update: how can I keep my star performer, without being able to pay or promote him (while his less competent coworker earns double)?

Remember the letter-writer in August who was trying to figure out how to keep his young star performer without being able to promote him or give him much more money … while his slower, less skilled coworker earned almost double? Here’s the update.

To clarify some things, my company has a two-tier partnership structure. There is the Ownership tier that own around 80% of the equity and responsibilities to simplify are sales and finance. Then there is a Principle tier that is responsible for running each discipline: Structural, Mechanical, Civil, Electrical. We each have around 5%. We are given budgets for salaries, and that’s where my major hurdle was. Cecil is paid at the market rate for an engineer with his experience and licensure. I have no issues with his performance in a vacuum, but Fergus has a better skill set. I was referring to finite element analysis and other design software I wouldn’t expect a Structural Engineer to know. (I don’t know it either.)

Using a lot of the suggestions here, I had approached them about raising my budget since Fergus just became A LOT more marketable and was told no, we need someone at an EIT rate to log most of the hours to be competitive. I suggested that we hire a new grad, and was told we don’t have the work backlog to support another engineer. I brought up that we can’t keep both at the status quo and I was confident that Fergus could handle the added responsibility if we let Cecil go and was informed that “layoffs are bad for moral” and to my astonishment “Cecil is approaching 20 years of experience. How do we sell Fergus as a Lead Engineer to a client? He is the same age as some of their kids. Nobody will want a millennial in charge.” (Is reverse age discrimination a thing?) I’m now thinking about leaving as well.

So, after I realized that I wasn’t going to get more than the 7% increase I previously had directed to Fergus, I sat him down, explained everything, told him that I wouldn’t blame him for leaving, and offered to write a reference. Two weeks ago he asked for a private meeting and gave me his resignation. He’s leaving for a competitor. I asked if he didn’t mind sharing what they offered. He told me, and it was almost double his current salary. I didn’t even insult him with any sort of counter even though I was authorized to. I could’t get that high anyway. I wished him luck, and gave him his last week as PTO.

{ 243 comments… read them below }

  1. Alison Read*

    It sounds like you might have had the ability to counter with a boost in salary. If that’s the case, it sounds like that 7% they stuck to wasn’t so rigid after all. How frustrating for you! While it is bittersweet, I think it is to your credit you were so candid with Fergus. Perhaps this may push TPTB to reconsider their stance.

    1. caledonia*

      Well yeah but what was the point in offering? It was only the money, not anything else the OP wanted for Fergus that was ever going to happen.

      OK, I hope that you move on elsewhere too – onwards and upwards!

      1. Trig*

        I think Alison Read’s point here wasn’t that it was worth making a counter-offer, but that it’s frustrating that SOMEHOW there would have been budget to make a counter offer but not to give him a raise ahead of time that might have prevented him even looking/needing a counter offer in the first place.

        1. princesspeach*

          My mom has always told me to never let an employer insult you with more money on your way out. This guy knew he wouldn’t be able to get his employee a competitive salary. He said that he asked what he would be making at his new job and new he wouldn’t be able to match it, so there was no reason to try to counter offer

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Right. Like the company might have been willing to go up 20% as a counter-offer, but not to give him that 20% up-front to keep him from looking in the first place. (And it probably wouldn’t have been enough anyway, but it’s the principle.)

    2. Annonymouse*

      Even so I doubt OP can get the extra 93% the other company is offering.

      Best case let’s say they can do a 50% raise to keep Fergus. That’s 3/4 of what the other company is offering.

      I’m also assuming Fergus gets to work on more / better projects at his new firm and they can appreciate what other skills he brings.

      1. J.B.*

        I have seen this happen before in rigid environments. For whatever reason, management won’t give additional money to keep someone. For some of us stability is a nice thing. If that were true for Fergus was, 20% could have probably bought loyalty. Instead – he’s gone to the point of getting the offer for something else. So he’s mentally moved on already, no matter how much might be offered.

  2. LadyCop*

    As an experienced 31 yo Millennial… yes age discrimination sucks. But yay for Fergus. You did the best you could, more than most would have.

          1. Electric Hedgehog*

            Yeah, I know I’ve experienced it – ‘Oh, we’d pay you 10K more if you were 10 years older. Sorry!”

        1. JM in England*

          I have experience reverse age discrimination firsthand too!

          When I applied for a perm position at my last contract job, I didn’t even get an interview, despite extensive experience in my field. When TPTB announced the successful candidates, all the names I recognised were young (in their 20s, I’m mid 40s). So it seems from the way many job ads are worded these days, employers are seeking people in their 20s with 30 years experience! *sigh*

          1. copy run start*

            That’s not reverse age discrimination, just regular age discrimination (discrimination against someone for being older).

          2. Christine*

            They can pay the younger one less than someone with experience. You will also see someone interviewing internally for a job that has the higher rate of PTO or vacation earned that would be a great fit. They’ll hire someone outside the agency that has no time to work with regarding vacation. You get someone that has no vacation to use, versus someone that earns 3 – 5 weeks a year. I’ve seen that in the state and federal government.

            1. The _artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

              … your Mom is smart. If you haven’t started planning for retirement at 43, you should – IMMEDIATELY.

              I advise people in their 20 and 30s – max out on 401k, and Roth or Trad IRAs if you can. If it’s a choice between the Mustang V8 and the 401k… go with the latter.

              1. Kc89*

                I’m sure she’s already started planning for retirment… she probably has an excel spreadsheet dedicated to it!

                1. The _artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                  I might add, I have a 39 year old daughter and her husband is 45… they both started planning a long, long time ago but I still worry… it’s natural.

                2. Erika*

                  Are you sure she didn’t send it to you for the blog? Also, no, you’re not a Millennial. Be glad. We get a ton of crap, as I’m sure your generation did ten/fifteen years ago!

                  Or so assumes the “old Millennial.”

              2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                For most people in their 20s and 30s, the Mustang V8 isn’t even on the table.

                It’s more like “ok, if you do the 401k, can you still pay your student loans?”

                1. Oh no, not again*

                  I’m 36 and make less than 25k a year. I have no car, no savings and no retirement plan ( except working until I die).

                2. pope suburban*

                  Yup. I know it’s important to save for retirement, but helping out Future Me means that Current Me will literally not have enough to eat, and lack any ability to cover even the most minor emergency without putting it all on credit cards. That’s the trade for a lot of us.

                3. YawningDodo*

                  Lol, this. I only have a car at all because a family member who couldn’t drive anymore sold a relatively cheap one to me for half its lowest market value. I’m relatively well off and I’m able to put money in retirement, but it’s at the cost of absolutely everything else happening from paycheck to paycheck. Most of my friends are not in a stable enough position to do the same.

                4. Melissa*

                  Heh, I’m feeling well off because I have a retirement plan (it doesn’t get much, but it does get some!) AND I can pay my student loans. I have too much credit card debt and a down payment on a house seems like a faraway dream, but compared to other older millennials I feel like it’s not bad.

              3. General Ginger*

                Yeah, unfortunately, that’s a super easy choice — can’t afford to do either. I’m 35, and honestly the retirement plan at this point is “keep working for as long as I am physically able to/until I die, whichever comes first”

              4. SimontheGreyWarden*

                Lol a choice between a mustang and a 401K. What about a choice between groceries and putting gas in my old Honda?

                1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                  Simon, and others – yes, I agree that some have to make the choices you indicate.

                  But I have seen people in their 30s – people with six-figure incomes, even – NOT save or prepare for retirement. Way back when I remember explaining to one very-well-off thirty something, that the 401K is *not* a Christmas club. You do not borrow against it to pay for the trip to Aruba, or to buy a new car. THAT’S YOUR RETIREMENT.

                  I work with younger people – couples with substantial incomes, who run themselves into debt – his’n’hers matching SUVs, a $550k house in a toney burb, annual cruises, BUT – no 401K, Roth IRA, brokerage account, etc. Unfortunately there are too many people like that … and I know, many are envious – but there are people with substantial incomes that somehow can’t manage that.

                  There was a magazine = McCall’s – – that is now gone. But at least once a year they’d run an article “Couples who can’t make ends meet” – and most of the time, the couples would have a remarkably large income but pi$$ed through it and got into financial trouble. These are the people I’d address… having money comes with having responsibility. No matter how much you make, management is necessary.

                1. Electric Hedgehog*

                  I make a lot for a millennial, and I still can’t afford the down payment on a stinkin’ house. Single income household+student loans+baby /= spare money. But I do have a 401K! So I guess I’m doing ok.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              My point was that it’s funny that she thinks I’m a millennial.

              Ah, but the younger YOU are, the younger your mom is! :-)

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I find it hilarious that your mom thinks you’re millennials. Tell her your generation didn’t channel Nirvana/Pearl Jam and create Reality Bites and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for nothing! (I’m mostly teasing, but I really do love my GenX bosses).

        2. HAAPy*

          It’s recognized by the EEOC and state civil rights forums. Don’t be mislead. Get them to focus on ability, and call attention, if appropriate to their obvious age bias before it gets them in hot water. And for that matter, best to not disclose the bias to a departing employee, better to focus on how much trouble TPTB had on recognizing retention and growth by having a focus that did not favor Fergus.

