What is Ageism in the workplace?

Ageism in the workplace also called or spelled "agism" Ageism refers to stereotyping and/or discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors and patterned on racism and sexism. Butler defined "ageism" as a combination of three elements that were connected. Among them were not good attitudes towards older adults, and the aging process that followed; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about elderly people.

While the term is also used in regards to prejudice or harmful and discrimination against adolescents and children, such as denying them certain rights, ignoring or neglecting their ideas because they are considered young, or assuming that they should behave in certain ways because their age is so, the term is predominantly used in relation to the treatment of older people. Older people themselves can be ageist deeply, having internalized a lifetime of negative stereotypes about aging and ageism in the workplace. Fear of death and disability fear and dependence on others are major causes of ageism; avoiding, segregating, and rejecting older people are coping mechanisms that allow people to avoid thinking about their own mortality.

What Ageism in the Workplace?

 Ageism in the workplace is the last stronghold of prejudice in the North American workforce.

It’s rarely obvious that’s illegal but many employers send subtle but clear messages to older workers that they’re not wanted.

And at a time when the generation that still dominates the workforce are now mostly over 50, and that’s not a wise business decision.

Companies should be doing all they can to retain the decades of industry and organizational experience and wisdom this demographic holds and is good for the organization as well.

That message of not being welcome into the place begins with the job ad. Job postings include youth-oriented postings very often and code words such as flexible, energetic and fresh.

Any older person who is applying for the job knows that applying for these jobs will be a waste of time.  The message conveyed is very clear yet again on corporate web sites featuring pictures of fresh-faced that are in their '20s and also in interviews when recruiters ask older candidates questions such as, “Where do you see yourself in the coming years or 5 years from now ?” This is appropriate for someone just starting out their career or is in the mid-career, not for someone who is focusing on helping an organization work towards its goals by contributing a lifetime of knowledge and experience.

Ageism in the workplace and age discrimination in workplace exist when employees that are over 50 years of age are passed over for promotions as well as career opportunities, and training and where social committees focus their attention on the needs and wants of younger workers.

It is very obvious when an employee, having marked its 25-year milestone at the company, suddenly starts having their work criticized by their boss.

It’s often not until a manager lets a mature employee go, then tries to fill that position with someone else, that the realization sinks in: It will take two or three new hires to meet the requirements of that position.

But why do we accept this? Because of myths about older workers: that those over 50 are resistant or are not flexible to change, technophobic, less energetic, less creative and less innovative, don’t want to learn new skills and are just putting in time until retirement. So why bother to develop the career of someone who is 55, is the question? It’s a poor return on investment.

Of course, none of this is correct. And regarding the last point, the vice versa is actually true. Younger workers have higher turnover rates than older workers — , workers 45–54 stayed on the job twice as long as those 25–34 – so concentrating training on those under 40 should be deemed the higher risk, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The truth is that older workers are not much different from their younger counterparts.

What is Creating an open and equitable workplace?

Organizations that really want all their employees to reach their full potential and have high commitment, employee retention and productivity levels need to create an equitable workplace where workers of any age feel valued and respected and remove ageism in the workplace. So where to begin?

The public profile: It begins with simple things like the website – ensuring that photos of employees not only demonstrate racial diversity but generational diversity as well should be portrayed. Recruiters need to be careful of hidden biases and ensure the language used in job postings contain no hidden codes to exclude any group of any age. 

Training and development: Like their younger counterparts, the older will leave the company if they feel shut out of training opportunities or feel there is little hope for advancement. Training and development opportunities need to be communicated to all employees and seen as being fair to all ages and all levels. Training strategies should also focus on changing attitudes, skipping generational stereotypes and including all – issues that can plague all workforce groups.   

Manager training: Managers often inadvertently display biases. For example, they often request the younger workforce as hires, seeing them as more likely to stay, less likely to get hurt and more malleable. Hence, managers need the training to help eradicate such biases. 

Promotions and new hires: Organizations have to show their commitment to an age-inclusive workplace also demonstrate it by promoting the most qualified and most capable candidates – whether those candidates are 35 or 65. Employees have to see and look at that the best and brightest are being hired – regardless of age. 

Workplace programs: Again, workplace activities must be seen as inclusive. A company family picnic or outing, mentoring programs and lunch ‘n’ learns on juggling parenting and career are great – for the under the 40s. Consider adding things that are of interest to older workers as well into the mix – retirement planning, elder care, and networking meet and greets.  

Encourage key older workers to stay past retirement: Hanging on to older employees that are longterm will be vital in the talent-scarce future. Organizations need to find ways to encourage their employees that are 50 plus to stay on and to lure retired workers back. Fostering an inclusive culture is a start. Flexible hours, working from home, contract and consultancy work, are just some of the ways companies can attract and retain mature talent critical to their success. 

Fair downsizings: In times of Corporate takeovers, it’s often younger workers who are redeployed, while mature workers are given the stark choice of being laid off, let go early retirement packages, regardless of their past and present performance. It’s considered easier and less messy and hectic to focus on older workers when downsizing. Once again, this sends a powerful message to all employees that older means expendable and less valued. While it’s never easy to lay people off, the process should be thoughtful and businesses should avoid the temptation of taking the easy way out.

 Legislation alone won’t eradicate ageism in the workplace.

Organizations play a huge role in creating a fair, inclusive workplace that not attracts, but retains and keeps the talents as well as skilled employees needed to ensure ongoing growth. And that includes welcoming and embracing workers of all ages and keeping them happy.

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