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Ageism In The Workplace

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Ageism, the discrimination or prejudice against individuals based on their age, remains a significant issue in the modern workplace. In the United Kingdom, diversity and inclusivity are protected under the Equality Act 2010. One of the protected characteristics under this act is Age. This is to combat ageism and, by doing this, create a fair and productive work environment. This blog post explores the impact of ageism in the UK workplace and suggests strategies to address this issue effectively.

Under the Equality Act 2010, you are unable to treat someone unfavourably due to their age. This could be someone being “too young” or “too old” to do the job. Experiences and achievements should come into decision-making, but discriminating against someone for their age goes against the Equality Act. 

People are discriminated against for age, no matter how old they are. Unequal treatment based on age can manifest in various ways, such as differential access to opportunities, resources, or benefits. It includes assigning less challenging or less important tasks depending on a worker’s age or limiting their professional development opportunities. Employers should ensure that all employees are treated fairly and have equal access to opportunities, regardless of their age. Age-related jokes or comments can create a hostile work environment and perpetuate ageist stereotypes. These jokes or comments can range from casual remarks about someone’s age to more extreme forms of ridicule or mockery. Such behaviour is inappropriate and undermines a culture of respect and inclusivity. That being said, there are two age groups that a more likely to receive such treatment, those under 18 and those over 50; for example, this could be age-related nicknames or being passed over for development or being included. Everyone should be given the chance to showcase their capabilities without first being judged. It is the responsibility of the employer to make sure everyone’s skills are taken into account and also to make sure that people’s skills aren’t being impaired due to age-related matters. Having a team of people from different age groups will bring a much more diverse pool of views and skills which will make the team more rounded and resilient. 

Age-related stereotypes and biases

  • Competence around Technology: Older workers are sometimes assumed to be less tech-savvy or less adaptable to new technologies. This stereotype can lead to the exclusion of older employees from tech-related projects or training opportunities, even if they possess relevant skills and experience.
  • Lack of Ambition: Younger workers may face biases assuming they are less committed, lacking experience, or not ready for leadership positions. Such biases can limit their opportunities for growth, promotion, or meaningful responsibilities.
  • Resistance to Change: Older employees are sometimes perceived as resistant to change due to established routines or their familiarity with traditional methods. This perception can hinder their involvement in innovation or decision-making processes, even if they possess valuable insights, experience and an open mindset.
  • Modern Skills and Techniques: Older workers may be wrongly perceived as having outdated skills or knowledge, particularly in rapidly evolving industries. This bias can lead to the devaluation of their expertise and limited opportunities for professional development or advancement.
  • Team Dynamics: Age-related biases can affect team dynamics and collaboration. Stereotypes may assume that older workers have difficulty adapting to the working styles of younger colleagues or that younger workers lack respect for the experience of their older counterparts.

Barriers to Employment for Older Workers

  • Salary and Benefits Discrimination: Older workers may face unequal compensation compared to younger counterparts, even when performing similar roles with equal competence. They may also encounter challenges in accessing benefits or pension plans due to age-related policies or discriminatory practices.
  • Limited Training and Professional Development: Employers may overlook the training and professional development needs of older workers, assuming that they have already acquired the necessary skills and knowledge. This lack of investment in their continued growth can result in skill gaps and hinder their career progression.
  • Stereotypes and Preconceptions: Age-related stereotypes and preconceptions can influence how older workers are perceived and treated in the workplace. Assumptions about diminished energy, flexibility, and adaptability may lead to limited job assignments, exclusion from certain projects, or underestimation of their contributions.
  • Workplace Culture and Fit: Older workers may face challenges fitting into workplace cultures that prioritise youthfulness, fast-paced environments, or heavy reliance on technology. This cultural mismatch can affect their job satisfaction and opportunities for advancement.
  • Health and Physical Limitations: Some older workers may face health or physical limitations that can impact their ability to perform certain tasks or meet specific job requirements. These limitations can be wrongly perceived as a general decline in their capabilities, leading to unfair treatment or exclusion.

Limited career advancement opportunities

  • Lack of Promotion Pathways: Organizations may have limited or unclear promotion pathways for older workers due to the misassumption of them already having had their career, making it difficult for them to grow and advance within the company. Without a clear path for progression, employees may feel stagnant in their roles. 
  • Lack of Skills Development: Limited access to training and professional development programs due to assuming that older workers do not, or can not, learn new skills. This can hinder employees’ acquisition of new skills and knowledge necessary for career advancement. Without opportunities to enhance their skill sets, employees may struggle to qualify for higher-level positions.
  • Limited Opportunities for Skill Demonstration: If employees are not provided with challenging assignments or opportunities to showcase their abilities, it can hinder their visibility and recognition within the organisation. Without opportunities to demonstrate their skills and potential, employees may find it difficult to advance in their careers. Younger workers are often passed over for opportunities to showcase these skills, which can slow down their development and career progression.
  • Organisational Restructuring and Downsizing: When organisations undergo restructuring or downsizing, it often leads to reduced job opportunities and limited career advancement prospects. These changes can wrongly be focused on either end of the age range of staff by pushing out or making redundancies for the eldest and youngest workers that are seen as the least valuable members of the company. 
  • Lack of Mentoring and Coaching: The absence of mentoring and coaching programs within an organisation can impede career advancement. Mentors and coaches can provide guidance, support, and advocacy for employees, helping them navigate the path to higher-level roles. These opportunities are often not given to the eldest members as it can be seen as a waste of limited resources. 

Unequal Treatment and Age-Related Jokes/Comments 

To address unequal treatment and age-related jokes/comments in the workplace, consider the following steps:

  • Promote Awareness: Conduct training sessions or workshops to educate employees about equality and diversity, stereotypes, and the importance of creating an inclusive workplace that values employees of characteristics, especially age. Increasing awareness can help individuals recognise and address their biases.
  • Establish Clear Policies: Implement and communicate clear policies that explicitly prohibit age-related discrimination, unequal treatment, and inappropriate jokes/comments. Ensure that these policies are consistently enforced and provide channels for reporting any incidents or concerns.
  • Foster a Respectful Culture: Encourage a culture of respect and inclusivity by promoting open dialogue, empathy, and understanding among employees. Encourage employees to speak up if they witness or experience age-related discrimination or inappropriate behaviour.
  • Provide Reporting Mechanisms: Establish confidential reporting mechanisms, such as hotlines or HR channels, where employees can report incidents of unequal treatment or inappropriate behaviour without fear of retaliation. Promptly investigate and address reported concerns.
  • Train Managers and Leaders: Provide training to managers and leaders on recognising and addressing age-related biases and discrimination. Equip them with the skills to handle complaints, promote inclusive practices, and create a supportive work environment for employees of all ages.
  • Lead by Example: Leaders should lead by example and demonstrate their commitment to fostering an inclusive workplace by avoiding age-related jokes or comments and treating employees of all ages with respect and fairness.
  • Address Complaints Promptly: Take all complaints seriously and investigate them promptly. Address any instances of unequal treatment or inappropriate behaviour through appropriate disciplinary actions as per organisational policies.

By recognising the detrimental impact of ageism in the workplace, the UK can take proactive steps to create an age-inclusive environment where individuals of all ages can thrive. Combating ageism requires a collective effort from organisations, policymakers, and individuals to foster a culture of respect, embrace diversity, and maximise the potential of every employee. Together, we can build workplaces that value skills, experience, and abilities, regardless of age.

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