      1. The Bimmer Guy*

        I don’t know if I like terms like “reverse racism” and “reverse age discrimination”. I’m black, if it matters. Age-discrimination doesn’t often affect young people as much as it does older people, nor does racism typically have the same effect on white people that it does on minorities…but they’re both ethically-wrong forms of discrimination all the same and I wouldn’t call them “reverse”-anything.

        1. The claims examiner*

          This. It’s not “reverse”, it’s just age-discrimination either way, and I’ve experienced a lot of it. :(

          1. Mazzy*

            I think we call this form of age discrimination reverse is because there are legitimate concerns at much of what we call “reverse age discrimination.” I think it is completely different from other forms of discrimination in this regards. Namely, the concern is that the younger person doesn’t have enough experience or hasn’t developed enough hard or soft skills to cope with certain situations.

            On the one hand, I see the lack of soft skills or ability to handle certain situations in younger colleagues and often need to check myself if my concerns are valid or not. I do sometimes have legitimate concerns stemming from a younger colleaugue’s lack of experience. However, sometimes I need to give them stretch assignments or have them share work with someone more experience to get them past this.

            But other times, I find my concerns are not valid. Just because someone is younger than me does not mean I can just label them as “young” as write them off. I sometimes have to remind myself that 28 or 30 is old enough to handle x, y, z.

            I think some of this is just becoming middle aged, but I think it also stems from the media. We’ve been bombarded with messages about how 40 is the new 30 and 50 is the new 40 for years, and I think we sometimes forget that 20-something can be and is a full fledged adult.

            1. emma2*

              In the letter writer’s situation, it seems like the younger employee was just objectively better at his job than the older employee, but was not getting a promotion simply because of his age. I agree that this is just age discrimination.

          2. jcsgo*

            I think a better term than “reverse age discrimination” would be “atypical age discrimination.”

        2. Mags*

          Yeah, that one is a pet-peeve of mine for all the reasons you mentioned. The reverse of prejudice/discrimination would be fairness or equality

        3. Overeducated*

          I think it’s like when people say “so-and-so is in a protected class” and people here say “EVERYONE is in a protected class,” because you can’t legally discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion, etc. Regardless of whether it’s a majority or minority one.

        4. Erika*

          I don’t like them either (I’m 32 and white). Racism can be directed by any race to any race. Same thing with sexism, age discrimination, etc. And now I’m thinking of that excellent Dave Chappelle sketch about the black KKK member again.

        5. Willow*

          I’m not sure that age discrimination is really analogous to racism though. I agree with you that reverse racism can’t exist because it’s a systemic and institutionalized problem, not just individual bias. But in terms of age, people over forty tend to have more power in society than younger people, not less.

          1. Anna*

            Bimmer Guy wasn’t discounting racism against whites. He basically said it should be called plain ol’ racism, without the “reverse” modifier.

            And racism can be individual bias. I don’t understand why discrimination would need to be systematic before it “counts.” (I say that as a female who’s called out my mom for her sexist remarks about men.) Ethical violations can’t be defended with, “That group has lots of power, so I can treat its members as badly I want!”

        6. Jadelyn*

          I think in this case it’s specifically to distinguish from the legal definition of age discrimination which, in the U.S. and at the federal level, only covers people 40 and older.

        7. Golden Lioness*

          Thank you for saying that. Well said and couldn’t agree more!
          Discrimination is always wrong and it’s discrimination no matter what color/size/age/orientation a person is.

        8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I would normally agree with you, Bimmer Guy. But I think there are two important caveats about age discrimination that are distinct from racial discrimination (which is distinct from “reverse racism”).

          First, young people—especially those under 24—are overwhelmingly impacted by age discrimination in hiring and retention, but at the federal level, we’ve decided that that’s a kind of discrimination with which we’re comfortable. We assume young people are not the primary income earners in their homes, and we assume that they have more employment opportunities available to them and can pick up new skills/knowledge through training when compared to older workers. So the federal statute covering age discrimination only applies to workers who are 40 and older, because we assume that if those workers are economically vulnerable, it will have a more structural and wide-spread effect on the economy. Because of that limit in who “qualifies” for age discrimination protections—which doesn’t exist in the context of statutes governing race discrimination—the “reverse age discrimination” notion is really about age discrimination on the basis of youth. I think folks are using “reverse age discrimination” to signal that they know discrimination on the basis of youth is not protected by federal law but that it’s still a social problem.

          Second, there’s a huge difference between the term “reverse racism” and the phrase “racial discrimination.” Racial discrimination can happen to anyone; it’s about implementing prejudice on the basis of a person’s perceived or “real” race. But “reverse racism” is a logical fallacy—it assumes that there’s an equal playing field, and reframes “racism” as referring only to racial discrimination and not to the systematic and institutional oppression of POC. If a person defines racism systemically, then “reverse racism” is illogical. In my opinion, it’s a phrase used most frequently to negate the fact that there is ongoing racial inequality in our country that is rooted in our history and our present-day policies. I think it’s deployed in a similar way to “All Lives Matter.”

          But I don’t want to go too far off topic, so I’ll leave it at that.

          1. TootsNYC*

            “First, young people—especially those under 24—are overwhelmingly impacted by age discrimination in hiring and retention”

            Another reason we’re comfortable with it: age and experience often go hand-in-hand.

            People choose workers with less experience because they can pay them less (and get less expertise in return), or because they aren’t likely to leave as soon because they feel they’re underpaid.

      2. Kj*

        Yep. My boss has made many comments about younger interns at our work site being hard to deal with….to me, her youngest employee who is younger than most of the interns. I might be taken seriously outside my org by my clients and community folks who I have to interface with, but I will never rise in my org since my supervisor is so anti-younger folks. Last time we hired, she overlooked a young applicant who had every skill we needed for an older worker who had never done our kind of work before. Predicably, it has not gone well. And I’m stuck dealing with the backlash from clients.

        1. shep*

          Ugh, my supervisor at my first semi-professional job would do the same thing–hire wildly unqualified candidates and have me deal with the client backlash. About half of the people she hired were great, but others…just not a great fit.

          Her reasoning wasn’t usually based on age (FWIW, we were the same age–both Millennials), but DID involve bizarre things like the color of people’s nails or the type of hose they were wearing or a completely contrary analysis of their work history (i.e., “too much” experience, or work in a specific org, or amount of time in X position, etc. would read to me as great but she would give me incredibly weird counters to why these things were all “terrible”).

          That said, I am also really glad she DOES have such odd hiring practices in that she hired ME all those years ago. I was a full-time graduate student with a BA in liberal arts and had struggled for months to find ANYTHING that fit my skill set. I had virtual no experience in the position I ended up getting, but I grew into it, and I like to think I was one of the good hires she made.

          1. FunTillSomeoneLoosesAnEye*

            Your supervisor must have went to the same “what to look for in new hires” class as the company I previously worked for.

            Things that were important to them were things like, color of their shoes, did their shoes and belt color match, quality of their clothing (Not as in shabby vs not, as in Burlington vs JosA Bank and above).

            Things that seemed to be less of an issue. relevant experience doing the work we were hiring them to do.

            1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

              My old boss was like this about many things including hiring – when presented with a set of observations or facts, she would inevitably focus on the least important ones. We had a temp that was absolutely fantastic who applied for a permanent position and when we asked later why she didn’t get the job, Boss told us that sometimes when she walked by the temp’s desk she was slouching in her chair. Despite evidence to the contrary based on her actual work output during the months she was with us, Boss believed that the slouching indicated that the temp was lazy and unmotivated. The position was filled by someone completely ill-suited who left within 6 months, and that person’s replacement also left in less than a year. (Side note: In the 5 years I was there, 5 people in my 5 person department including myself quit.)

              Of course, this was also someone who berated me for not knowing how to touch type when a) the job didn’t require it and it was never brought up in the interview b) I was able to do my original duties so efficiently that they eventually had to add more responsibilities because once I was fully trained I was twiddling my thumbs by noon every day. She just could not seem to fathom that I could do my job without knowing how to touch type, even though it obviously had no ill effect on my productivity.

              1. shep*

                I think the three of us might’ve had the same boss.

                Although now that I think of it, my boss’s parents actually owned the place, and her mother was INCREDIBLY judgmental.

                I once had an absolutely HORRIBLE haircut that I had to remedy with a pixie cut. I LOVE pixie cuts on basically everyone except me. It was heinous (and incidentally really damaged my self-confidence when I was already in kind of a low place).

                My boss knew the whole story, but apparently her mother asked her, in a very scandalized hush-hush way, if I was a lesbian. I am not, but I was mortally offended by the implication that (1) being a lesbian was a bad thing and (2) this woman was forming opinions about me over my hair and that I wouldn’t have put it past her to let it affect her treatment of me in the workplace.

                I’m so glad I’m out of there.

