Five ways to combat ageism at the workplace

4 mins read

Article attributed to Marylin C.

Photo by @bernhard_dinger on Unsplash

I recently started watching a Korean drama series on Netflix titled “Misty” and it inspired me to pen an article on age discrimination. For those who don’t know about this drama series, it depicts a mature, successful, highly ambitious lady at the peak in her career as a news anchor. She fights to remain at the top despite repeated efforts to bring her down because of her age. The bosses wanted to replace her with a much younger news anchor as they felt TV viewers preferred a “fresh” face with no visible wrinkles.

This got me thinking about the topic of Ageism. What does it mean really? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Ageism refers to “the stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination towards others or oneself based on age.”

Unfortunately but perhaps not surprisingly, age discrimination is common in the workplace. For example, I was out with my dog a few weeks ago and passed by an office building. As I walked by, I saw an elderly man who works as a cleaner there and who I have chatted with on several occasions. He came up to me and told me that it was going to be his last week of work as the cleaning agency said he was too old to keep working. I asked his age and he said he is in his 60s. He went on to say that he didn’t want to stop working but the “heartless” agency insisted on it. He added that the elderly are always deemed as “useless” and, because of their age, are no longer qualified for any job. I was saddened by his words, but I could only wish him all the best.

Here in Singapore, the government recently announced that, starting on 1 July 2022, the statutory retirement age will rise to 63 and the re-employment age to 68. This is the first step toward raising the retirement age to 65 and the re-employment age to 70 by 2030. The question is, if ageism is a serious problem at the workplace and not much is done to combat the issue, how do we continue to stay employed until the “golden” age as envisioned?

A 2020 study conducted by Randstad Singapore revealed some shocking key findings:

·      31% of young respondents chose to avoid any interaction with mature workers

·      57% of respondents felt that they were given fewer training opportunities as they age

·      The mean age that 1,052 locally-based respondents think that they will reach career stagnation is 48 years old

With a few decades to go until I reach the “expected” retirement age, I wonder about how frightening age discrimination can be and how biases against older workers can easily inch their way into the workplace like a virus invading one’s body. It can spread very fast across an organization, negatively impacting the workforce and its culture.

Are organizations only focused on hiring/growing the younger generation and overlooking more experienced, mature workers? Have they been focusing on age rather than merits? As a fellow LinkedIn member David Wee recently posted “If you are asking for 20 years of work experience then don’t look for 30-year-old candidates.” He pointed out that although older candidates may cost more, their expertise, institutional knowledge and versatility also are of value. I couldn’t agree more!

I feel that to mitigate the effects of ageism, employers need to implement unbiased HR policies and step in quickly.

Here are 5 ways organizations can combat ageism at work. The goal is to create an inclusive environment for everyone.

Don’t approach layoffs based on age or pay

Assuming that older workers could be retiring soon and therefore marked for retrenchment is a bad idea. It damages employee morale and productivity. Because they have accumulated more years of experience, older employees often will be more highly paid. Again, it is bad policy to target pay as the reason for letting an employee go. Sometimes, management will try to exclude the mature workers from projects and important meetings or find fault with their daily tasks, in the hopes they would leave on their own accord. I find this manipulative, sadly, it happens.

Offer mentorship programs and training

Ensure orientation programs for new hires and leadership courses for managers cover ageism in the workplace. Mentorship programs also can help bridge age-related tensions. The expertise and knowledge that more mature workers bring to an organization are valuable resources and are worth sharing with employees in the earlier phases of their careers. Organizations should get mature workers involved in training and development for new/ younger staff, this will give them a purpose in working in addition to the usual day to day work. 

It starts with the hiring process

Age discrimination limits the talent pool and can cost the organization qualified candidates and diverse teams. Don’t ask applicants to indicate their date of birth on the hiring form and remove discriminatory language like “fresh grads” or “1-2 years of experience may apply” from job descriptions.

Create an open dialogue with employees

Building a safe environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their views and concerns is important to combat ageism in the workplace. Cultivating open lines of communication is a way to build trust and dissolve the generational boundaries that can form inadvertently.

Employ a multi-generational team

A multi-generational workforce helps to build a culture of diversity and inclusion. It is all about the connections between employees, engagement, and retention efforts to drive business growth and success. Cross-generational learning is developed as a result. The mature employees can impart their expertise to the younger generation while, at the same time, the latter can impart their “tech-savvy” office skills and knowledge to the former. It is a win-win for the workers and the organization.

Have you experienced phrases like “past your prime” or “over the hill” labels? Have you ever felt ageism at your ex/current workplace? I would love to hear your views in the comments below.

“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.”- David Bowie 

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