An employee might feel disregarded if they’re over 40, applying for their next position, and not getting the job. Especially if they have the right qualifications, experience, and references. They may be concerned that their age could be the reason there’s no offer. Employers who want to understand the true effects of ageism, and how it can be addressed, are usually closer to achieving a more inclusive work environment that embraces all generations equally.
What is ageism?
Ageism is discrimination based on chronological age. Typically this affects older adults who are nearing retirement age, but can also impact younger workers who are starting their careers. The term ageism was first attributed in 1969 to physician Robert N. Butler who became the founding Director for the National Institute on Aging. Butler recognized ageism could occur when based on unfounded stereotypes of older adults and the aging process.
A survey conducted by the AARP in May of 2021, showed 78% of older workers indicated they had observed or encountered age discrimination. This was the highest response rate since the survey first asked this question in 2003.
Some of the most common stereotypes for older workers include:
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), helps to protect some applicants and workers over 40. Disputes are usually related to issues such as hiring, promotions, terminations and compensation.
Different ways ageism can occur in the workplace include:
While ageism can make the workplace unpleasant, it can also be expensive to rectify. Between 2010 and 2018, employers paid settlements in the amount of $810.4 million dollars for charges filed with the EEOC related to age discrimination. This amount did not include the cost of litigation.
The effects of ageism in the workplace
These stereotypes still seem to exist, particularly in the technology sector, where Payscale found the median age for most tech workers was 28 years old. For older workers, ageism often creates an office that is less productive, inclusive, and encourages turnover due to an uncomfortable and sometimes hostile work environment.
How companies are addressing ageism
Many employers are seeking out older workers because they find their work ethic, loyalty and experience in problem solving an asset. This is often filling in the labor gap caused by some younger workers who are deciding to stay for shorter periods of time with each company.
Blind Hiring – When employers use blind hiring, which removes all personal information during the screening process, such as years of graduation, candidates can be considered solely on their qualifications and not their age. Blind hiring has also been used when creating job descriptions or interview questions to ensure an unconscious bias doesn’t favor a younger demographic.
Interview questions that can indicate ageism bias:
Education about ageism – Because ageism can be more subtle than other types of prejudice, some people may not be aware they are engaging in it. Formal training about the ways ageism can seep into the workplace, and the promotion of respectful communication is often helpful. This new awareness can foster positive interactions with all co-workers and also help to end future discrimination practices and potential conflicts.
Encouraging teamwork – Employers who encourage teams that consist of multiple generations will often get different perspectives in solving difficult problems. By combining all the years of experience and different levels of expertise, solutions can usually be found faster. Also, a team solution often enriches the working relationship in the office due to having a common goal that benefits everyone.
Promoting age inclusiveness – While many people can be drawn to their age group in a work environment, finding common qualities or interests beyond age is a good way to promote an inclusive cultural fit. Similar tastes in movies, pets or outdoor activities are ways to start neutral conversations. Often stereotypes will prevent exploring common interests which can be introduced with team building activities that expand awareness.
Benefits of having a diverse generational workforce
Expanding generational experiences – When everyone has similar life experiences, it can become a challenge to fully understand the motivations of other generations. By practicing different types of communication through collaborative technology or participation in various in-person events, each generation has the opportunity to learn how to strengthen their relationships.
Retention increases overall – With the unemployment rate rising to 3.7% as of August 2022, retention is a concern for many employers. Some businesses are turning to older workers who are often willing to share their expertise after rejoining the workforce. Typically these employees are also committed to stay in their job until they retire again. This can save time and money for businesses who frequently onboard new hires replacing those who engage in job hopping.
Known as an inclusive employer – Opening the employment opportunities to include all backgrounds, including older workers, shows a company that values experience while ignoring stereotypes. Talented candidates will also seek out these inclusive employers, who appreciate their extensive backgrounds and promote ongoing success.