    1. Miss Displaced*

      The thing that cracks me up is that “Millennials” aren’t all that young anymore! Most are now, what, mid-to-late 20’s and early 30’s. Not kids anymore.

        1. Kira*

          Do we know the name for the post-Millenials yet? I think that would help clarify what we millenials are for people.

      1. designbot*

        Yeah the issue is that the baby boomer’s still haven’t retired because of the hits their retirement accounts took in the recession, loss of income during that time, etc. The opportunities that 30 year olds were given back when they were 30 don’t exist for many of us now because there are still 65-70 year olds running the place when those people normally would have retired by now. They still see us as kids, even though that hasn’t been the case for many of us for a while now.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          That’s not true. As a boomer, I waited until the 65-70!year olds retired too.
          I also want to say that many boomers are deferring retirement because they like to work.

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            I meet so many people who retire, only to be back at work a year later because they are unfulfilled.

            The 65 of today is not the 65 of our grandparents.

            1. Windchime*

              This is what my dad did. He retired at 65, stayed home for a couple of years until he was so bored he couldn’t stand it and then went back to work part time until he was 73 or so.

        2. MC*

          The problem existed in some circles 20 years ago and it’s only gotten worse. I had planned on going into academia but when discussing my plans with a professor he clarified that no one his age (late 50’s) was ready to retire, there was a glut of academics waiting for a position and the area itself (liberal arts) was shrinking so jobs were at a premium.

          Look at areas like law and you see the same thing, the senior attorneys have no intention of retiring, most firms can’t justify hiring dozens of associates and of the associates hired, only a small set will ever be offered a partnership and even then, it’s risky because you have a lot of senior partners who aren’t pulling in the numbers to grow but they’re happy to take the benefits out of the partnership. As most companies are pyramid based, those at the top have to move on for the rest to move in and up.

          1. Ms. Anne Thrope*

            When my dad retired, he remarked that Social Security was invented largely as a bribe to make the old folks retire and get out of the way of the younger ones who needed jobs.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              Social security was meant for the truly old. The average life span at that time was 59 years of age. That’s why social security was designed to kick in at age 62.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              That is hilarious but also inaccurate ;) Retirement was designed for folks at the end of their working lives, and social security was designed with that in mind. Additionally, it was concerned with low- and middle-income workers in fields where they physically would be unable to do their jobs at a certain point (e.g., manufacturing, farm/ag labor, etc.)—they weren’t worried about lawyers or bankers or other “professionals” who spent most of the day at their desks.

              And as Engineer Girl noted, Social Security was designed with different age assumptions in mind. As technology has extended our lifespans, and as women (who live longer than men) joined the work force, the system has not fully caught up. The other difficulty is that the most socioeconomically vulnerable communities have lifespans 10-20 years shorter than folks who are considered to be middle-class and financially stable (i.e., may be living paycheck to paycheck, but aren’t living on the precipice of poverty). So how do you design policies around “age of retirement” that account for that vast difference in life expectancies?

        3. Golden Lioness*

          I am a GenXer and the idea of sitting at home not working gives me hives. I’ve already been thinking about “2nd careers” or things I could do when I am 70. Also, full retirement age for my generation is 67, so take into account that you cannot get full benefits and take quite a cut if you retire earlier than full retirement age.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            A friend’s dad (on the tail end of the Boomers) just “retired” into a career as a kindergarten teacher. He is AWESOME/perfect for it, and I’m kind of jealous.

            [I want to disclaim that I do not think teaching is easy or a job one could do as a form of “retirement”; realistically, he is undertaking a second career. My friend’s dad jokingly calls it his “retirement” as a kind of gallows humor because the pay cut is so extreme that his income as a teacher is now below his monthly pension income, and for the first two years of accreditation, he will essentially lose any money he makes as a student-teacher. ]

          2. YawningDodo*

            Millennial, but basically this. At a minimum I think I’d have to have some sort of regular volunteer gig, but realistically I’ve been thinking more about part time jobs I might enjoy if I save up enough that I won’t have to rely entirely on the paycheck for my actual livelihood. In theory I love having tons of time to myself. In practice I think if I didn’t have somewhere to be for a good 20 hours out of each week I’d go nuts and self destruct.

      2. tink*

        People label “millennials” as everything ranging from ~13 up to mid-30s… basically, any of the set of folks whose parents are largely not yet retirement age and still in the workforce but also grew up with increasingly large advances and popularization of computing technology/the internet. And of course, people also like to throw that label around to indicate “anyone younger than me that I disagree with or don’t like who doesn’t just shut up and let me steamroll them.”

      3. J*

        I’m a millennial with 18 years of experience in my chosen field. Granted I started working at 16 and am the oldest of millennials. Still.

      4. k*

        They really need to come up with a new term for the younger generation, teens to mid-20s today, and stop calling them millennials. I was working on a project and the team was trying to come up with ideas to reach these mysterious millennials, but they meant the younger crowd. They look to me (I’m 29) as if I’m hip to what the 18 year olds are up to. Sorry, but unless they’re into applying for mortgages and realizing the benefits of going to bed at a reasonable hour, we are just not into the same things.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          The other issue is they’re lumping the generation that used to be called Generation Y with “millennials.” So somehow I went from being “the generation after GenX” to being in the same generational band as cousins who are literally more than 20 years younger than me. It’s a hugely different experience, not only in terms of familiarity with tech, but also in terms of communication, geopolitics, the economy, access to education, etc., etc.

          Are they really calling post-millennials, “Gen Z?” Like Zombies? Just call them the aughts!

        2. E, F and G*

          Be grateful Generation Z isn’t commonly heard. There was some clickbait on one of the Inc. articles Alison wrote awhile back talking about the perfect Gen Z.

          The generation that knows they won’t immediately work their way up the corporate ladder, knows they have to work to get anywhere, doesn’t want special perks at work – just a stable job, with benefits, and a possibility of retiring one day.

          The article made me surprising mad.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m convinced all these “generation” analyses are nonsense, and as you mentioned, pure clickbait.

        1. Amy G. Golly*

          I will be 35 next month, am on my second career, and I’m a Millenial. (Granted, the oldest of the lot!) I have a mortgage and two separate retirement accounts. I’m still paying student loans, and will be until I reach the Magic 10 mark for public service loan forgiveness.

          I am indeed a Real Adult.

          (Though I don’t necessarily feel like a Real Adult unless I’m paying property taxes or hanging out with a certified Real Young Person. Only then do I realize I’m not 19 anymore!)

          1. Amy G. Golly*

            (Oh, and for the first time ever, my doctor is younger than I am! THAT made me feel old. But hey, she’s awesome: I can deal with feeling old to nab an awesome doctor!)

            1. Elaine*

              My husband and I (mid to late 30s) realized that people our parents’ age are not going to be taking care of us for another 20 years when our doctor retired at about age 60 and the rector at our church retired. Then we accidentally picked an even older pediatrician for our kids, but we’ve reasoned that there are younger doctors in the practice, so when he retires we can switch to one of them. When picking a new doctor for us I deliberately picked someone young so that we know she’ll be around for a while.

          2. Jadelyn*

            I’m applying for my first home loan, which is making me feel Super Old right now tbh. Nothing like talking about a 30-year loan for hundreds of thousands of dollars to make you feel like a Real Adult…

            1. YawningDodo*

              Applying for a home loan did the opposite for me. I spent the entire time thinking to myself, “Why are they trusting me with this when I am obviously not a real adult?”

              I’m nearly 30.

              Also the home buying process went great, so apparently I am an adult after all.

  3. Kora*

    Sounds like you did all the right things as far as you were able, OP. Sorry your higher ups were too short sighted to let you do more. I hope Fergus does great in his new place, and good luck with your job search of you do decide to move on.

    1. Megan Schafer*

      Agreed. OP, I’m sorry that you had to lose Fergus but I do hope you feel good about your handling on this. It was spot on, fair to all involved, and very human. Thank you.

      1. Chaordic One*

        Also agreed. I do hope that TPTB don’t blame the OP for this. In a couple of workplaces where I’ve been employed the OP would be accused of being an ineffective manager and a host of other things. Of course, this is ridiculous, but it happens.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      +1. I know some bean counters would disagree and say that OP’s duty is to the company, and that she should not have provided an undervalued employee with the means of leaving. But OP’s professional relationship with this employee will go beyond this company, for sure. I bet OP gets a reputation for being someone people want to work for.

      1. Penelope Pitstop*

        +1 to the +1! Exactly this–OP, you navigated a tough situation with grace and integrity. You’re definitely going to be, probably already are, a workplace leader that others will to gravitate to.

        1. Mookie*

          I actually think this was good for the company, as well. She tried to keep talent in the family and then mitigated the costs of an unexpected departure by anticipating the employee’s actions and freeing up time for a smooth transition without animosity. Everyone, including her, is well-served by this. Kudos to you, LW! They’re lucky to have you.

      2. CM*

        I would argue that the OP did their duty to the company by being honest with Fergus. Fergus was going to be out the door no matter what, but may have hung around longer if he felt he was valued and respected.

