The Narrow Path of Workplace Ageism: A Deep Dive

Inclusivity is not just a buzzword in the modern workplace. As many as 44% of companies have given equity, diversity, and inclusivity a C-level priority. That should be good news, but it still rings alarm bells. This is because bias remains a common (even growing) problem across organizations.

For instance – unconscious bias associated with an individual’s race, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and age still exists. We might expect that the elderly employees would be revered for their rich experience and expertise. Perhaps the enthusiastic Gen-Z joinee would be encouraged for their zeal and curiosity.

Sadly, a cohort of employees from each bracket shares a different testimony. In this article, we will delve deeper into the common issue of ageism in the workplace. By the end, you should know the importance of age diversity and how to promote it within your team.

Key Benefits of Workplace Age Diversity

A modern workplace that welcomes and supports the expertise, views, and knowledge of individuals from diverse generations is a must. An age-diverse workplace would include employees from the Gen-X, baby boomers, Gen-Y, and Gen-Z. 

With such an inclusive space, the organization experiences the following benefits –

  • An increase in productivity, which further leads to greater revenue, more satisfied customers, etc.
  • A sharp rise in creativity and innovation as diverse skills come to the table.
  • Easier upskilling due to better mentoring opportunities as the older workers can teach the younger ones. Conversely, even the younger generations can help the older employees become more tech-savvy. This strengthens the company’s culture.
  • When everyone remains engaged through an inclusive working environment, employee retention improves. 

No Age Group is Immune to Discrimination

As per the latest findings of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 32% of surveyed HR professionals revealed that a job applicant’s age plays a crucial role in the decision-making process. Upon hearing this, many of us compartmentalize a specific age group as the universal victim.

It is commonly believed that older individuals are seen as less fit and less capable, especially for certain roles. Is this true? Absolutely, but it unfortunately does not immunize the younger demographics.

Also known as reverse ageism, those belonging to the millennial or Gen-Z generations may receive subtle back-handed “compliments.” These remarks primarily revolve around their lack of experience or a stereotypical sense of entitlement or laziness. In some cases, middle-aged individuals may also be seen as apathetic or too proactive in their approach.

Tips to Minimize Age Bias

A Bloomberg report stated the indisputable fact that older employees are more likely to face workplace ageism than their younger counterparts. Every company embracing diversity and inclusion must wish to eradicate this lethal attitude from within its premises.

Listed below are some tips to recognize and minimize age discrimination.

Diversity Training

Your workplace will scarcely benefit if all employees are not on the same page. In other words, C-level executives and entry-level workers must know the importance of age diversity and the repercussions of discrimination.

This is why thorough age diversity training is a must. Emtrain suggests that the training program must cover unconscious bias and stereotypes. This is important because a lot of ageism stems from deep-seated beliefs that people may not even be aware of.

Instead of monotonous lectures, it’s better to have interactive sessions with real-world examples to drive engagement. If your workplace embraces employees from different generations, the training program must teach them to get, along with each other.

It can cover topics such as team building, collaboration, implicit bias, respect, and more.

Strong Policy Enforcement

Once the training is done, be wary of assuming that your employees will automatically apply all their lessons well. Even unintentionally, they may overstep their boundaries at times. This is why clearly defined policies are needed to keep everyone accountable.

The policies must be communicated to all team members along with the consequences of violation. If there is a case of age bias, follow through with the conveyed consequences. This will instill a healthy fear of violating age diversity policies.

The pack must be led by top-level people – C-level executives, senior managers, human resource executives, etc.

Fair Reward System

Studies show that rewards such as open acknowledgment, positive feedback, and reassurance act as motivating tools for better employee performance. However, the same cannot be said of companies that practice rewarding employees based on tenure, not performance.

Another way to create a culture of age diversity is to develop a fair reward system. Give preferential treatment to employees based on their performance metrics. This is not to say that honor must not be given where it is due (to the older loyal employees).

However, if their age is getting in the way of their work performance, you need to recognize that. Moreover, educational opportunities and training must be offered to each employee regardless of their age.

Addressing the Issue at the Hiring and Layoff Levels

The Oxford Academic published an article exploring the extent of ageism in the hiring process. It was found that recruiters generally consider older employees less healthy or capable when compared to younger employees with similar skills.

Also, when it’s time to reduce the workforce, the former become the first targets. This makes it crucial to tackle the issue at both the hiring and layoff levels. It may be done in the following ways –

  • Job advertisements must invite applicants of all age groups.
  • Discriminatory language such as “for young grads” must be removed.
  • Applicants should not be required to reveal their birth date on the application forms.
  • Interviewers must avoid asking age-related questions and stereotyping older employees.
  • Companies must not lay off older workers simply because they’re nearing retirement or have a higher salary package.

Final Thoughts

The surefire way an organization can keep ageism at bay is to promote a healthy multi-generational workplace. At the core of such a workplace lies the belief that all employees (despite their age) have much value to offer to the company and its members.

The beauty is in allowing each employee to demonstrate their unique skillsets and strengths. With everyone doing their part well, it becomes easier to achieve the unified goals of the company. 

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