eat their lunch with all these high quality people hired at a discount because the original group biased against them.

That’s a nice theory but conflicts strongly with how this has actually worked in the real world.

There are two axioms in my previous post:

1. Minorites are just as valuable as white workers

2. Relatively economically efficient companies tend to prosper compared to inefficient ones

Which theory/axiom do you disagree with?

There is at least one more: 3. the combination of 1 and 2 will overcome everything else and is enough to force racist companies out of business. That is the one I disagree with.

What is "everything else"?

It sounds like trying to force people with $bad ideas to become even more wealthy and powerful by legislating they make better business decisions. That seems like the opposite of what I'd want to do.

Let me ask you something along the same lines as what you asked me.

You laid out two axioms. You’re claiming, if I understand correctly, that those axioms imply that racism can’t persist in business.

Racism demonstrably does persist in business. There are tons of examples throughout time and space. How do you explain that?

It depends on which aspect of business you're referring to. Unlike you, I wont dodge the question, and will try to pick one aspect of business and answer the question to the best of my ability: wage bias.

Theories based on simple worker based racism fall apart because they should result in an equilibrium of segregation within industries... for example some all white firms and some all black firms. However, this is generally not the case. Further evidence against the worker based theory is seen if we examine wages of managers. Let's assume (perhaps acknowledge?) that there are more white managers for historical reasons and (assume) that whites have a preference for working with whites. It should follow that any manager willing to work with black subordinates should be able to demand a higher wage for this (in the mind of the white racists) "less desirable work." Or conversely, (racist) white subordinates should be able to demand a premium for working under a black manager. However, that's simply not the case.

I think this is also evidence against the Marxian models of divide and conquer which suggest that there are micro-economic efficiencies/benefits to racial discrimination. The argument here is that racial segregation reduces the market power of both whites and blacks, therefore reducing the wages of all workers. Even though whites are a larger group and therefore have greater market power to demand higher wages, it could still make sense to deny hiring a lower wage minority because the group of whites + minorities would have even greater market power to demand higher wages. While I think there might be some merit to this theory, I think the lack of aforementioned market segmentation -- all white firms and all black firms -- is strong evidence against this being our primary culprit.

We didn't discuss shareholders, but the anonymous shareholders who are not involved in day to day interactions at large enterprises surely have no incentive to discriminate. Their preference is going to be closer to the model of simple profit maximization. Racist workers certainly exist, but basic economic theory and observed realities contradict such a simplistic explanation, aggregation of individual racist workers should result in a different labor market than the one we see as explained above.

East Asians also confound the racism based theories of wage bias, since they're simultaneously a racial minority and outperform whites in virtually any economic measure you can think of including wages. Asians do not have exactly the same historical experience with racism in the US as blacks obviously, but there's plenty of racism against them and they do have a history that includes indentured servitude, the near slave-like conditions building the trans-continental railroads, etc. And yet again, they outperform whites in wages on average.

In short, I acknowledge racism exists, but I don't think it sufficiently explains the wage market. Instead, I think the best explanation is likely the network model of labor allocation. Simply put, a huge number of positions are filled from people's existing social networks and not random members of the labor market. To the extent that racial preferences impact social networks, it can be said that this is racism. But it's not racism in the sense that I think most people who talk about racist business practices/employers/etc are meaning. Also, I believe network effects have real economic benefit in the workplace. People who are more familiar with each other will have fewer communication barriers, etc. And that is why this behavior which results in the appearance of racial discrimination persists so broadly, because the network effects are economically valuable. Again, I'm not denying the existence of racial discrimination, only that racial discrimination is not a viable explanation for the wage market today.

Okay, your turn. What is "everything else?"

It’s all the factors that keep less efficient businesses going even when faced with more efficient competition: monopolies, irrational customers, exclusive ownership of important resources, capital, or IP, regulatory capture, etc.

Maybe racial discrimination is not a viable explanation for the current wage market, but that’s pretty far from the claim that we don’t need to care about racism in business because racist businesses are bound to fail. There are too many examples where that just didn’t happen.

In the cases where you have an indirect correlation, all you have to do is make it easier to measure the source that actually causes your undesired effect.

E.g if your customers assume only your male retail workers can help them with their electronics, you can make sure everybodies name badge says "Certified $PRODUCT expert".

The problem is when you have a situation like this, where the protected trait is likely the cause of issue (we all get slower and less intelligent as we age), or where you have government idiots say that you can't discriminate on traits that are correlated with a protected trait.

In the latter situation businesses will do so anyway, they will just do it secretly and try to cover it up.

>One's outlook and productivity changes with time and age, just like an athlete's fitness.

Statistically, as the world currently is (even if it's due to cultural or economic reasons), it might also change with race and sex.

Should companies also hire less blacks/women/etc?

> "I was very surprised that such a high percentage of my group was laid off, because my group was running under budget and was exceeding its performance targets."

Under budget, exceeding targets, so when you say changes with time and age, do you mean gets better? Or what?

Clearly worse.

As a consulting company IBM makes more money when their customer's projects are running over budget whilst being under performance targets.

    "my group" is always the best.
    -- every group ever.
But when I say changes with time and age, I mean the well establish notion of age-related cogitative decline and increased family responsibilities that taxes job commitment.

The only thing family responsibilities tax is ‘time in office’. That doesn’t correlate with commitment at all.

I don't buy that, family responsibilities can cloud your mind all day long. Family like other social and personal responsibilities are not something that you can simply switch off.

In that case it’s irrelevant if those ‘responsibilities’ that clog your mind come from family or friends.

Maybe old-timers could sell their brains with decades of knowledge and experience to the company who then implant that brain into a 20yr-old? It doesn't guarantee loyalty so the kid might be gone to the competition in two years (it thinks the avg is even less for some programmer roles) but who cares long-term?

Stop tying compensation to seniority, and start giving it upon completion of tasks/improvement of business...?

The task thing is questionable, because that way you just create incentives for the people involved to introduce more (most of them un-needed) tasks into the system, tasks which will show up on the performance reviews as being completed. A lot of the senior guys solve un-created tasks, so to speak, by saying stuff like YAGNI or KISS or by eliminating potential bugs (future tasks) by pointing out that going a certain development route will create those bugs.

There already is (and has been) knee-jerk reaction to this comment, but fundamentally I think your first clause represents territory that should be explored. I'm a huge believer in the value of retaining senior staff and making it part of their responsibility set to help mentor and develop more junior staff. However, if we take at face value the argument that it is too expensive to keep these people on staff, why not explore ideas that reduce how closely correlated compensation is to seniority rather than some measure of overall value across all dimensions of contribution?

> Stop tying compensation to seniority

next, on hacker news: "why nobody makes children anymore"

The same thing we do if it is indirectly correlated with, say, skin color, gender, or being named “Smith”.

"if a productivity and alignment with organization attitude and culture index correlates indirectly with (sex/sex identity/race/eye color/blood type/religion), what is to be done?"

Asking the question with different nouns instead of "age" so you can see what is wrong with it.

Except none of your qualifiers match what age does to an aging person. But keep pushing for political correctness where it's completely irrelevant!

Citations needed: you don't know that. For all we know, FB and Google's best employees might be a bunch of straight white 30 year old dudes. Should they only hire such people?

It’s not about the fact that it happens gradually, as long as someone is doing their job perfectly there’s no legitimate reason to fire them for being old.

So I wonder if there is a difference between the stock grants offered to older workers vs. current stock grants offered to the new hires. The executive officers left would be able to get a larger slice of the stock pool.

Corporations are no different than being in the armed forces. You do unethical things, but it is all justifiable because you're "just doing your job and taking orders".

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