As I documented in a recent report, Exposed: Behind the Brain Drain at Consumer Reports, 16 experienced editors were induced to leave Consumer Reports during the past three years. All, it turns out, were aged 50 or older.
Since I wrote that report in July, several more key staffers in that age range, both editors and non-editors, have left the organization. One expects this sort of exodus from profit-making organizations that have mastered the fine art of driving out older, more costly workers.
But at the nonprofit consumer watchdog, Consumer Reports?
For an organization that has long prided itself on championing older Americans—Consumer Reports’ cover story for November 2015, A Crying Shame, for example, is a terrific investigative report that documents financial abuse of Americans aged 60 or older—a mass exodus of its own middle-aged managers should be considered quite unseemly, if not outright embarrassing.
One would think that, in an organization whose leadership feels this strongly about protecting the most vulnerable consumers, there would be zero tolerance for making its own middle-aged staffers feel unwelcome by, for example, disparaging their work and competence.
Here’s how Forbes Magazine recently described this kind of treatment, in which an older worker becomes “suddenly stupid:” If, after years of great performance reviews, you’re getting reprimanded for things everyone does, or being nitpicked for things the company didn’t care about before, it’s possible that the company is gearing up for what I call the ‘suddenly stupid defense.’ They’re building a case to get rid of you for poor performance – trying to show a ‘legitimate reason’ other than age for firing you.”
Yet, that is precisely the kind of treatment that has been reported to me—even quite recently—by former middle-aged CR staffers who have left the organization they loved. It was also practiced during my final year as an editor at Consumer Reports; it’s one of the reasons I left in May 2014.
It’s not as if CR’s top brass has no idea anything improper has been going on. The entire CR Board and CEO were informed privately, at least six months ago, about inappropriate conduct by managers, but they appear to have ignored that input.
That leaves, in my mind, serious doubts about Consumer Reports’ moral authority. I hope that CR subscribers, and all concerned consumers, will urge Consumer Reports’ leaders to return the organization to its ethical roots.