      3. Christine*

        I had a co-worker sit on an interview for someone doing her same job in another department. They bought this person in, right out of graduate college with no experience and paid them $10,000 more. She’s been here for 4 years, and has to years of experience and is working on her 2nd graduate degree. She went to her boss and inquired about a raise, etc. Our boss (her boss is my boss’s boss) told her, but don’t you love your job?

        The new person they hired is male and young. She’s in her late 40’s. She hasn’t said anything about age or gender discrimination, but it has to be in the back of her mind. The people in our division are difficult to work with. There are limited jobs in her field in her area, but I suspect she’ll find something in a year.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I cannot believe your boss/her grandboss had the audacity to say, “but don’t you love your job?” That is so condescending and manipulative (and vaguely threatening, even if it wasn’t intended that way). No, I work for rainbow star stickers and leprechaun wishes—don’t worry about oh, having to make a living or pay off educational debt. Gross to the max.

    3. Erika*

      I agree. You may have lost a great employee, but at least you can deal with it by knowing you did the compassionate, moral thing.

  4. MK*

    Hmm. Ok, I get that this is frustrating, but two things stuck out at me:

    1) It sounds as if Fergus’ better skill set isn’t strictly relevant to your department’s core function and/or wrok? Does Fergus actually apply these skills in his work for you? If so, is it something that significantly improves it or a nice oprional extra? It wouldn’t really be unreasonable that your higher-ups aren’t willing to pay for a skill set that isn’t bringing significant value to your work.

    2) In certain fields and/or places, reverse age discrimination is a reality. Barristers in my country (law firms are not common here, it’s mostly single-attorney practices) are resigned to the fact they probably won’t be forming their own clients lists till after they are 30, because few people are willing to trust 20-somethings with big cases. It’s possible that your higher-ups are unfairly discriminating, but it’s also possible they are right about your perspective clients not being willing to give a big project to a team with a very young lead engineer. And apparently they are the ones who handle sales, so maybe they know what they are talking about.

    It sucks that you lost a valuable employee, but maybe it’s just a case of your company not having a place for a person with his profile.

    1. INTP*

      2) Even if it’s because of the clients and the clients really do prefer older engineers, that is still discrimination. For example, you aren’t allowed to engage in racist hiring practices because your potential clients prefer white liaisons and it’s better for business. In this case it’s not discrimination in the legal sense because age discrimination only applies to people over 40, but in spirit it is. Not to mention the clients being discriminatory themselves.

      1. Rob Lowe can't read*

        Employers can prohibit discrimination based on age across the age spectrum, though. (I mean “prohibit” in the sense of “explicitly state in writing that it is not allowed,” not “discourage it because it sucks.”) My employer has a written rule prohibiting age discrimination at any age.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Also, some states do (define age discrimination as something not limited to those over 40).

      2. Raine*

        Also, the OP wanted ownership to lay off a lead engineer — as recognized both inside and outside the firm — solely to promote the new employee, which makes zero sense. Clearly no one else agreed (besides Fergus). I actually think it’s questionable how fantastic a manager the OP really is given what we know.

        1. GreenBean*

          Reviewing the original letter, Fergus is a *younger* employee, but not a newer employee. The OP brought him on when they first started, 6 years ago, whereas the other person started only 1.5 years agol

        2. Jessie*

          Raine, you’ve reversed it. The new employee is the one who is solid but not a star, and who has 20 years industry experience. He was hired most recently. The one OP wanted to promote has been at the company longer. He has less experience overall, but has been at the company 6 years vs the newer one’s 2 years.

        3. Annonymouse*

          The point is that Cecil, while older and more experienced could not do the projects as well as Fergus.

          Fergus has also been at the company longer – just not the industry and was prominently featured in a 30 under 30 to watch out for.

          Op was not allowed to assign more/interesting projects to Fergus because he isn’t the lead
          Not allowed to give him a raise in title or salary

          Even though Fergus brings more benefit to the business OP isn’t allowed to reward or try to keep him.

        4. aebhel*

          That’s the exact opposite of what the letter said. The newer employee is the older person. Fergus had been with the company longer; the newer employee was hired at a higher rate of pay, and has not been particularly impressive, but is making more than Fergus, who was a stellar employee. OP wanted ownership to lay off the not-so-stellar new employee to keep her stellar employee.

      3. Jbern*

        Potentially disagree. rather than age, it may be experience. The millennial may have hard skills, but little experience in softer skills like client management. The millennial may have taken a job that is a different labor category or title thus giving him higher salary.

        1. nofelix*

          At the risk of denigrating my fellow millennial professionals; one consistent skillset that older senior engineers have is ability to diplomatically talk to clients. Younger engineers tend to be much blunter and give ‘engineering answers’ rather than the most helpful for the client. I’m not keen on them talking to clients on their own because it causes problems, for instance the client that called me panicking that the engineer had just doubled their fee. What had happened is the client had made an off-hand suggestion that sounded simple but would have involved a lot of engineer work, and the engineer had run with it instead of just advising that it might not be cost effective.

          1. MC*

            It’s a valid point. Younger employees may not have the negotiating skills or the comfort to say “no” to a client that an older employee would have. Soft skills can be learned on the job by coaching and shadowing.

            1. SimontheGreyWarden*

              But younger employees will never *learn* those skills unless they are given the opportunity to practice them.

          2. Future Analyst*

            But the answer to this isn’t to never promote younger people: it’s simple enough to oversee their comms with clients for the first 3-6 months (and flag it to them in private if they should present an alternative option to the client), and train them properly in the art of talking to clients. [In other words, train them.] So many companies complain that “millenials” don’t know how to talk to clients, while conveniently forgetting that older folks also didn’t know how to do that at some point. Training is not the same as hand-holding, and pretending otherwise is setting up a lot of companies for issues once boomers retire.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Except your point re: experience appears to contradict what OP wrote in her original letter (and what she’s repeated in this letter).

          We can armchair speculate about soft skills, but it sounds like OP’s bosses have refused to allow Fergus to develop those skills by limiting his contact with clients and not bringing him along or working with him. So even if there were a soft skills gap, they’re purposefully refusing to address it. Honestly, based on only the letter, the big bosses sound biased towards older employees and do not seem willing to make an evidence-based evaluation (instead of a stereotype-based evaluation). I’ve found clients are a lot more flexible in who they’re willing to work with than the powers that be think they’ll be. This is why good ol’ boys clubs still maintain power despite diversification (in age and gender) of the workforce.

      4. Jeanne*

        Clients will only prefer older engineers if you help them. If the partners would say “I’m assigning Fergus to your case. He is excellent and will be great at your project”, the clients wouldn’t have a chance to prefer an older engineer. It is obvious the partners want the older worker.

        1. nofelix*

          Yes agreed. Age markets itself. Partners can easily market their star younger engineers by talking up their previous successes.

      5. justcourt*

        It’s only 40+ at the federal level; state statutes may differ. For example, my state discrimination statute applies to all ages.

      6. Lora*

        In my experience this is something that senior managers of engineering firms *imagine* clients want (older engineers with a million years of experience who built the Roman aqueducts), but in real life, as a senior engineer who sends out and accepts bids from such companies, we want a company who doesn’t suck. If your reputation sucks because your buildings fall down or we get buggy software or your delivery times are ridiculous, then the number of grey haired employees won’t help you one bit.

        Example in the OP’s industry: I’ve gotten some really downright young (early-mid 20s) project managers from Gilbane, but they do a great job and are as thorough and diligent as I could possibly ask for.

        1. Anna*

          It’s because a good employee is a good employee if they’ve been trained and given a chance. It’s not like a crappy employee turns 30 and suddenly says, “Oops time to grow up and become respectable!”

          Good employees are made, not born, and you have to set the example and give them a chance in order for that to happen. It’s a throwback to respecting our elders not because they know something, but because they’re old.

        2. halla*

          Yes yes, from someone else who evaluates and selects bids from engineers. Also when I read proposals and see only a very experienced engineer listed, I assume they’re actually having an unnamed EIT do all the work, maybe with the experienced engineer’s oversight if I’m lucky. If a younger engineer is listed with relevant projects they themselves worked on, I’m more inclined to think that person might do the actual work. And I would prefer that to the unnamed, possibly unsupervised EIT.

      7. J.B.*

        Yeah, but engineering…there are some decent firms out there, but most of them want folks who look like the clients. Mainly older white males, although that is very slowly changing.

    2. Megan Schafer*

      Musing here – while it seems to be ok that clients can have their preferences met for age, I don’t imagine that would extend for client preference of race or gender or something (excepting of course bona fide occupational qualifications such as gender in health care). It seems to be a bit of a double standard.

      1. nofelix*

        I think part of being an equal opportunity employer is being willing to bat for any of your employees when the need arises. Including pre-emptively talking up a young/black/female employee if it seems likely that a client will have some prejudice. It’s good for the company and good for the employee.

  5. Mike B.*

    1) It doesn’t sound at all like that’s the case to me. OP was distressed at the prospect of losing someone with Fergus’s skill set and productivity level; there’s clearly going to be a significant impact to the performance of their department.

