Ageism in the Workplace is More Common Than You Think! Here’s How To Deal With It


The “golden years” can be less than golden for older workers despite the added value, like experience, work ethic, and loyalty that they bring to a company. According to the AARP, approximately one-third of the American population is aged 50 and older. A survey conducted in 2018 showed that ageism in the workplace remains an underestimated problem.


You might be surprised to know that men and women aged 65 and older are the fastest-growing pieces of the workplace pie. Where the age of 60 or 65 used to be the goalpost for retirement, many older adults are choosing to continue to work. They are healthier and live longer, they understand their value in the workplace, and for some, it’s because they simply don’t have the savings to live off of.



Source: Pexels



What Is Age Discrimination In The Workplace?


Simply put, age discrimination in the workplace is treating an applicant or an employee less favorably than other workers because of their age. While there are laws in place that are intended to protect workers 40 and older, the reality is that ageism still exists. 


For example, in America, The Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 is intended to cover employment processes like hiring, promotions, layoffs, benefits, and job assignments — but violations can be difficult to prove. Most workers who experience ageism in the workplace are reluctant to pursue a discrimination lawsuit because it can be a long process that doesn’t result in a significant financial payout. A successful plaintiff is only entitled to twice their back pay plus attorney fees.



What Are Signs of Age Discrimination?


Sometimes ageism is subtle, and at other times, it’s overt. Informed people can make positive changes, so what are the signs of age discrimination that you can look for?



1.  Comments or Insults About Age


If your employer refers to your age, either to you or your coworkers, in a negative way or makes a joke about it, they are skating on a discrimination line. Some of the common “jokes” will refer to your slowness, needing to put on your glasses to see a memo someone has handed you, or huffing and puffing after climbing the stairs. Comments like these fall into the category of micro-aggression — think of it as tiny jabs. This is a clear signal of an unhealthy workplace. 



2.  A Pattern of Hiring Younger Workers


Tech companies are notorious for this. The average age of their employees is 32, which is 10 years younger than the national average. Other industries like hospitality, education, financial, and transportation have average ages below or hovering around 42. The buzzword “overqualified” is a red flag to watch out for.



3.  Delayed or Ignored Promotions and Raises


 If a younger, less qualified employee is given the promotion that you deserve, you’ve likely experienced ageism in the workplace. At this point, it’s a good idea to stop and consider if other older co-workers have undergone a similar experience. 



4.  Unequal Distribution of Benefits


A supervisor who has spoken or unspoken assumptions that, because you are older, you won’t require time off for family commitments is being discriminatory. Other signs of ageism in the workplace are wages and insurance benefits being designed for younger workers.



5.  Being Left Out


Age discrimination in the workplace often tends to show up in subtle ways. Older employees who find that they are discouraged from attending company functions and client meetings may be experiencing ageism. More blatant forms of age discrimination in the workplace include moving your desk away from the team, asking you to work from home, or attempting to relocate you to another office.



6.  Unjustified Forced Retirement


Some companies will attempt to install a mandatory retirement age (illegal except in very specific circumstances), while others will offer early retirement packages as a way to move older employees out of their company. Both practices are examples of age discrimination in the workplace.



7.  Layoffs


 Layoffs are not uncommon and happen for a number of legitimate reasons. However, if it’s only older workers who are being laid off, that could indicate ageism in the workplace.



8.  Position Elimination


Unfortunately, this is a common tactic employers use to get rid of older workers. Companies will eliminate a position and then turn around and hire a younger person for the same job but give it an entirely different title. In many cases, they’ll do this so that they can pay a less experienced employee less money for the same job.



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Where Else Does Age Discrimination Occur?


The workplace isn’t the only environment where age discrimination occurs. Colleges have traditionally been considered a young person’s world. Going back to school as an older adult can be intimidating and a very different experience than for a young person.


Juggling education and a busy schedule of work and family commitments is no mean feat, and it’s often challenging to fit in classes that have set times and days.


Another major obstacle is financial. A traditional college education is expensive. Taking on college loan debt is undesirable, especially when you already have a mortgage, vehicle payments, and other financial obligations.


The great news is that the University of the People knocks down these and many other barriers. It’s 100% online, inclusive, tuition-free, and accredited. Pre-recorded course content means that students can learn on a schedule that fits seamlessly into their lives. And, there are students of all ages enrolled, so you don’t have to worry about age discrimination while you learn online.  



The Final Word


Information is power. Employees of all ages should know what ageism in the workplace is and understand what the signs of age discrimination are. Experiencing this form of discrimination is demoralizing, but with age comes the wisdom and experience to understand that there are positive things beyond difficult situations.


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