In the ongoing pursuit of workplace equity and inclusion, ageism emerges as a subtle yet powerful barrier that often goes unaddressed. Ageism in the workplace can have significant and far-reaching effects on individuals, teams and organizations. 

What Is Ageism?

Ageism is a form of discrimination based on age, where preconceived notions and stereotypes unfairly influence how individuals are treated in various aspects of life, including the workplace.

Decreased job satisfaction, reduced career opportunities, underused skills, knowledge and experience, as well as impaired team dynamics and performance are just some of the ways ageism can harm a workforce. 

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The Dangers of Workplace Ageism

Nearly a third (30 percent) of U.S. workers have felt unfairly treated due to their age at some point in their careers, according to a 2023 study by the Society for Human Resource Management. Seventy-two percent of those workers say it even made them feel like quitting their jobs. 

The study also reported that according to people managers, older employees are more likely to be perceived by others as not competent with technology (49 percent), resistant to new ways of doing things (38 percent) and stubborn or grumpy (48 percent).

Ageism in the workplace can also expose organizations to legal risks and liabilities, as many countries have anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals from unfair treatment based on age. In fact, three in five workers who are 40 or older say they have experienced workplace discrimination, according to AARP’s most recent Value of Experience survey

Addressing ageism is a strategic imperative for organizations aiming to create a workplace that maximizes the potential of all employees. 

While states vary in the level of protection they give workers, federal protections cover those older than 40 from discrimination through the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). These protections cover hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs, compensation, benefits, job assignments and training. The law also offers protection from harassment based on a person’s age. Companies have paid the price under the ADEA for age-based biases, with some individual age discrimination lawsuits costing businesses anywhere from $2.85 million to $250 million.

Addressing ageism is a matter of legal and ethical responsibility. It is also a strategic imperative for organizations aiming to create a positive, diverse and inclusive workplace that maximizes the potential of all employees, regardless of age. 

By 2030, Americans aged 65 or older are expected to make up 9.5 percent of the entire workforce. The number of workers aged 65 or older will increase by 52 percent between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the number of older Americans in the labor force grows in the coming decades, experts predict that the impacts of age discrimination will also increase. By 2050, age discrimination could cost the United States nearly $4 trillion of economic contributions from the 50-plus population.

 

5 Signs of Ageism in the Workplace

Ageism can be subtle and unintentional, often ingrained in organizational practices. Recognizing these signs is crucial for creating an age-inclusive workplace that values the contributions of employees across all age groups. Here are some signs that a workplace might be ageist.
 

Inequitable Opportunities

Workers face inequitable barriers to career advancement, promotions or training opportunities compared with their counterparts of a different age. 
 

Age-Related Jokes or Comments

Inappropriate jokes or comments about an individual’s age are tolerated or prevalent in the workplace, creating an uncomfortable or hostile environment.
 

Exclusion from Decision Making

Employees, based on age, are consistently excluded from decision-making processes, suggesting a lack of recognition for their insights or experience.
 

Ageist Recruitment

An ageist recruitment process favors younger candidates, with job advertisements containing language that may discourage older applicants or requirements that disproportionately favor recent graduates.
 

Inflexible Policies

Policies that lack flexibility may disadvantage employees of certain ages, especially those who may benefit from alternative work arrangements or phased retirement options but aren’t considered eligible. 

Recognizing these signs can be the first step toward addressing ageism in the workplace and promoting a culture of inclusivity and respect for individuals of all ages. Eliminating ageism from the workplace will make the best use of  talent, foster a positive workplace culture and promote innovation and creativity. These advantages contribute to the wellbeing of individual employees and to the overall success and sustainability of the organization.

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How To Eliminate Ageism From the Workplace

Reaping the benefits of an age-inclusive workplace requires a commitment to fostering an environment that values and respects individuals of all age groups. Here are nine practical ways to promote age inclusion.
 

revamp Policies

Examine existing policies to identify and eliminate age-related biases. Ensure that HR policies and procedures are fair and inclusive, addressing issues such as hiring, promotions, training and retirement.
 

remove Age Indicators

Remove age indicators, such as the year a candidate graduated from college, from resumes during the initial stages of recruitment to focus on skills and qualifications. Encourage interviewers to assess candidates based on their abilities rather than making assumptions about their capabilities and value to the organization based on age.
 

encourage Multigenerational collaboration

Create opportunities for employees of different age groups to collaborate. Implement mentorship programs where experienced employees can share their knowledge with younger colleagues, and vice versa. This promotes a culture of mutual respect and understanding.
 

offer Flexibility

Offer flexible work arrangements that cater to the diverse needs of employees, including those at different life stages. This could include flexible hours, remote work options or part-time schedules to accommodate varying lifestyles and responsibilities.
 

support Professional development

Support ongoing learning and professional development for all employees, regardless of age. This ensures that everyone has the opportunity to stay updated on industry trends and technologies, promoting a culture of continuous learning.
 

review Benefits packages

Review and adjust benefits packages to cater to the needs of employees at different stages of their careers. Consider offerings such as wellness programs, healthcare options, and retirement plans that address the diverse needs of a multi-generational workforce.
 

get rid of Ageist language

Eliminate ageist language from company communications and job advertisements. Use inclusive language that emphasizes the importance of skills, experience, and contributions rather than age-related characteristics.
 

Include all ages in Decision making

Involve employees of all ages in decision-making processes. Seek input on policies, initiatives and workplace changes to ensure that diverse perspectives are considered.
 

Regularly assess DEI strategies

Regularly assess the workplace for inclusion and diversity. Use surveys, focus groups or other feedback mechanisms to understand the experiences of employees of different age groups and identify areas for improvement.

Creating an age-inclusive workplace requires commitment, continuous effort and open communication. By taking these steps, you can contribute to building a workplace culture that values diversity and promotes the well-being and success of employees of all ages. 

Remember, though, that age is only one identity and one part of a person. An inclusive organization needs to meet the inclusion needs of all people and all identities. By taking an intersectional approach to inclusion and applying the 8-inclusion needs of all people to decision-making and ways of working in your organization, you will address the inclusion needs of people from all generations.

Eliminating ageism is not just a moral imperative. It is an essential step toward creating a workplace where individuals of all ages can thrive. By recognizing the signs of ageism, organizations can take practical steps to foster inclusivity, unlocking the full potential of their diverse workforce and ensuring a more dynamic and successful future.

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