Ageism refers to the act of prejudicing, discriminating and stereotyping against people based on age. While it is often prominent with older adults, younger people can be affected as well. However, ageism in the workplace often targets employees generally between 45 to 74 years old.
Root of ageism
Ageism is one of the least-discussed biases in the world, partly because ageism is concealed cautiously. Ageism often transpires unconsciously as well. Managers commonly think of younger employees as better ‘investments.’ Adding to this common misconception, it is believed that older employees ‘decay’ over time. Older employees are thought to have lower productivity levels and an inability to adapt and learn. It is further thought that they are more fatigued. These stereotypes are embedded into the culture of an excessive number of companies.
Recognising ageism in the workplace
Two out of three employees who are aged 45 or over have either observed or experienced ageism in the workplace as per The American Association of Retired Persons. Since age discrimination can be unconscious, spotting it at the workplace can be challenging. However, the following are some signs and tips that can be strong indicators:
- Companies that have the tendency to leave older employees out of meetings and activities.
- Older employees not being considered for training or promotion opportunities
- Mundane and boring tasks are given to older employees since they are ‘better suited’ to perform them.
- Trend of older employees being fired to be replaced by younger employees
COVID-19 and ageism
Using the pandemic and elder susceptibility to the virus as an excuse, managers have been firing older employees and replacing them instantly. As per The New School’s Schwartz Centre for Economic Policy Analysis, the unemployment rate for employees aged 55 and over was substantially higher than the unemployment rat\
e for mid-career employees during the pandemic. This gap has persisted for six months or longer for the first time in 50 years.
Harmful effects of supporting ageism
Businesses and economies often lose out on valuable and experienced employees due to ageism. The American Association of Retired Persons reported that an estimated US$850 billion in GDP, 8.6 million jobs and US$545 billion in lost salaries in 2018 alone due to ageism. Younger employees may have contemporary knowledge but often have a lack of invaluable first-hand knowledge. Losing out on this experience can lead to a massive decrease in opportunities to grow.
Older employees also tend to be more mature, prepared, confident and specialised. Efficiency is accompanied by older employees and businesses can uphold their brand image without hesitancy and doubts.
Older employees tend to inspire younger generations. Their disciplined lifestyle and contribution tend to encourage employees to strive for more. Moreover, they can offer priceless advice and reassurance to younger employees who are unsure about their abilities. Further, this form of mentoring can help managers since they receive more meticulous and quality pitches. Managers also spend less time micromanaging and motivating younger employees, further driving up efficiency and reducing wastage.
Distrust within a company makes all employees look for alternatives. This distrust stems from businesses practising illegal and unethical thoughts. This distrust turns down potential employees due to increased job insecurity. If employees still choose to work, the business will likely observe low morale and loyalty. Moreover, a trend of firing older employees can attract unwanted reputation and pressure groups as well.
Managers and employees need to remember that ageism is illegal and that companies can always suffer if they are caught and reported practising age discrimination. The U.S. Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals over the age of 40 in a range of employment actions including hiring, firing, pay, promotions, job assignments, layoffs, training and benefits. Not only is ageism illegal, but it can prove to be fatal and devastating to a business.