    2) OP predicted that a competitor would pay Fergus much more, and one did. They apparently did not share those concerns, and they also presumably know what they’re talking about.

    1. MK*

      1) Really? Fergus has skills about “finite element analysis and other design software”. This, according to the OP, isn’t something a structural engineer (I am assuming that’s the job) is expected to know. The OP, who as I understand it heads the department, doesn’t know it. Cecil, with whose performance the OP has no issues when not comparing it to Fergus, doesn’t know it. It sounds pretty obvious to me that Fergus is overqualified/otherwise qualified for the work that they do.

      2) The competitor offered more money; we don’t know if it offered an upwards move to lead engineer as well. In my experience people who care about age don’t have an issue with bright young people being part of the team, but feel “safer” when the person in charge is older and (presumably) more experienced. The competitor might be a larger firm than the OP’s and put Fergus as a second to someone who has his superior skills plus experience.

      1. Ella*

        Obviously I don’t know the exact situation, but a very similar thing happened to my husband, who is also an engineer. He wanted a modest salary increases because he was one of the strongest in the department, but the company stonewalled him, I think partly because of his age. So he left and got a 30k bump from another company, and consistently brings in more work than employees decades older than him. Original company has tried to rehire, now that they see this, but it’s too late.

        Sometimes there are firms that just don’t get it. The fact that the firm was willing to hire Fergus at such a huge increase clearly means they see something the original company hire ups don’t. They valued age/experience over efficiency/profit- just different priorities, I guess.

        1. designbot*

          Also in a strongly hierarchical practice, it’s common for someone at the partner/principal level not to know who the star performers are at the worker bee level. They know the best department leads, and the department leads all know who their best performers are within the department, but the people at the top can lose sight of the day to day stuff because they have other levels of management insulating them from it.

          1. Anna*

            Which is frustrating because it means they need to trust their managers to tell them what’s what and in this case, they ignored the very information they should have paid attention to.

      2. BananaPants*

        A structural engineer absolutely should know FEA. It’s not on the structural PE (yet) because there’s no easy way to test for it in the current format, but finite element analysis is increasingly important in that field.

        It’s very common in engineering for folks to get a significant (like, 5 figure) bump in pay when moving to a new firm or company, regardless of what discipline of engineering or field they’re in. The engineers I know who’ve moved jobs every 3-5 years make a LOT more money than those who are “lifers” at a firm.

        My skillset would allow me to do consulting work in my field of engineering , but getting work as a 30-something would be challenging. Like it or not, age and decades of experience often give a consultant the perception of quality over someone younger/earlier in a career.

        I can see Cecil’s experience being a selling point for a firm over Fergus as a lead engineer, even though Fergus may be technically more talented than Cecil. Most companies would be fine with gifted younger engineers being on the development team but are more comfortable with a more experienced engineer in the lead role. Structural is a field where making mistakes can cost lives and lead to huge lawsuits and both structural engineering firms and companies hiring engineering consulting firms can be really conservative in their outlook.

        1. EngineerInNL*

          You beat to the punch there! A structural engineer should 100% know FEA! It was actually part of my civil engineering curriculum (though my university lumped civil/structural together) and it’s HARD, like fail out a third of the class hard.

  6. Sam*

    I’m 10 years into my career and at the height of my field. (Yes, that makes me a millennial.) There really are few places to move up–I am one of 5 roles that report directly to the CEO, and each of the others is 20+ years older than me.

    I haven’t dealt with age discrimination, per se, but age stereotypes (against the younger generation) is definitely a thing. Especially against millennials. [Caveat: in our field it’s very typical to factor in someone’s years of experience in the field to their pay. (Typcial path: teapot production, teapot design, teapot management.) So when I’d been in teapot management for two years, I was making $20k less than a new teapot manager because they had spent 10 more years in teapot production than I had, even though my management team was harder, required a different skill set, etc. and their experience in teapot production came 15 years ago. (To me, that’s pretty rotten, even if it’s not exactly discrimination.)]

    As a young leader, I have to work to prove my lack of years isn’t a lack of experience or competence every single day–to my colleagues, team, and clients. Where more veteran people can say, “I’ve been doing this for 25 years…” and be granted deference, younger employees, even talented ones, can’t.

    I had an experience once as a mid-level manager where my boss was looking to hire a peer to my position and relied heavily on my input. When we were talking about one particular candidate he said, “She’s too young.” She was older than I was a year into the same type of position–and older than he’d been when he’d been hired for a similar role. People confuse maturity and experience with youth. It’s unfortunate because it feeds those stereotypes.

    Where it comes across hardest is on blogs and advice columns like these where the assumption is that older workers give more time/energy/care to their work and millennials are slackers. I’ve had enough leadership experience now to say there is no trend. Every worker is different. I’ve had millenials who’ve been the best on the team…and those that have been the worst. Same with Gen Y’ers and Baby Boomers. Some people just have incredibly better work ethics than others.

    1. 14 years*

      I once had a coworker argue with me that he had been working for 30 years and knew blah blah blah and in my head I was like, “yeah but I’ve been at this company longer, so I know what I’m talking about.” He also didn’t factor in that I’ve been working since high school, so I’d been working for 13 years, not 6 like he was apparently thinking. Just because you were born before me doesn’t mean you know more than me.

    2. SystemsLady*

      I’ve had people who are not in my field and who were not experienced in either side of the thing I was commenting on (but we were working on the same big picture thing) screaming at me they had 25 years of experience and I was wrong; that the big thing wasn’t working was my fault, obviously.

      Every single time that’s happened the person ended up wasting a day or more aiming the egg cannon right at their face and loading it right up, and then it turns out I was right and it finally gets fixed.

      Almost like they felt the need to go out of their way to slap my lesser experience in my face. Maybe being a woman adds on top of that of course.

      (As a counterpoint, everybody around me realized how ridiculous the person was being. But at the same time, I was usually a persistent feature while the other person was only there for a bit)

      1. Engineer Girl*

        If it’s any consolation, I kept having it at 35 years experience. Some people just get Dunning Kruger on you and will loudly tell everyone how wrong you are.

    3. Roza*

      Well-done OP!

      Your company reminds me a lot of where I work (also a small consulting company, albeit not an engineering-focused one), and there’s lots of similar downward pressure on salaries for employees new to the company/industry because of client (and internal) preference for “experience”, and also because the senior people with “experience” can command a high salary and the rest of us have to be low to make bids competitive.

      Because I’m relatively new and can’t be pitched to clients as “experienced”, I’m at the bottom of the pay band for my role, even though I do analytic work that very few other people in the company can do, and that handful is way above my pay grade. It’s very frustrating to get told how valuable I am to the company yet then see people who I out-perform getting paid more because they have “X years experience”…even though that experience doesn’t translate into additional skill or expertise (to be clear, I’m talking about others in my role or one just above me…obviously the very senior folks with longstanding client relationships are bringing a lot to the company).

      At any rate, like Fergus, I’m also on my way out. I agree with all of the comments that have been made about how focusing so much on years of butt-in-seat hurts good employees and hurts businesses because they lose good employees. It also makes businesses slow to react to change–if they only listen to people who’ve “been in the biz” for howevermany decades, new ideas don’t filter up quickly. The processes that my current company uses are also very out of date, and while there are some very senior people trying to change that, they’re in the minority. The industry the company serves is changing rapidly, and if I weren’t leaving to find a higher salary I’d be leaving because I’m not sure they’ll ride the wave of change so much as be knocked under by it.

    4. Mazzy*

      Your second to last paragraph reminded me of a few situations I’ve been in. A manager would almost brag about how he’d been doing X for so many years, and you’d do the math, and he must have started when he was right out of college. But then the next month he is not wanting to hire someone out of school because they don’t have enough experience.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Where it comes across hardest is on blogs and advice columns like these where the assumption is that older workers give more time/energy/care to their work and millennials are slackers.

      Whoa, I don’t think I’ve ever written with that assumption, and in fact I’ve written regularly about what BS these stereotypes about millennials are. What are you referring to that I’m not thinking of?

      1. Hrovitnir*

        I assumed in this case they meant more that it can come out in the comments – I really appreciate how even handed you are about most subjects, I can’t imagine anyone thinking you think that!

        1. AD*

          I think it was a general comment about blogs. As a long-time reader, I’ve never read commenters bash millenials on AAM.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yeah, I was going to say what Anna said—people often begin to go there, but more veteran commenters often head that off at the pass.

    6. Tuxedo Cat*

      I have a new coworker who is very condescending towards me because he’s Gen X and I’m technically a millennial (early 30s) and I look young. I think gender might be at play too.

      The irony is that while he’s bragging about how awesome and wise he is compared to younger folk, he doesn’t recognize how off-putting he is. That’s not even mentioning that the “wisdom” he’s spouting is grossly inaccurate and wrong. Also, his very much publicly accessible social media has complaints about my workplace; I found it in a few easy search terms and we’re not connected.

      1. Zombii*

        Generation lines aren’t as clearly defined as a lot of people try to pretend, there are no standard agree-upon start- and end-dates. Early 30’s is older Millennial by some counts, young Gen-X by others.

