Ageism In The Workplace
A consortium of business experts unanimously agree that over the next 15 years, 40-50% of all jobs will be replaced by AI. That’s just one instance of a problem that is about to change how we work. Add ageism onto that, and we have a real problem.
Ageism in the workplace occurs when companies, managers or co-workers present negative attitudes towards an individual because of their age. Whether this means the employee is stereotyped as someone who can’t complete their job anymore because they are aging, or perhaps they are being phased out of the company because a younger generation is thought to have a better understanding of new technology, like AI, or the current workplace ecosystem.
The problem with ageism in the office, is that as you grow older you have more experience under your belt. You know what work was like years ago, and you know what it’s like now. Often, companies disregard the fact that you have years of knowledge holding you up in the workplace, and may dismiss that for “new knowledge” brought in by younger generations. Instead, all generations should learn to work together to create a well-rounded knowledge-filled work environment.
The Retirement Age Is Getting Lower
Between ageism and AI causing job displacement, the average expected retirement age is getting substantially lower. However, 401k benefits and Medicare don’t kick in any sooner than they have over the years, and studies are showing that these benefits are going to be pushed out even later. So, how as a culture are we expecting everyone to live comfortably as they age, if in fact they are out of work?
It can be traumatizing if you have spent the majority of your life in the workforce, agonizing about companies, projects, and meetings for hours each week only to have your capabilities overlooked by the organization you work for. It’s completely unacceptable for companies to act in ageist ways, not taking into account the time and energy you have invested in them. Yes, they’ve paid you over the course of your career, but is it really okay for them to see numbers on paper rather than see you as a person? Is it okay for them to disregard your current and future value to the organization?
Whether the company wants to let you go so your salary can be given to multiple younger employees, or the company is looking to remove “old ideas” from the workplace, our society needs to stop allowing inhumane emotional trauma from companies towards their aging workforce.
Studies have revealed that individuals forced to retire earlier than they planned may have worse health-rates than their counterparts. Being phased out of a company before you are ready can cause emotional trauma in addition to money worries, and feeling bad about yourself.
Steps Towards Eliminating Ageism in the Workplace
Talk to HR
If you experience ageism in your office, talk to HR. Are there systems in place to unite team members across generations in your office? If not, can there be? Studies show that when generations spend time together, ageism is lessened amongst the group. Talk to HR to find out how you can get to know the people you work with more individually, and help eliminate ageism in the workplace – have out-of-office bonding experiences, or company-wide lunches or bootcamps.
It’s also important in office settings to teach the basics of not acting on immediate stereotypes. We are trained from a young age to stereotype, and it becomes second nature. However, if organizations offer more training towards not acting on immediate stereotypes, ageism can be eliminated in the workplace.
If training is in place to educate employees to get to know co-workers and their strengths, rather than stereotyping – for example, assuming someone is too old to help on a fast-paced project – employees might be surprised to find that most often our immediate assumptions about others are completely false.
Don’t Act on Initial Stereotypes
Yes, it’s hard not to immediately assume you know someone as soon as you meet them, but you can learn to not act on those assumptions and biases. Try to get to know everyone you come in contact with at work in a one-on-one situation. Go to lunch, or schedule a meeting. Chances are, the assumptions you immediately had upon meeting each of these individuals are completely false.
Meet with a Mentor Group
Compiling a group of mentors that are multi-generational, and meeting often to talk about work and workplace scenarios, can open your mind to how other generations deal with ageism in the workplace. This mentor group can help walk you through any ageist experiences you have, and will become a group that you can lean on for any work questions. Studies show that when multiple generations interact, ageism is lessened among the group members, and that is exactly the goal.
Talk to Your Boss
It might be difficult to gather the courage to go to your boss with questions about ageism that you have experienced at work, but it is important to bring awareness to your manager. By explaining real-world situations you have experienced first-hand, you may be shedding light on situations that others have not previously been aware of. Studies reveal that education is a massive piece of lessening ageism around the world.
How Companies Can Handle Retirement In A Healthy Way
Companies should unite to determine a healthier way for organizations to handle retirement and phase-outs. Perhaps if a company is trying to let go of older workers to save money, they could partner with organizations looking for part-time employees, and the two organizations together could split the yearly salary for the individuals.
This would free up money for the original company to hire new workers, which may be the reason they are looking to phase out their older workforce, who are most often the highest-paid employees.
By coming up with innovative solutions, organizations around the world can make a massive impact in lessening how often employees feel the burden of ageism throughout their careers.