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Ageism in the Workplace

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

An older woman and a younger woman at work together

Though many companies and organizations have been implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives to prevent discrimination and create an inclusive environment in the workplace, bias due to employee age is sometimes overlooked. As many individuals continue to work even as they age, there exists experiences of ageism in their work environments. While it is most common for older generations, ageism can affect younger workers as well. Research conducted by SHRM shows that about 30% of U.S. workers say they have felt unfairly treated due to their age at some point in their career.

Continue reading to learn more about ageism in the workplace and how best to prevent it within your organization.

Understanding Ageism in the Workplace

When an employee or candidate is discriminated against based on their age, this is known as workplace ageism. This mostly affects older workers; research shows that older employees are more likely to be perceived by others as not competent with technology, resistant to new ways of doing things, and stubborn or grumpy. Other misconceptions include older workers possessing outdated skills and lacking in creativity compared to younger workers.

When companies deny candidates that they deem too old or when older employees start to feel undervalued, there is potential for great loss in valuable experience or knowledge. In the business world, age is just a number, and it is crucial for companies to keep in mind that growing older does not equal a negative impact on work performance and productivity.

Examples of Ageism in the Workplace

Signs of ageism in the workplace are not always clear and obvious. As with many forms of unconscious bias against different aspects of employees, these acts of discrimination can sometimes be unintentional. Let’s look at some examples of workplace ageism:

  • Age discrimination in job descriptions: Clear signs of ageism include listings that seek young workers or recent college graduates. More subtle cases incorporate words and phrases that suggest a search for young workers. These might include “fresh,” “tech-savvy,” “energetic,” or “active.”

  • Reinforcing misconceptions about older workers: False assumptions about older workers, such as being bad with technology or holding certain opinions and beliefs, can lead to denied opportunities for these individuals. Actions such as giving a technology-based project to a younger employee can cause older employees to feel undervalued due to unfair treatment.

  • Limiting promotional opportunities: Rewarding employees through raises, promotions, and bonuses should be based on their job performance. However, consistently favoring younger workers over older ones may indicate workplace ageism.

  • Ageist remarks: Signs of ageism can be obvious in ageist remarks or harassment. These can range from teasing about someone’s age or retirement plans to pressuring them to retire or calling them names such as “ancient.”

How to Prevent Ageism in the Workplace

There are different things that company leaders can do to keep ageism out of their work environment and hiring practices. Read on to learn more:

  • Review job descriptions and screening process: As stated previously, certain language used in job descriptions can discriminate against certain individuals. Reviewing these listings and removing words that might suggest a search for younger workers will help attract a larger applicant pool. In addition, using blind recruiting is a great way to avoid discrimination in the screening process. Consider removing information from resumes and applications that could hint at a candidate’s age.

  • Highlight age inclusivity in DEI initiatives: When developing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, remember to include age when celebrating all aspects of diversity. Training employees on how to recognize and overcome age bias is a critical step in preventing ageism in the workplace.

  • Offer professional development opportunities: When you invest in employees’ careers, it shows them that they are valued in a company. Do not limit growth opportunities for older workers, instead be sure to provide them with the chance to advance their role and their skills. Consider allowing them to mentor younger employees to encourage collaboration across different age groups.

It is important to address and eliminate ageism in the workplace in order to promote inclusivity and diversity in your organization. Many older workers will remain members of the workforce, so be sure to review your workplace culture and hiring practices so that they are fair and welcoming for everyone.



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