cropped shot of a man holding fan of us dollar

Inge Geerdens, a small business owner in Belgium, has started quite a conversation on LinkedIn.  She wrote a post yesterday titled “Why I hesitate to hire forty-somethings” that has generated quite a controversy and inspired her follow-up “I hire on ability, and nothing else”.

I find these posts fascinating, as a very soon to be 40-something, as an employer, and as a friend and colleague to people in this age group (and older) searching for their next career move.

(Note: my opinions here and I would suggest Ms. Geerdens’ opinions are relevant primarily for higher income knowledge workers: say $100K plus per year)

Ms. Geerdens asserts that 40-somethings are expensive, and hard to justify when there are younger, cheaper models who may do the job as well.   I don’t think she’s discriminating based on age, she’s just offering her perspective on the trends she’s seeing as a hiring manager.  The 40-somethings she’s interviewed have great skills and experience, but they have very high base salary needs based on their lifestyle.

Geerdens offers a solution that I really like: these 40-somethings need to be willing to take on some more risk in their compensation.  If they’d be willing to take some of that salary as pay for performance, perhaps they’d look more attractive in an interview.  Additionally, their hiring companies need to be willing to be creative with compensation packages and really pay them when they do perform.

I don’t have enough data points to generalize, but I have seen through hiring and helping others find jobs that people in this age group do tend to have higher base salary needs and less interest in taking on risk or pay for performance.

Yes, I realize this pay for performance “solution” contradicts some of the recent research on motivating employees (as best highlighted by Pink’s book Drive), but I’ve already blogged on that.