        I’ve heard those with birthdates at the beginning/end referred to as “cuspers” and we have the honor of taking crap for both generations c o n s t a n t l y.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Entertainingly, my older brother and I are different social generations. Though with us, it actually shows!

        2. Kelly L.*


          I’ve been watching Survivor this year and they’re doing a Millennials vs. Gen X theme this season, and from the start it was quite flawed. “Gen X” ended up with, I’m pretty sure, at least one Boomer, and there’s a high school student on the Millennials. Hey show, there are other generations besides Gen X and Millennials! :D And there are some mid-thirties people who got lumped with one or the other and didn’t feel like they fit in.

        3. A Plain-Dealing Villain*

          “Millennial” has been the favored term for “young people we don’t like” for a while now. In practice, this means that millennials are getting younger and younger. I used to be a millennial, but have apparently now aged out. Ah well; growing up rural poor always put me a decade behind the stereotypes anyway.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Sam, thanks for your thoughtful and comprehensive note. I’ve seen this happen, too, although I’m a “cusper.” And honestly, I see it happen to GenXers, as well. I think it’s easier to blame “young people” (i.e., anyone younger than me) than to actually evaluate people on the merits.

    8. Horological*

      Someone who uses ‘I’ve been doing it for X years so therefore I’m right’ gets precisely zero respect from me, because if they had any actual justification for the right-ness they’d have said that. It’s a cop-out, and I’ve never actually come across someone who’s said this and been correct (usually due to being out of date or making incorrect assumptions about the problem).

      (If I sound a little bitter, it happened to me yet again last week and took a lot of work to ensure that said person didn’t make my task vastly harder to impossible because of it)

  7. Emily*

    That’s not ‘reverse age discrimination’ (I don’t think that’s even a thing), that’s just age discrimination.

    1. JHS*

      It actually isn’t legally cognizable age discrimination because the law that says you can’t discriminate based on age only covers people age 40 and up.

      1. Edith*

        No one is making a legal argument here. Something can exist and be harmful and worth discussing even if it’s not codified into law.

        1. Megan*

          And since it’s not a legal argument, I think that the colloquial usage is fine. People understood the point being made.

          1. JHS*

            Again, no one was making any argument at all. I was trying to be helpful in providing the law here so everyone was on the same page. The law doesn’t protect the situation described and that’s all I was saying. Have a good one!

        2. JHS*

          I never said it wasn’t harmful or not worth discussing. I didn’t think anyone was making a legal argument either. “Age discrimination” is, however, a legal term. My comment was intended to be helpful in clarifying the correct definition, not trying to shut down conversation about the situation. Have a great day!

    2. Annonymouse*

      We all know they mean “age discrimination – but reverse of normal situations (youth is disadvantaged instead of age).

      It’s not a big deal that they’ve phrased it that way.

  8. ITChick*

    Considering millennials can be as old as 37, that whole comment is ridiculous. Yeah of course they are going to be as old as someone’s kids. Everyone is? When the workplace age ranges from 17 to 70, what matters is the knowledge and experience the person brings to the job, not their age. While reverse age discrimination isn’t a thing legally, it’s definitely a thing morally.

    1. sam*

      I’ve reached an age where my boss is younger than me. Not by much, but…at a certain point, people with different skill sets progress differently in their careers, and unless you want the senior management of every company to be *only* elderly people, this is what will happen.

      but to confirm what was mentioned above, the LAW covering age discrimination only considers people over 40 as the “protected class” for age discrimination purposes
      – the reasoning being that it’s not that age discrimination doesn’t happen to younger people, but that it was considered more pernicious when it happens to older people – it’s much harder to find a new job when you’re older, many companies and one of the main concerns when the law was passed was that older workers were going to lose significantly more in things like pension/retirement benefits that had been accrued, or even be fired so that they couldn’t get accrued but unvested benefits. I think when the law was passed there had also been a wave of more industrial-type jobs where older workers were simply being laid off and replaced with younger (cheaper) workers who were thought to be faster – sot they were trying to address some specific things going on at the time.

      – more cynically, most lawmakers are over 40, so they simply assumed age discrimination doesn’t happen to younger people.

      1. sstabeler*

        To be fair, I think it’s partly because younger workers are more capable of finding a new job to get away from age discrimination- older workers can get int a situation where they can’t find a new job because a company writes them off as too close to retirement.

        1. Annonymouse*

          I agree.

          Younger people have an easier time getting hired than people over 50 (that’s the line in my country instead of 40)

          There are many reasons for this – some from my super cynical side.
          (Please note I don’t believe most of these are accurate. However this can be a perception most people have)

          1) it’s assumed younger workers can pick up new skills and technology much quicker than their older counterparts

          2) a younger worker can be trained or moulded more easily to what you want.

          3) you can pay younger people less than more experienced workers

          4) younger workers can be more willing to put up with bad boss / business behaviours because they don’t know that’s not right or not normal.

          5) the general idea that you can have a younger worker around for 20+ years and an older one for maybe 5+ (which is laughable in the modern age since people change companies / jobs now at 2+ years)

          1. TootsNYC*

            #5 is -very- laughable, because older workers aren’t often as -able- to move around, precisely because of that discrimination. I’m over 50, and one thing I have in mind always is, “will this job go away sometime soon?” Because I can’t afford to be out of work, not w/ the financial responsibilities I have now, and not w/ my older age at job hunting, and not w/ the idea that anybody who wants to hire someone w/ my skill set will want to pay a lot less.

    2. NutellaNutterson*

      If we continue to use the “millennial” label to mean “younger than my mental image of mySELF” we are going to get some pretty absurd age discrimination cases in just a few years! “She’s too young.” “She’s 41.” “But I remember what was on tv the year she was born! How is she even old enough to drive?!” “…”

      1. TootsNYC*

        This *is* what people mean when they say “millennial.” Or, they mean “just a year or three out of college,” and they forget that the timeline has moved on.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I think that’s part of it, yeah. It’s easy to forget that the oldest millennials (like me!) are in their early 30s by now.

        2. A Plain-Dealing Villain*

          I had to put up with the millennial stereotypes all my life, but now that I’m a manager with over 10 years of experience in my field, own a home and two cars, and have a solid retirement account, it seems I’m no longer a millennial. Millennials just can’t win.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          YES. It’s become a ridiculously nonspecific word for “someone I think is younger and whose experience I want to invalidate.”

    3. Koko*

      I must admit these comments are a little bit disheartening. As a 31-year-old who has advanced in my career at a good clip, I regularly collaborate and strategize with peers who are 5, 10, and 20 years older than me (and I have a report who is just a year or two older than me).

      And it honestly never occurred to me that so many people would dismiss me as inexperienced based on my age. I’ve never been treated that way or picked up that vibe where I work and I guess naively thought that 30+ was “old enough” that I wasn’t sitting at the kid’s table anymore. I thought age stopped mattering once everyone was an adult.

      1. ITChick*

        Likewise. Half my coworkers are 20-30 years older than me, some looking to retire in a year or two, and the rest are either about my age or 10-15 years younger. Age has nothing to do with how well all of us get along, perform, communicate, or anything else. I also thought that age didn’t matter once you were an adult, and especially once you had a few years of work experience under your belt. Certainly once I got married and had a kid I thought I was basically on par with all my older coworkers, even if some had grandkids.

        But regularly I am overlooked in meetings with vendors, until someone who “appears more senior” than me defers to me or indicates I’m the one they should be talking to. I still get comments and stunned looks after I tell them I’ve been at the company 15 years.

  9. Jessesgirl72*

    Maybe Fergus’ new employer has am opening for the OP too. Let Fergus get the referral bonus, if there is one.

    I would actively be seeking a new job. The company doesn’t trust or respect the OP enough to let her do her job the best she can, and is more worried about keeping up appearances as to what they assume a client would want, than putting the most skilled people in place and standing behind that decision.

      1. harry*

        With that said, this was largely due to OP’s failure to recognize that Cecil was a bad hire. It was OP’s hire! Had OP done more due diligence and look beyond Cecil’s work experience, OP wouldn’t have been in this situation.

        1. Chaordic One*

          I don’t think that Cecil was necessarily a bad hire. He’s more of a perfectly adequate “meh” hire who’s being paid market rate. The problem is with the OP’s management’s failure to recognize Fergus’ contributions, what Fergus is worth and to pay Fergus accordingly.

          1. designbot*

            Right, also remember that when Cecil was hired, Fergus was only like 4-4.5 year into his time there. If it’s his first job, that’s not many total years of experience and every year can bring incredible amounts of growth for a dedicated and talented worker. The situation may simply look very different now that Fergus is 6 years into his time there than it did back then.

            1. Aglaia761*

              Not only that, but at the time of the letter, Fergus also had a new shiny license that he didn’t have before. That made him MUCH more marketable. His worth literally went up overnight.

        2. animaniactoo*

          Sometimes circumstances force you to get a butt in the seat that isn’t an optimal one, and that certainly sounds like what happened here.

          The funniest part of all of this is that they were originally looking for a 5-year engineer. How old did the higher-ups think a 5-year engineer was going to be?

