Employers often stereotype and discriminate against older workers because of their age even though they are not necessarily less educated, less skillful, less productive, or less healthy than younger workers, explained the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN’s specialized agency. Older women face challenges in the workplace due to their sex and age, said the agency. However, men are also subjected to ageism.
Older employees may be asked if they have email or have colleagues speaking more slowly or louder to them than other younger workers, noted Stephanie Sarkis of Forbes. Stereotypes aside, older workers may also be seen as people who can handle responsibility better, feel more fulfilled, and seek intellectual endeavors than younger ones. Older employees are also more knowledgeable, “have more highly developed skills,” emotionally stable, and conscientious in their work.
Alarming Statistics On Ageism In the Workplace, According to AARP (2018) and Hiscox (2019)
400 full-time employees surveyed by insurance company Hiscox experienced age discrimination in American workplaces and those who were 40 years old felt its impacts. 44% reported that they or someone they know experienced ageism in the workplace, 36% felt their age hindered them from getting a job since turning 40, 26% felt there were at risk of losing their job because of their age, and 21% experienced ageism themselves.
This also supports the findings of AARP, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Americans 50 and above, in which it surveyed 3,900 people over 45 years who either were employed or looking for a job. According to the organization, 16% believed they did not get a job they applied for, 12% reported being passed over for a promotion, and 7% said had been fired, laid off, forced out of their job.
Among those who thought it was somewhat likely they could lose their job the following year, 33% said they felt vulnerable because of their age and 76% of the respondents noted that it could take them over three months to find new work. When asked to rate which factors made them work or look for a job, 87% answered “need the money” and 84% wanted “to save more for retirement.”
Sadly, ageism is underreported in the workplace despite older workers being protected by federal and state laws, said Hiscox. In fact, only 40% of those who experienced ageism filed a charge or complaint, with 75% filing a complaint with their employer. Only 48% of respondents filed a complaint with a state or local agency or the EEOC. The respondents did not want to file a complaint because they were afraid of creating a hostile work environment (54%) and they did not know how to initiate a complaint (24%).
Regarding gender, 43% of men believed their age hindered them from finding new job opportunities compared to 30% of women. 39% of men felt their age stunted their career advancement unlike 24% of women. More men (50%) than women (38%) experienced or witnessed ageism in the workplace.
37% witnessed age discrimination but 51% did not report it. 62% of those who witnessed ageism did not report it because they are afraid that their employer would retaliate. Older workers were also stereotyped by their younger colleagues, with 66% of those aged 40 and above seen as resistant to change. Younger employees also saw them as not tech savvy or not liking technology (54%), too highly compensated to retain (39%), complacent or unmotivated (21%), and difficult to manage (20%).
In the AARP survey, 93% said “a boss who treats you with respect” would be the respondents’ requirement before taking a new job. 90% also said they would need colleagues that would treat them respectfully.
Ageism Is A Form of Discrimination But Is Tolerated In the Workforce
Diane Huth lamented she is unemployable because of her age, then-69, stated Joe Kita of AARP. She worked in corporate America for over 40 years with big-name corporations in branding. She was unable to get a job or an interview due to the screening mechanism. “I’m just too old; nobody takes me seriously for a job at my age, even in things I had excelled at.”
What most companies fail to understand is that older people possess more knowledge and experience that is worth paying for. Such knowledge is not easily replaced. Founder and CEO of Respectful Exits Paul Rupert said companies know what is essential to their success. However, the firm loses capital and face repercussions if that knowledge is not passed on to the next generation.
Moreover, older people who head to job interviews or aim for a promotion may be compelled to dress younger and act like technology is their best friend. An engineering executive in his late 50s, who requested to remain anonymous, narrated, “I learned to structure my résumé in ways so it’s not obvious how old I am.” He would get calls and it would end well. But when he went to interviews, he would never hear back from the recruiter or be informed that another applicant got the job.
In America, ageism in the workplace is prevalent and even tolerated. It’s a form of discrimination and according to Kristin Alden, an attorney specializing in employee rights at the Alden Law Group in Washington, D.C, people are not aware that ageism is illegal.
Age discrimination occurs in recruitment and hiring when younger job seekers are preferred by the recruiter because of their age. On-the-job bias happens when older employees receive fewer promotions, rewards, and training opportunities, or harassed. Termination can also be a form of ageism when a firm lays off or encourages its senior employees to retire to “freshen” up the workplace or slash budgets.
Corporate Culture Should be Changed to Accommodate Older Workers
Supervisors and staff should be aware of any bias against the age of their interviewees and employees. They should try collaborating with an organizational psychologist to find any existing age bias in the company. Recruiters conducting interviews should be educated in recognizing and addressing potential bias.
For older employees, they can address age-related issues directly with their colleagues or employers. Responses should be framed as “I feel” statements and the word “you” should be avoided to prevent defensive behavior from arising.
For example, older workers can say, “When I am asked whether I have email, I feel demeaned because I am very adept at technology,” Sarkis said. They can also request suggestions if there are any concerns surrounding their use of technology.
Stereotypes prevent companies from leveraging the knowledge and skills of older employees. It doesn’t mean older workers are tech-challenged or not open to change. In the workplace, older colleagues can mentor younger ones and vice versa. Ageism should be addressed to foster a healthier and more inclusive workforce.