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Ageism in the Workplace and How to Fight It

Ageism is one of the least-discussed types of discrimination in society, despite its prevalence. Discriminating or stereotyping against a person based on their age is a prejudicial practice that can take many forms and is especially common in the workplace.

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According to a recent study, 36% of people interviewed believe that age was a factor in being turned down for a job opportunity. With a workforce in America that’s steadily growing older, ageism today is more often an issue faced by older workers than those belonging to younger generations.

In fact, workers age 55 and older will represent 25% of the nation’s workforce by 2024.

Recent trends show that people over the age of 45 are hired less than their 20-something colleagues and that older employees are often not given the proper support needed to continue growing and learning as employees. This lack of training and attention often leads to older workers being passed over for promotions and even excluded from various company activities, such as team-building events.

Undersocialization and a tendency to force age-based resignations leave older employees feeling isolated, disrespected, and fearing for their future.

Aside from the decrease in morale and productivity that commonly results from ageism in the workplace, this type of discrimination can pose problems and adverse effects for the company in a variety of ways.

It’s often only after an aging employee has been fired that the employer realizes that they are often tough to replace. Additionally, younger workers tend to be far less “loyal” to their employers and are more likely to leave the company and look for new opportunities.

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Why is Ageism in the Workplace So Prevalent?

In any facet of life, but at the workplace particularly, ageism exists because of prejudices and uninformed opinions that are formed based on very superficial information.

Some of the most common stereotypes related to people over the age of 50 at the workplace are that they are difficult to manage, resistant to change, technophobic, and less innovative.

This is why, during the hiring process, management tends to give not-so-subtle hints that they are looking for “energetic,” “fresh,” “agile” people, in an effort to discourage older workers from applying. Not meeting these meaningless criteria is a common reason why aging workers fail to secure a job that they might have been an excellent fit for otherwise.

In reality, aging workers’ perceived unwillingness to learn new skills and resistance to change reflects the employer’s reluctance to provide proper training for employees that are over the age of 50.

Data backs up claims that aging workers are more loyal, and thus more willing to improve, follow instructions, and undergo training. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 45–54-year-old employees remain at the job twice as long as their 25–34-year-old counterparts. They are also more suitable for promotions and management positions as, after spending years with the company, they are more in sync with its values.

Fighting Ageism In The Workplace

So why are employers making these mistakes that lead to ageism in the workplace? And how can this be fixed both for the sake of the nation’s aging workforce and companies? The best way to fight prejudice is and has always been to rely on robust, systematic solutions. Having consistent protocols in place for dealing with aging employees and making them feel more included, respected, and appreciated is critical. In turn, younger employees will be more likely to see the company as a long-term home after witnessing that loyalty and hard work are rewarded.

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Workers are also postponing retirement more and more, with 67% of workers aged 40-65 claiming that they want to keep working after turning 66. Any business could benefit a great deal from understanding this demographic and acting accordingly. Mandatory retirement policies should be interpreted as a recommendation rather than a requirement. A more age-inclusive program would make both older and younger employees feel more confident about their choice to work for you and stay loyal.

Let’s break down a few key steps that could help make any company a better workplace for aging workers:

The Optics: Be More Inclusive

inclusive illustrationBefore a person decides to join your company, they are likely to check out your website. What are they likely to see? If the answer is a group of Millennials playing video games, you’re not likely to attract many 40+ workers. Displaying pictures of aging people on your “About Us” page and other company visuals will demonstrate that your workplace is inclusive and does not discriminate or favor a certain age group.

 

 

Adjusted Training Sessions

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Training and development opportunities should be available to all employees if they are willing interested in learning and expanding their skill sets, regardless of their age or position in the workplace hierarchy. Moreover, merely letting people know that training is available probably won’t be enough; it’s good to encourage workers to develop their skills by offering incentives and encouragement.

 

 

A Reassuring Hiring Process

hiring process illustrationRemember to display a short text in your job post ads that reassures future candidates that they will not be discriminated against based on their age, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. To go one step further, consider publishing a senior-oriented ad for a position that would be a good fit for people past their retirement age who might want to (or have to) re-enter the workforce.

 

Promotions vs. New Employees

promotion illustrationAging employees get just as bored as younger ones if they are performing the same tasks day in and day out with little chance for change. They also expect their hard work and commitment to growth and self-improvement to be rewarded. Hiring an aging person and expecting them to do work in the same position with little chance of advancement is false progress. Giving out well-earned promotions to the best and the brightest, regardless of age, is a critical step in the commitment to an age-inclusive workplace.

 

Retirement Plans

retirement illustrationHaving a well-thought-through retirement plan is a great way to signal to your employees that you want them to be with you for the long run. Before asking candidates where they see themselves in five to 10 years, ask yourself where you see them in 25. Offering retirement planning, elder care, and a safe space for workers to leave the workplace after years of loyal service are all signs of a real commitment to community values within a workplace.

 

Healthcare Plans

healthcare illustrationMany businesses, especially SMEs, are reluctant to hire aging workers due to the possibility of mounting health costs. This is why offering a solid, reliable healthcare plan is an excellent way to stand out. The expense could be significant but it will help attract top-tier talent. In today’s fast-paced work environment and frequent job-hopping among younger workers, this expense could pay off big-time in terms of retention.

 

A Clear Downsizing and Resignation Process

downsizing process illustrationThe primary fear aging employees have is being the first to go during a company takeover or a downturn in business, regardless of their skills or performance. To avoid adding friction to this general unease many aging workers experience, it’s good to be clear about the type of behavior that leads to being laid off. Proving clarity is also crucial. Make it clear during seminars and company training and onboarding sessions that processes and protocols exist for such situations so that all your hard-working employees feel safe.

 

 

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Insurance As Financial Protection

As we’ve established, ageism in the workplace is a daily reality for many companies. It can also lead to expensive legal claims if employees feel discriminated against and decide to sue.

Having the right risk management program in place will allow your company to mitigate the financial stress of such allegations and deal with them in an ethical and forthright manner. The two insurance policies that would respond to potential age discrimination claims are EPLI (employment practices liability insurance) and D&O (directors & officers insurance).

EPLI will protect the company from employment-related claims such as discrimination, wrongful termination, or failure to promote due to the employee’s age. The policy will pay for the company’s legal costs and cover possible settlements and fines.

If employees who allege these claims feel that the company’s management team contributed to such discrimination or failed to prevent it, they may look to bring forward legal action against the company’s leadership. In such cases, executives and board members may be held personally liable for their actions or lack thereof.

A preferred D&O policy will pay for both defense costs and damages (awards and settlements) that result from such claims. To avoid gaps in coverage, the D&O and EPL policies are often bundled into one seamless package of management liability insurance.

To get a better understanding of how to protect your company from discrimination claims and other employment issues, you can reach out to one of our expert brokers at any time to secure the right coverage at the best price.