    1. Khlovia*

      By the time I got to the third paragraph, I was thinking, “Geeminentlies, OP, both of you quit in unison and go form your own start-up together and take all your clients.”

      1. Khlovia*

        Ha! I just noticed I have barged into the middle of a year-old conversation. Ghostly voices echoing in an empty room.

  10. Aly*

    I mean, this is exactly what the commentariat predicted. With the attitude OP’s company has, they aren’t going to be able to hold on to younger talent, which will create problems for them both now and especially down the line, if their teapot engineers are all the same age.

    OP is not wrong to think about jumping ship from a company that won’t take reasonable steps to retain talent.

  11. ArtK*

    “I was referring to finite element analysis and other design software I wouldn’t expect a Structural Engineer to know”. That caught my eye. I would absolutely expect a Structural Engineer to know Finite Element Analysis. Did you mistype and mean “would”? That kind of analysis is what tells you if your structure is going to collapse under its own weight or fly apart due to vibrations.

    As a manager, I would be extremely unhappy at the outcome here. The company is being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Not investing in a star performer isn’t going to hurt them too much today, but is going to kill them in the future. I’d be polishing my resume too.

      1. Amadeo*

        FYI, your blog is redirecting. Maybe an ad? I click your link, get sent briefly to your blog and then redirected to a different page.

  12. CAA*

    Leaving aside the age thing for a moment — does your department have a frequent need for someone with skills in finite element analysis and other design software that you and Cecil don’t know? If not, then hard as it may be for you, it’s actually better for Fergus and his career for him to work elsewhere.

    I have been on both sides of this situation, as a team member where I’ve had skills I wanted to use that weren’t needed/wanted in my current role; and as a manager where I didn’t have a way to pay a person for a skill we weren’t using but that would be valuable to someone else. In both cases we ended up amicably parting ways, and with hindsight, it really was the best outcome in both situations.

    On the age thing, I think your management’s wording was inelegant and they lack imagination if they truly can’t figure out how to describe someone as a wunderkind, but in many disciplines experience does have value and engineering is one of them. Cecil, with his 20 years experience, has been exposed to situations and problems that Fergus has never seen and Cecil should be able to recognize them earlier and resolve them more efficiently. Having him on a job adds value just because of this experience. Fergus needs to be able to work on projects with guys like Cecil in order to learn from them and gain this experience over the next 20 years, but it’s also true that your bids will not be competitive if you have to bid two senior engineers where your competitors are bidding one senior and one junior.

    This really sounds like Fergus just outgrew the job he had. It happens and it’s hard. The best thing you can do now is continue to be a cheerleader and mentor for him as he progresses. Stay in touch, send the occasional email or invite him for coffee every few months, and act as a reference again when he’s ready to move on to his next job.

    1. the gold digger*

      I am very happy that Fergus found a better job, but I also agree with what CAA says – in many disciplines experience does have value and engineering is one of them. Cecil, with his 20 years experience, has been exposed to situations and problems that Fergus has never seen and Cecil should be able to recognize them earlier and resolve them more efficiently.

      I work for an engineering consulting company that designs and manufactures material-handling equipment. They will keep retirees on as consultants and have hired people with 30 years in the industry because their knowledge and experience is so, so valuable.

      However, younger engineers are also highly valued and well paid. You don’t get experienced engineers and project managers without training inexperienced people.

      1. MsCHX*

        This is well stated. We had a chemical engineer that was a New Grad. Lots of research experience and quite sharp. But once, while researching a widget, the 65 year old engineer walked up and told New Grad the EXACT year that widget was manufactured (he was spot on), who the manufacturer was, what the material was and what problems had been noted with that alloy.

        It’s not to say younger people can’t be good at their jobs – of course they are. But it’s hard to not value 40+ years of progressive experience in the industry.

    2. Nate*

      Yes! There are fewer high level positions than there are lower ones. There is not an upward path for everyone, and professional growth often means moving jobs. It’s just math. Fergus went on to a better job… that’s certainly no tragedy.

      There is no one here to feel sorry for except perhaps Cecil, whose been doing a good job for 20 years and now his boss is suggesting he get the boot because someone better came along.

      Experience has value. When an older person is chosen over a younger one for promotion, a company may be factoring in experience, relationship skills, big picture perspective, maturity, etc. They also may understand the debilitating morale hit that occurs when you dump someone who has been a loyal employee.

      It might be discriminatory if millenials were always going to be young, but in 10 years they will be competing against the next crop of youngsters, and they will come to appreciate a company that values their experience.

      1. Koko*

        I wanted to clarify Cecil’s situation which a lot of commenters seem to perhaps not be clear on. Fergus has six years’ experience in his field, with this company. He was hired during the recession at the appallingly low salaries that were common in those days. A few years ago, they needed a second engineer, so they hired Cecil who has twenty years’ experience in the field but has only been at the company for 1.5 years at this point – 1/4 as long as Fergus. Cecil was hired after wages recovered, so he was hired at market rate for his skills and experience. The state of the economy at the time they were each hired compounded the difference in experience when it came to their pay. But now they have two engineers with senior-level skillsets (one who is newer to the field but has been with the company longer, the other who is newer to the company but has been in the field longer), but they only have budget for a senior and a junior.

        It’s not ideal for Cecil to be let go so that they can replace him with a cheaper junior and properly compensate the higher-performing senior. But budget layoffs like this do happen and I don’t think it’s quite as ruthless as people who think Cecil has been with the company for 20 years and Fergus is a new hire.

        1. Nate*

          Thanks for the clarification, especially regarding hiring order. That’s a very different picture than the one I had in my head. I am sorry you didn’t get to keep Fergus, but if the new salary offered him was that much higher, you were probably never going to keep him. Good on you for supporting his move.

        2. Artemesia*

          Companies really need to do equity raises when market peaks and valleys leave some people with depressed salaries. I had a boss that gave me a 30% raise on year which barely made my salary ok on par with similar people not anything fabulous. It was after a merger with an organization that paid more plus salaries had risen dramatically in the few years I had been working. People hired in earlier were way behind. I was soon a manager and gave our most important person 10% raises 3 years in a row to give him a semi-equitable salary.

        3. TootsNYC*

          I don’t know for sure, but I’d think that there’s actually a big benefit to having Cecil, who has worked at other companies, over Fergus, who has only worked at this company.

          That variety of experience is actually something I like. I know I’d often prefer to hire from outside than to promote, and I wouldn’t consider it horrible if that meant that my junior people left me and went to work at a midlevel job somewhere else.

          I’ve never really been in that position, but I know I’ve often seen people learn bad habits in our company, or just learn only one way to do things. And I’ve seen people bring in fresh, good experience from other places.

    3. Kate*

      I have to disagree with you and the other commenters just a little bit. Experience should mean increased expertise, but it doesn’t always. Skills, age, expertise, and experience are all different things from what I have seen and heard.

      Some one might be an expert in one skill for example, or a novice in many skills. Someone might have thirty years of experience in their field, but only in one small part of it, or doing one thing. I know some knitters who have been knitting for decades, for example, but have only ever knit garter stitch scarves. They have tons of experience, but not a lot of expertise. Whereas you could have someone, like me, who has been knitting for over 10 years, and has knit intricate lace and complex colorwork. I have a lot of expertise, and some experience, though not as much experience.

      Experience and expertise sometimes go together, but definitely not always, and we should never assume we know someone’s expertise or skills in a field because of their age (not that you or other commenters here ever would).

  13. beetrootqueen*

    honestly I’m just happy for Fergus. he needed to get out of a situation where he was under valued and he did.

    It sucks that you lost your star performer but honestly it sounds like he deserved better and now you guys need to look at your hiring processes and make sure this mistake doesn’t happen again.

    1. Koko*

      And careers are long – you never know, a rising star like Fergus could end up being the VP in charge of hiring when OP is applying for a Director position 10 years from now, and he’ll remember that OP was candid with him, and treated him with respect. Even if he’s not the VP, perhaps he’s the Deputy Director whose assessment the VP relies heavily on – but the result is the same. Doing right by someone who is going places in life can only come back to help you later!

  14. FD*

    You did the right thing, OP. It sucks that you weren’t able to keep your star performer, but you did right by him, and that matters. It’s also the smart thing to do, because it builds a useful connection. You’ve seen too how your company’s ownership and management treats people who do well, so you should also plan that you’ll probably have to leave yourself at some point if you want to grow.

    I have to say, though, this is why I roll my eyes every time I hear a business owner or manager complain about employees ‘not being loyal’. Loyalty has to go both ways, if it’s going to work at all. (That’s a dig at the owners in your company, not you, OP.)

  15. Artemesia*

    I love this update. Good for Fergus and may every company that keeps pay low because they think they can exploit the Ferguses of the world enjoy the same thing — having strong employees go while leaving them with highly paid cronies.

