Ageism: Is it a Problem in Your Workplace?

Ageism is discrimination against people on the basis of their age. It can apply to both young college grads and older staff. Age discrimination is illegal, around the world.

Ageism: Defining the problems

Whether you're an employee or a manager, ageism is a problem you're very likely to encounter, directly or indirectly. Ageism can be intentional or unintentional, but there are no excuses for it in the workplace.

Common indicators of ageism:

  • People left out of projects or work for no obvious reason other than age.
  • Older or younger people socially isolated in the workplace.
  • Unwise or unkind, remarks about age.
  • Lack of older people in job interviews, when several have applied.
  • Hostility to younger staff, particularly recent graduates.
  • Discounting of people's abilities and experience on the basis of age.

If these indicators look like pretty comprehensively dumb ways of treating staff and colleagues, they are. They're particularly offensive, insulting in many ways. Older people will rarely tolerate this sort of treatment, and some serious rifts in the social fabric of the office are likely. Younger people may overreact, often severely, creating more problems.

These actions result in reactions similar to those from people receiving abuse in the workplace. Even good natured and mild tempered people will react very negatively and usually angrily when subjected to ageism.

Adding fuel to the problems, this sort of discrimination is actually illegal, and can be the basis of actions under employment law. Older people are much more likely to take action, because of the depth of feeling these situations cause.

Both older and younger people in the workplace often feel vulnerable. Any negative aspects in the work environment will make them feel even more insecure. That's one of the reasons for the intensity of feeling when they're subjected to any form of ageism.

Organizationally, it's advisable to ensure that all staff, and particularly managers, are fully aware of the issues of discrimination on the basis of age. It's also a good idea to ensure that an experienced senior staff member, preferably a manager, is appointed to oversee age-related issues. This appointment will show positive indicators and support to older staff, and show the support of management to the younger staff.

How you can help stop ageism

Whatever your role in the workplace, as a staff member, supervisor or as a manager, you can do a lot to help stop ageism:

As a staff member: You can make it plain you don't approve of any ageism being applied to your friends and colleagues. You can say, in so many words, that any behavior of this kind is against EO laws. You can also, if you wish, report it to management.

As a supervisor or manager, you can enforce EO policies and laws. You can take disciplinary action against offenders, and you can insist that employer guidelines are followed. Some employers routinely dismiss staff breaching anti discrimination laws, and that has a huge impact, shutting down any further breaches.