The impact of workplace ageism and how to address it - Dignify
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The impact of workplace ageism and how to address it

Wednesday, June 12, 2024 - Dignify

Ageism, or age discrimination, is defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers above the age of 40 from age discrimination practices. However, workers under the age of 40 are not protected by federal law – the legal considerations of age discrimination in these cases vary by state laws.

In any case, ageism is unfortunately a major part of today’s working world. According to Axios, over 40% of workers over 40 state that they’ve experienced age discrimination in the workplace within the last three years, and almost 40% cite ageism as their top concern when looking for jobs. These concerns are verified by data pulled from employers by ZipRecruiter, which showed that 47% of employers are concerned about older workers’ technology skills, and 25% openly stating that they would pick a 30-year-old candidate over an equally qualified 60-year-old candidate.

Let’s take a look at some examples where ageism can manifest itself in the workplace:

  • Team culture and collaboration

Ageism can take quite the toll on a team’s ability to communicate and collaborate well with one another, especially when it goes unaddressed and is allowed to take hold. In today’s multi-generational workforce (with five working generations from Generation Z to Traditionalists), this is more likely now to have an effect than ever. Differences in values, experiences, communication styles, use of technology, humor, and many more factors are always at play when a member of one generation interacts with a member of another. Generational stereotypes, prejudices, and assumptions can easily come into play and seep negativity into the culture by ruining day-to-day interactions between team members.

  • Compensation

Ageism can come into play in payment and compensation decisions. Employers can make calls on salary, benefits, and other compensation based on seniority rather than the experience or tenure of the employees in question. Employers may also assume that younger employees are willing to accept less compensation than what an equally qualified older employee would expect for the same role.

  • Hiring and promotions

Age discrimination can occur in hiring and promotion decisions and processes. For example, a younger job seeker employee might be given more opportunities based on age-based perceptions about their ideas, ability to adapt, skillset, and competency compared to an equally qualified elder worker. On the flip side, an older job seeker or employee may receive opportunities that an equally qualified young person does not because of age-based perceptions about their experience, quality of work, and general business acumen.

As a leader, you will want to ensure that you are not allowing age biases and age discrimination to affect your decision-making. For the sake of fairness and for the legal protection of your organization, ensure that there are proper policies and procedures in place within your department and/or company to prevent discriminatory practices on the basis of age. As for your team, there are a number of things that you can do to help people of different ages and generations collaborate effectively together, like education to break down prejudices and mutual mentorship to encourage learning and the exchange of ideas.

Ageism remains a pervasive issue in today’s workplaces, negatively impacting team dynamics, compensation fairness, opportunities for hiring and promotion, and more. Despite the protections offered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act for those over 40, significant gaps remain, particularly for younger workers not covered by federal law. Leaders must actively combat age-related biases by implementing robust anti-discrimination policies and promoting initiatives that enhance intergenerational collaboration. By educating employees on the value of diverse age groups and encouraging mutual mentorship, organizations can cultivate a culture of respect and inclusivity, ultimately benefiting from the broad range of experiences and perspectives that a multi-generational workforce offers.

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