  16. BananaPants*

    What OP is describing in this second letter is how engineering consulting firms stay competitive – they have EITs to do a lot of the more routine technical work, with PEs to check their work, stamp designs, and handle the higher level aspects as well as a lot of the client relationship aspects. It’s not cost-effective to have a principal or an experienced PE doing simple tasks at, say, $250/hour billable versus an EIT at $120/hour, you save those experienced folks for the client management and technical stuff that actually requires their level of knowledge and expertise.

    I’m not at all shocked that senior leadership balked at laying off Cecil to give a newly-minted PE with less experience a significant bump in pay beyond what Fergus likely already received when he got his PE. That’s just not how the industry works. All of the other EITs in the firm know how much of a bump they can expect when they earn a PE, and to give Fergus – and only Fergus – such a huge bump, AND to do so by laying off an experienced and apparently-competent PE would have horrible optics within the firm.

    Frankly, I’m kind of surprised that our OP doesn’t know that this is how the industry is. Old school engineering disciplines (civil, structural, mechanical, etc.) and firms in those areas don’t have the start-up kind of culture where a young star will get their salary doubled to keep them from leaving. One EIT or early career PE is pretty interchangeable with another, and their clients won’t be willing to pay more on their contract to get Fergus and his stellar FEA skills. Their clients won’t CARE.

    I am a little surprised that Fergus almost doubled his salary. A 10 or 20% bump is expected – but DOUBLE? That much of a bump for an engineer may mean that the OP’s firm has EITs and early PEs on a very low, non-competitive payscale and finds themselves unable to really attract the cream of the crop to begin with.

    1. Oh what, oh what, oh what*

      If an engineering firm could bill at those numbers they would be ecstatic.
      The fact the Fergus got an almost 50% increase would seem that he was underpaid.even without the “rockstar” status.

      1. agree*

        When my son graduated 8 years ago a large international multi-disciplined engineering company that my husband worked with told him that they started out their civils at about 47k. I doubt that they are now making 94K even if they were superstars.

        1. Brett*

          I’m in a non-engineering discipline (no licensing in most states) often closely related to civil engineering. Starting pay is around 30k, but 10-year top performers (~top 1%, but that sounds like Fergus in this scenario) are doing $110/hr as W-2 consultants with benefits. It is all about how much business you can bring in.

        2. BananaPants*

          Civils are now starting out a little higher, but they still have among the lowest salaries of any engineering discipline. I would not expect a civil 6 years out of school to be making a 6 figure salary, even with a PE – which is basically a requirement for a civil or structural engineer (for us mechanicals, electricals, etc. it’s usually optional and most don’t have or need a PE). In real life I know civil engineers in high cost-of-living areas with a PE and 10+ years of experience making $80-90K, so I’d agree that Fergus may well have been wildly underpaid.

          Applying to take the PE exam is easiest if you’ve been with one firm for your EIT years, so it’s not unusual for new PEs to then feel like they can more easily job hunt once the exam was over. Fergus may have been looking around at this time regardless of salary at OP’s firm.

    2. Brett*

      > I am a little surprised that Fergus almost doubled his salary. A 10 or 20% bump is expected

      From the original letter and comments, Fergus was hired way way below market for even an EIT in the middle of the recession. The normal annual raises were already not enough to get him up to market pay for a 5-year.

      On top of that, he just earned his PE and a ton of accolades (e.g. “30 under 30”). So you not only have the bump from moving, but from earning his PE, from getting major accolades, and from 6 years of experience since he was hired while being locked into set salary increases that left him below market even without being a high performer who could justifiably be above market. I could see all of that stacking up to be “almost double” while still being a reasonable salary. And while still having reasonable pay scales at the firm, since Cecil was making more than double Fergus. Fergus was just caught in a wage compression trap.

  17. MapleTheory*

    Yes reverse age discrimination exists. I’m 26 with a masters in my field and am told often that, “I’m just a child,” by the individuals I’m advising.

    You go Fergus!

    1. Engineer Girl*

      But how much real experience do you have? In engineering book learning doesn’t count.
      It’s not age discrimination as much as experience discrimination.

        1. OhNo*

          Agreed. If there’s a gap, there are plenty of professional ways to express that there is experience/a skill/whatever that someone is lacking. Calling your coworker a child is not one of them.

      1. The Strand*

        You can have a ton of experience and have people hold your perceived age against you. It’s worse when you look younger.

        When people imagine a “whiz kid” it’s usually a young white male teenager with glasses, so if you’re female and your experience, say, with technology, began when you were still a teenager, college student or whatever, people may not actually believe you. (Note also, the term “overachiever” is usually given to women, not men, rather than just being called “geniuses” or whatever.) I’m assuming MapleTheory is a woman, but then my over-40 husband is also referred to as a “kid” by his boomer boss.

        MapleTheory is describing her/his role as “advising,” which implies the people she helps, while older, are not experts in her field and MapleTheory *is*. And it’s really evident from the original letter that the younger man has experience the older one does not.

      2. LBK*

        Presumably book learning counts for something, otherwise no one would have a need for engineers and could do everything themselves. Furthermore, you build experience by doing things – writing someone off for not having experience is a catch-22 because you’re denying them the experience you say they need.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Book learning is only the baseline. Engineers often dismiss “paper” engineers or those with little experience. That’s because there is a huge gap between theoretical and practical applications. The only way to get that experience quickly is to work under a good mentor.
          Someone that only has a few years experience shouldn’t be in an advisory capacity because they don’t know what they don’t know.
          Think about it – doctors arent real doctors until they’ve done their residency. They practice under someone until they have practical experience.

          1. Kate*

            But, as I commented above, experience doesn’t count for everything. And someone who has years of experience, but not expertise isn’t usually going to be wanted more than someone with expertise and some experience, like Fergus.

            Also, someone might have years of experience, but what were they really doing? Handling complicated and varied engineering problems successfully at various companies? Or working in the “Minor Engineering” department doing almost exactly the same thing for decades?

  18. LegalPerson202*

    It’s strange how some companies work.

    I’ve worked as a temp lawyer in a large company for the last year. Everyone has said that I’m doing a fantastic job.

    Yet, I was told that there is no chance of the company hiring me perm despite the quality of my performance and the desire to hire e perm because the general counsel does not want to hire senior (read “older “) counsel regardless of performance.

    Part of the problem is that senior management is penny wise , pound foolish. They would rather pay a junior attorney 35k less although senior counsel would produce more value and savings to the company.

    However, the biggest issue is that senor management has many entrenched beliefs. Eg they assume I won’t adapt although my ability to adapt is one of the things that those who see my work like about me.

    In short, I’ve decided to look for perm work elsewhere. I wonder if employees at OP company are also seeing a management that’s uninterested in performance and are looking for greener pastures elsewhere.

  19. Elizabeth West*

    That sucks to hear, but I’m glad that Fergus is able to be adequately compensated. I hope the OP finds something better too. Props for offering him a great reference.

  20. CommonSenseIsExtinct*

    I would love to know what the “higher ups” thought of Fergus leaving and what his salary was – and how they feel about their wonderful “structure” now?

  21. Anon Guy*

    As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve come to realize that it’s not always about money (though DOUBLE salary would be tempting).

    Two years ago, I took a 10% pay cut to move to a company where I had always wanted to work. It turned out to be better than I even imagined. I get to work at home once a week, my co-workers are all engaged and energetic, the company pays for me to attend educational seminars and conferences (which I never did in my old job) AND, the kicker, after two years I’m now making more than I did at the old place.

    My point is that, for companies that can’t offer more money, perhaps you can find a benefit or perk that will keep high performers happy.

    1. MsCHX*

      +1 My company offers decent pay but I know I can make more money elsewhere. But I love 1) my 6 mile commute 2) my fantastic coworkers 3) having autonomy 4) being able to work from home whenever I want with notice to my manager 5) extra paid holidays that are NOT common to corporate America 6) closed the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day

      So while I COULD get more money right now, I am happy where I am. But yeah, double would be hard not to consider! :)

  22. CBH*

    OP just wanted to say “well done” for how you handled a tough situation. I give you credit in that you were realistic to the situation, upfront and honest, and fought for what you thought was right. I know that the outcome leaves you in an even tougher situation, but you seem to have a good head on your shoulders and not tunneled vision in your view.

  23. Chriama*

    I wish you’d told us what the higher-ups said when Fergus left! As others have pointed out, maybe he just outgrew his role. Cecil is an adequate employee, and I guess when it came to laying someone off vs. letting someone leave naturally the company decided to take the path of least resistance. Unless Fergus as the only lead would have resulted in a lot more money for the company, that was not an unreasonable decision. Now that you have the budget for a new EIT, do your best to bring them in at market rate. I think you have to resolve yourself to hiring and training junior employees for senior positions at other companies, but you can still get a few good years of work out of them before they move on. As long as you treat them well and are candid with them when they have no further room to grow, I think it’s fine to work this way.

  24. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, this was a crappy situation, but you did right by Fergus and did everything within your power to try to retain an excellent employee. Although it’s a loss for your company, you acted with integrity and compassion. Best of luck as you explore your next move!

  25. Isabel*

    I am glad you were candid with him ….. So he can manage his career accordingly….salary issues aside they did not value what he brought to the table…

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