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:
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:
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:
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:
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
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:
A survey of harassment of older adults in the workplace in the United States (Blackstone 2013) showed the following percentage of people experienced:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read 10 Advantages of Retaining and Hiring Older Workers: Lessons from NYC Small Businesses.