Ageism in the workplace

Written by Sarah Tomlin

In a world of ageing populations, extending working lives is widely viewed as an economic necessity. With up to four generations working alongside each other, organisations must ensure that their workplaces are inclusive, avoiding individual, interpersonal, and organisational harm.

Biased beliefs or assumptions had by others means that some of our characteristics, for example, gender, appearance or ethnicity, have the potential to be a huge advantage or disadvantage in the workplace. Ageism is being described as “stereotyping” or being prejudiced against people because of their age.

While ageism could be positive or negative, generally ageism has negative connotations. The typical experience of ageism is completely varied, with both the youngest and oldest workers more likely to experience it.

Multiple studies have linked age-based discrimination to negative beliefs and assumptions. The younger employees may be seen as lazy or less reliable. This can result in the employee being overlooked and missing out on potential training opportunities, greater responsibilities, or promotions. The younger workers also tend to receive lower pay than similarly experienced, older workers.

Nowadays it is common for older workers to face stereotyping in the workplace. In a more favourable way, they can be seen as more loyal, and as having a stronger work ethic. On the other hand, it is far more common for older workers to face ageism. These could be perceptions such as, being less adaptable, lacking physical capabilities or having limited technical knowledge. These negative stereotypes can lead to and result in significant discrimination. Older workers are less likely to be shortlisted for interviews, hired, offered training opportunities, or promoted.

Age diversity in workplaces is higher than ever, it is critical that organisations consider how to ensure that their workplace is inclusive for all age groups. Given the complexity of this issue, the most successful initiatives will probably be those that take a systematic and wide-ranging approach.

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