Ageism in the workplace

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Ageism in the workplace Ageism in the workplace

These days, companies are putting more effort into getting serious about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. But while there are great strides being made towards stamping out unfair and outdated employment practices, there is still an issue that is very much present in any industry worldwide: ageism.

Older workers are typically more knowledgeable and experienced than younger employees. However, they are often overlooked in favor of their less experienced younger counterparts.

We’re going to shed some light on this issue and delve into facts about age discrimination in the workplace, including eye-opening statistics, signs of ageism, and how to manage age bias.

What Is Ageism?

Ageism, also called age discrimination, refers to when an employee receives unfair treatment, such as being denied career opportunities or work assignments because of their age.

Age-based discrimination does not only affect older employees. It can also happen to younger workers. Ageism can look different depending on the age group.

For instance, a 28-year-old worker might be passed up for a managerial position because they are “too young” to lead a team despite having the experience and skills to thrive in the position.

In another example, an older worker near retirement age might be talked out of attending an industry conference because it may be “too tiring” and they should probably “take it easy this month.”

While ageism can affect all age groups, most studies have found that age-related workplace discrimination occurs more frequently among older workers aged 50 and up.

Important Statistics About Ageism In The Workplace

Before putting innovative approaches to manage and remove age stereotypes in the workplace, it is important to have a range of perspectives from other people in the industry.

We’ve listed several statistics below that illustrate the challenges older adults face as they grapple with ageism in the workplace.

  • Nearly 80% of older employees say they have either seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. (AARP)
  • Around 6.3 million cases of depression worldwide are believed to be caused by ageism. (WHO)
  • Older people exposed to subliminal ageism and negative stereotypes are more likely to have poor performance on cognitive and physical tasks. (WHO)
  • Only 8% of companies that adopted strategies promoting diversity and inclusion included age as a factor. (PricewaterhouseCoopers)
  • Around 6% of age discrimination claims filed in 2020 ended in settlements totaling at least $76 million. (EEOC)
  • Only 6% of hiring managers use an unbiased hiring process when looking for new employees. (AARP)

Laws Against Age Discrimination In The Workplace

Ageism in the workplace Ageism in the workplace

There are laws in place that are designed to protect older and younger people from age discrimination. However, not many employees are aware of state laws against age-based discrimination.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1976 protects older applicants and employees aged 40 and up from ageism in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or privileges of employment.

It is also unlawful to harass co-workers because of their age. Harassment can include making offensive remarks about one’s age, especially if it leads to a hostile or toxic work environment or an adverse employment decision (i.e. the victim gets demoted or fired).

The law covers harassment by a co-worker, a supervisor, a person from a different department, a client, and even a customer.

Signs of Ageism In The Workplace

Most companies will say that there is no sign of ageism in their workplace. It may be true for some, but age discrimination can go completely unnoticed. In addition, a younger worker might take a certain behavior as benign but an older person may interpret it as ageism.

If you are concerned that there is age discrimination in your workplace, here are some signs to watch for.

Hearing or Reading Age-related Insults or Messages

Employees or managers who make age-related remarks in a demeaning tone may not be considered harassment as of yet, but it can signal a larger issue.

Whether intentional or unintentional, comments that communicate hostile or negative slights to another person or group can be considered micro-aggressions and should be addressed.

Look for a Pattern of Hiring Younger Employees

This pattern is more commonly seen in tech companies. According to the EEOC, at least 70% of IT employees in Silicon Valley and the tech industry have either experienced or witnessed ageism in the workplace first-hand.

If you notice a hiring pattern centered around younger candidates, you could be on to an age discrimination issue. While employers will never say it outright, they could be looking for younger workers due to misconceptions about the abilities, work pace, knowledge, and sociability of older workers.

Additionally, be on the lookout for the use of the term “overqualified.” While it’s not always the case, “overqualified” can be a sign of age discrimination.

Getting Turned Down For Job Opportunities

If older workers are being turned down for job opportunities like promotions that ended up going to younger employees who were less qualified for the position, that may be a sign of ageism in the workplace.

Another pattern to look out for is members of the older populations being forced to “lighten their load” or having challenging work removed from their plates. This type of tactic can frustrate and demoralize your workers and perpetuate the false belief that people near or in retirement ages are less knowledgeable and capable than their younger counterparts.

Being Isolated

Similar to the previous point, employees experiencing discrimination may be left out of important company meetings and discussions. Some employees would even find their desks isolated from their department or other team members, making it more difficult for them to contribute to the team.

Encouraging or Forcing Retirement

In many cases, companies offer the older members of their workforce retirement packages to push them out. These packages are often hard to turn down.

For instances when employees turn down the retirement offer, some companies will still go ahead with removing older workers from their company by firing them anyway.

Similarly, some companies also enact a mandatory retirement age. This, however, is an illegal practice.

Having a Job Role Eliminated

Laying off older employees can signal ageism in the workplace. To counter this, some companies choose to eliminate job roles belonging to older workers, after which they will hire younger employees for a similar job role with a different title. This practice can indicate age discrimination in the workplace.

Why Manage Age Discrimination In The Workplace?

Ageism in the workplace is bad for business, regardless of the industry it is in. Businesses with age discrimination are at risk of a large settlement. They also miss out on a pool of talented older workers in the hiring process.

Change, however, is on the horizon. There are many ways to combat ageism in the workplace. Here is a list of things you can start doing now to keep age discrimination out of your company.

  1. Never assume you do not have ageism in the workplace
  2. Invest in discrimination and diversity training. This training will help company supervisors and employees understand the benefits of age diversity and the possible consequences of ageism in the workplace.
  3. Make a commitment to fight the stereotype of an older professional without knowledge of technology
  4. Project the same level of professionalism to both older and younger employees
  5. Put policies in place that stress your company will not tolerate unfair treatment based on age.
  6. Implement an award system that rewards employees based on performance and their value to the company instead of tenure.

Finally, if you do see signs of ageism in the workplace, or you personally experience age discrimination, take detailed notes of the incident and bring it up to management.