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Ageism in the Workplace and How to Avoid It

Ageism in the Workplace and How to Avoid It
Reading Time: 4 minutes

There is a common belief that modern-day companies are discrimination-free. Nevertheless, there are still some behaviors or practices that go unnoticed and contribute to developing ageism in the workplace. On top of that, the risks of setting an age-discrimination atmosphere are serious regarding employee development, satisfaction, and performance. 

Despite the consequences that this may result in for your company, legal or not, finding out on resignation letters, social reviews, or exit surveys that current or former employees experienced age discrimination will be highly unpleasant and definitely affect your employer branding. Keep reading and learn more about what age discrimination looks like and how to prevent ageism in the workplace. 

What is ageism in the workplace? 

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act has set age as a protected characteristic in the workplace since its foundation, stipulating any type of stereotypes or biases based on age as work discrimination–this includes hiring, firing, work assignments, and promotions. 

Ageism in the workplace refers to the discrimination against a person based on their age. However, this type of prejudice is more common toward older workers, although there are forms of ageism that affect younger generations

Older workers face age discrimination in different situations. As an employer, ageism can be a part of some workplace settings or situations, such as being left out of big tasks or fast-paced projects due to questioning their capabilities. On the other hand, as job-seekers, older workers face a lack of senior citizens’ jobs or unfair work conditions and salaries on the opportunities available. 

The negative consequences of age discrimination are for both employers and employees: salary reductions, a decline in workplace happiness, legal problems, and even physical and mental health afflictions are likely to happen when dealing with ageism. 

What does ageism look like in the workplace?

There’s a thin line between an objective performance review and another influenced by negative stereotypes about older workers. Despite the legal efforts to have a clear-cut legislature, real-life applications aren’t that simple. So, in order to identify if there is ageism in your workplace, you’ll have to know how it looks and understand that age distinctions and performance must be analyzed separately. 

Usually, companies aren’t aware of any discriminatory practices they are incurring. In fact, age discrimination can go completely unnoticed, but also benign actions or behaviors in the workplace can be misunderstood as ageism by some people. 

Before jumping to conclusions, keep an eye out for any of these signs of age discrimination in your workplace. 

Limited training and learning opportunities 

A common and irrefutable proof of ageism in the workplace is how balanced training and learning opportunities are. If educational coursework, access to reimbursement for continuing education, and professional or industry conference attendance aren’t offered equally, you should re-evaluate your prevention policies about age discrimination. 

Treatment and workload differences

Overlooking older workers for challenging assignments, sharing unfairly unpleasant or tedious tasks, limiting their time off, or leaving them out of client meetings or company activities are other examples of age discrimination in employment. Transparency in the workplace is key when it comes to avoiding ageism; the more transparent you are about the workloads and benefits, the easier it will be to notice any age discrimination practices. 

Age remarking comments

Despite some people framing these comments as subtle and playful, aside from being rude, “joking” about a worker’s age is a clear form of ageism in the workplace since it’s downright aggressive. As an employer or coworker, avoid jokes about an older worker’s skill set, retirement plan, or health condition to prevent age discrimination issues. 

Lack of promotion and raises

This is the trickiest form of ageism in the workplace to identify. As mentioned above, performance reviews should be done without any type of bias. An older worker can be skipped for a promotion because there’s someone more skilled ahead. There’s no harm in that.  But if, as an employer, you deny a raise or modify an employee’s salary because of their age, then you’re incurring age discrimination. 

How can you solve ageism in the workplace? 

The first step to solving ageism problems in the workplace is to face the issue and evaluate thoroughly every aspect of your company. In many cases, there’s no actual malice or even knowledge about being discriminatory. Most of the time, these behaviors go unnoticed and unquestionably because people mainly replicate patterns and stereotypes. 

If, as an employee or employer, you have experienced or identified any age discrimination problems, here are a few actions you can take to prevent the further development of ageism in the workplace. 

  1. Raise awareness about age discrimination.
  2. Foster clear communication.
  3. Promote diversity in the workplace.
  4. Tailor clear and inclusive job descriptions.
  5. Keep your workplace stereotype-free.
  6. Be aware of inconvenient adjectives toward employees.

Ageism is just one type of discrimination, but you should stay mindful of any kind of exclusion your company may be incurring. Inclusivity is vital when it comes to fighting against the issue; older workers and other untapped talent pools will help you foster diversity in the workplace and prevent work discrimination.

It goes beyond just avoiding or raising awareness about ageism in the workplace, as the outcomes of a diverse workforce will boost your company with unmatched benefits.

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Contributed by Luis Arellano

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