Anti-Ageism in the Workplace
Ageism is the most socially accepted, normalized and tolerated form of discrimination today. It is the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups based on their age. Ageism, like racism and sexism stems, from the assumption that all people of a group (i.e. older people) are the same. Within the workplace, older adults are less likely to be hired, receive training and experience more discrimination than their younger colleagues.
Five ways you can combat ageism in the workplace:
- Take the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Ageist Attitudes quiz
- Use these tips to look out for signs of age discrimination at work
- Start a conversation about ageism by sharing our “Aging Cream” ageism awareness video or downloading the campaign posters
- Talk to your HR department about your organization’s people policies and practices
- Take the NICE Relating to Older People Evaluation
Bringing awareness to ageism provides an opportunity to reduce the negative impacts that discrimination has on older adults.
An individual who is discriminated against due to their age can begin to believe that they are worthless, lack value and are no longer a contributing member of their community.
Negative thoughts about aging can impact someone’s health and lead to:
- A reduction in lifespan by 7.5 years
- Increased cardiovascular stress
- Lowered levels of self-efficacy
- Reduced productivity
Creating awareness about ageism will assist in supporting healthy aging and improving the working relationships across all age-generations in the workplace, as well as, among families, friends, and in the community.
Ageism can be found everywhere and can be intentional and unintentional.
Simply type the word “age” into a search engine and you will see examples of the ageist language and imagery we are bombarded with on a daily basis.
Aging is often described as a negative process that stereotypes adults as:
- Losing their cognition
In contrast, there are also patronizing stereotypes of seniors, when people assume that all older adults are wise, caring or cute.
“Elderspeak” is when younger people use slow, simplified communication, sometimes with a singsong cadence that sounds a lot like baby talk, that is directed at older people.
In contrast, the media also emphasizes ‘successful aging’ as:
- Starting to run marathons at the age of 89 years old. (Article: 106 Year Old Fauja Singh to Start Birmingham Marathon)
- Becoming the oldest person to skydive at the age of 102. (Article: 102-Year-Old Woman Becomes Oldest Person Ever to Skydive)
- Being a celebrity of fashion, ballet, tango and yoga at the age of 92 years old.
What happens to those who do not ‘age successfully’?
These are all examples of ageism.
Ageism includes: prejudice (stereotypes and attitudes), personal discrimination (behaviours), and institutional discrimination (policies and practices).
It can be intentional and unintentional.
Ageism in Canada
- One in three Canadians admit they have treated someone differently due to their age
- 63 per cent of seniors aged 66+ say they have been treated unfairly or differently as a result of their age
- 71 per cent agree that Canadian society values younger generations more than older ones.
- Half of Canadians say ageism is the most tolerated social prejudice (versus gender or race-based discrimination)
- 89 per cent of Canadians associate aging with something negative like not being able to get around easily, losing independence or being alone
Types of Discrimination Faced by Older Canadians
- 41 per cent say they have been ignored or treated as though I am invisible
- 38 per cent say people have assumed they have nothing to contribute
- 27 per cent say people have assumed that they’re incompetent
- 19 per cent say people have assumed they’re hard of hearing
- 16 per cent say people have assumed they have memory loss
- 12 per cent say people have treated them as a child
- 8 per cent say people have assumed they’re slow-witted
- 5 per cent say people have disrespected them
Read the Revera Report on Ageism for more details.
Think about your own interactions, behaviours and attitudes. Could they be ageist?
10 Signs of age discrimination at work:
- Hearing age-related comments or insults
- Seeing a pattern of hiring only younger employees
- Being turned down for a promotion due to age
- Being overlooked for challenging work assignments
- Becoming isolated or left out
- Being encouraged or forced to retire
- Experiencing layoffs
- Having your position eliminated
- Receiving a performance improvement plan
- Facing unfair discipline
A survey of harassment of older adults in the workplace in the United States (Blackstone 2013) showed the following percentage of people experienced:
- Having their work contributions ignored – 25.1 per cent
- Being left out of decisions that affect their work – 23.0 per cent
- Being talked down to by co-workers – 20.8 per cent
- Being talked down to by bosses – 20.2 per cent
- Verbal exchanges characterized by yelling and swearing – 13.1 per cent
- Comments or behaviours that demean their age – 12.6 per cent
- Offensive age-related jokes – 9.8 per cent
The concept of retirement is an ageist notion that at a certain age all individuals should be ready to leave the workforce. Whereas, in 2015 Statistics Canada highlighted that one in five (or 1.1 million) Canadians 65 years and older reported working, the highest recorded since 1981.
No matter what your role is at your workplace, you can ask about or volunteer to take an active role in helping to reduce ageism in any of the following areas:
Similar to harassment and workplace bullying policies, employers should clearly define acts of age discrimination and outline follow-up for management to address these instances. All employees should be aware of these policies.
Rethink Interview Processes
Inappropriate interview questions such as: asking a candidate their age, when they plan to marry, or when they hope to retire should not be part of interview questions.
Review Existing Policies & Procedures
Indirect age discrimination can also occur in the workplace. Examining any areas where there may be biases, such as in recruitment practices, sick leave policies, or training processes can help to avoid any ageist policies or practices.
Encourage Intergenerational Work
Employees can benefit from supporting and learning from one another across experiences, skills, and ages. Set up intergenerational teams or mentoring processes to support these interactions.
Highlighting the positive attributes of older workers:
- Large client networks
- Large professional networks
- High skill levels
- Low turnover rate
- Strong work ethic