Ageism in the Workplace: How Seniors Can Break Barriers

Monday, January 10, 2022

While significant efforts have been made to remove discrimination on the basis of race, sex or religion from the workplace, one ‘ism’ still hasn’t been dealt with.

Article 4 Minutes
Ageism in the Workplace: How Seniors Can Break Barriers

Ageism is discrimination on the basis of age and with more older employees now remaining in the workforce, and it’s a form of discrimination that’s becoming more prevalent.

If you think you might be experiencing ageism, this article provides tips on how to deal with it, including common signs to look out for and things you can do to remove it from your workplace.

What ageism looks like

“9 out of 10 (over 50’s) believe ageism is prevalent in the workplace.” Australian Seniors Series; Ageing in the Workforce 2021

The three main ways in which ageism spreads are:

  • Consistent ageist messaging (i.e. anti-ageing advertising)
  • Interpersonal relationships (i.e. the perceptions of children and grandchildren)
  • Through the negative beliefs we absorb

In the workplace, ageism can be both conscious and subconscious and can include instances where older employees are:

  • Passed over for training in favor of their younger work colleagues
  • Overlooked for challenging assignments
  • Left out of client meetings and company activities
  • Not entitled to flexible work hours, because they don’t have young children at home
  • Regularly asked about their retirement plans
  • Made the butt of joking yet persistent disparaging remarks
  • Marked down on performance reviews
  • Passed over for raises and promotions
  • Reassigned to more tedious or unpleasant duties.

How to deal with ageism

According to the World Health Organization, older people who see themselves as being a burden to others are likely to consider their own lives less valuable. This makes them more at risk of experiencing social isolation and depression, more likely to suffer serious illness, slower to recover from disability and likely to live an average of 7 and a half years less than those with a positive attitude.

So if you’re experiencing ageism where you work, here are some useful tips to help you get on top of this debilitating form of discrimination;

1. Stay young

While not physically possible, it is mentally achievable and the saying you’re only as old as you feel is particularly true in this instance. Embrace change, learn new things and continue to grow as a person every day and your employer and fellow employees will begin to see you as experienced rather than old.

2. Don’t stereotype yourself

Don’t use your age as an opportunity to reduce your workload or avoid onerous tasks and don’t buy into age stereotypes by regaling younger employees with how much better things were in ‘the good old days’.

3. Celebrate your age

Embrace the positives that come with age, such as wisdom, experience, fewer responsibilities and the rewards of long-standing relationships.

4. Ask for training

Don’t give your employer the opportunity to pass you over in favor of younger employees. Ask for further training to advance your position and make you more valuable to the company.

5. Ask for feedback

Ask your manager for regular feedback on your performance so you will be able to tell if you’re being passed over because of your age or because your performance is lacking.

6. Be tech-savvy

One of the biggest stereotypes is that older employees don’t like change and can’t understand or use technology. So becoming computer and Internet savvy (if you aren’t already) is the perfect way to show them they are wrong.  

7. Become a mentor

Make your industry knowledge and experience available to younger employees by offering to be a mentor. These days, many employers realize the value of mentorship programs and are quite likely to jump at the opportunity.

8. Speak up

If younger colleagues are making ageist remarks, speak up. They may not realize they are being discriminatory, but even if they do, unless you bring attention to it, it will continue unchecked.

If all else fails

If you try the previous tips and age discrimination continues to be a problem at your workplace, here’s what to do to take the matter further:

  • Record it: Take detailed notes of when and where discrimination is occurring, including dates, names and any witnesses.
  • Save it: Keep copies of instances where ageist language is being employed in company communications or policies.  
  • Seek advice: Talk to an employment lawyer who can advise you on how best to proceed or make a formal complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

Try talking to your manager before taking the matter further, as they may not be aware of the discrimination, in which case a discreet word with the parties involved could be all that is needed.

But whatever you do, don’t allow discrimination to make your work life miserable or force you into early retirement. Like all forms of discrimination, ageism needs to be addressed and those who practice it need to be made aware that age is something to be revered rather than feared.

Jacqui Coombe

Jacqui has been a prolific reader since childhood, and now channels her love of the written word into writing content on a range of topics from business, marketing and finance to travel and lifestyle. 


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