What We Know About How Ageism Affects the Workplace

Sometimes, employers have negative attitudes towards older workers. While employers may think that their business doesn’t engage in any kind of age discrimination, statistics and a growing number of claims reveal that ageism is a prevalent issue in today’s workforce.

Ageism affects more than just older employees in the workplace. Age discrimination affects the entire workplace culture, customer experience, and even the success of a business.

What is ageism in the workplace?

Ageism, or age discrimination, is prejudice based on someone’s age. Ageism in the workplace can come in many different forms.

For example, someone might experience age discrimination when an employer refuses to hire them because of their age. Or, an older employee might be fired or treated differently than their co-workers because of their age.

In 2019 alone, 15,573 age discrimination claims were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2018, an AARP survey found that nearly one in four workers age 45 and older have been subjected to negative comments about their age from supervisors or coworkers, and about three in five older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.

Age discrimination is a real issue affecting workers and businesses across America. By recognizing how ageism affects a workplace, we can take steps to eliminate this form of discrimination.

How ageism affects the workplace

Employers who work to eliminate ageism in the workplace will find that their business runs more efficiently. And, their company will be a more attractive place to work for all ages.

Here are seven ways age discrimination affects businesses and employees.

1. It negatively impacts your employer branding

Job seekers of all ages are interested in working for a company that respects employees. When applicants know that you appreciate the attributes of all members of the workforce, they are more likely to be motivated to work for your company.

On the other hand, your employer branding (your reputation as a place to work) takes a negative impact when you treat older workers differently.

2. You might break federal laws

Federal law protects individuals who are 40 years and older from age-based employment discrimination. This law specifically prohibits discrimination against an individual because of their age concerning hiring or any term or condition of employment. The law includes promotions, training, compensation, benefits, work assignments, demotions, or termination of employment.

If you treat an individual differently based on their age, you may be noncompliant with federal law.

3. You might end up on the wrong end of a lawsuit

Engaging in age discrimination can put you at risk of time-consuming legal troubles, potentially high costs towards legal fees and attorneys, and bad publicity. Employees can also file an EEOC claim if they feel they have been treated unfairly due to characteristic factors, including their age.

The risks of large fees and ruining your reputation are not worth ignoring ageism within your business. It’s better to take an active approach to address age discrimination and make the necessary changes to your work culture.

4. You lose out on the value older workers bring to the table

Age discrimination promotes a lot of myths about older workers that are simply not true. Studies prove that the benefits of older workers add value to a business.

Employees age 40 and older are generally good at problem solving, miss fewer days of work, and are less likely to job jump. They also have shown to retain information longer and have higher training rates than their younger counterparts.

5. Your workforce lacks experience

When your team is heavily skewed towards younger employees, your company lacks an experienced workforce. Education and ambition are great qualities that can be found in younger workers, but experience is a valuable attribute that must be earned over time.

Industry and institutional knowledge can go a long way in terms of decision making and avoiding costly mistakes. Encourage younger and older employees to use their strengths together to succeed.

6. You don’t take advantage of mentorship opportunities

Great teams learn from each other. By devaluing older workers, you lose out on so many learning opportunities that help your workforce grow.

Older employees have a wealth of knowledge that can be passed on to younger generations. Not only can they teach your team the hard skills of your business, but they can also mentor team members on soft skills such as customer service, public speaking, and confidence.

Younger employees may also have the opportunity to mentor older workers in areas where they are more familiar, such as newer technology. Encouraging intergenerational mentorship is a win-win for everyone.

7. It lowers morale at your business

Ageism does not just affect those who directly experience it. Age discrimination takes a toll on your entire workforce, business operations, and even your bottom line. Treating older workers differently causes employees to be less motivated, and it hurts productivity, customer service, and product quality.

Age discrimination can turn a work culture sour and make people feel uncomfortable, devalued, and angry. This will likely result in a high turnover rate, costing you both constant hiring expenses and good employees.

What can you do about ageism in the workplace?

Age discrimination is avoidable – and if smart employers want to succeed, they’ll work towards being an age-friendly employer. Business owners and HR professionals can review internal policies to ensure that they are inclusive of all ages.

It might also be a good idea to provide your team with training on age discrimination. Business insurance provider Hiscox conducted a 2019 study that revealed 62% of workers over the age of 40 had received no formal training related to age-based discrimination in the previous 12 months. Training can help all staff members be more aware of ageism, understand how to eliminate it from the workplace, and address it if it occurs.

Are you an older adult who could use support re-entering the workforce? VANTAGE Workforce Solutions provides paid, hands-on training to adults age 55 and older in 38 Ohio counties. Apply now to receive an individual career plan for reaching your goals.            

*The information in this article is intended solely to provide general information on matters of interest for the personal use of the reader, who accepts full responsibility for its use. This article should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, medical, or other competent advisors.

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