Whether your workforce is comprised of seasoned employees in their 50s and 60s or those under 25, ageism can exist anywhere. Age discrimination is typically directed towards those in an extreme age group– that is, recent college graduates or older employees nearing the end of their careers. You know you are promoting or allowing ageism in the workplace if individuals are treated differently based on their age.
Treating someone differently because of their age is not only unfair, it is also illegal. In fact, there are many ongoing lawsuits between employees (or potential employees) and employers after unpleasant recruitment processes or experiencing poor company culture.
Ageism in the workplace can manifest in many different ways. For example, an employee who has been at a job for 10 to 20 years may be experiencing ageism if he is suddenly being assigned work that is well beneath his skill set. Similarly, someone who is suddenly criticized for her work – even though she’s been doing the same thing for years – might have an ageist boss.
The same thing could be true for employees who are told that their skill sets are no longer relevant or needed, even though the job responsibilities haven’t changed.
Such passive-aggressive acts are intended to make older people in the workplace feel uncomfortable so that they no longer want to stay at the job.
While seen less often, ageism in the workplace can be directed towards younger employees as well. Refusing to give them responsibilities despite the fact that they’re qualified, commenting on their age, or speaking down to them are all examples of ageism towards younger workers.
Ageism is most commonly seen during the hiring process. When qualified job candidates aren’t hired based on their age, it’s a clear sign of ageism in the workplace.
With the right education and procedures, preventing ageism during the hiring process is certainly achievable. The first thing to do is to make sure that you’re not adhering to certain standards or stereotypes. In the tech industry, for example, those over the age of 30 seem much older than their counterparts in the accounting or law sectors. Be sure to consider all applicants regardless of their age, and stay open to their potential strengths.
Secondly, make it a point to create a work culture that is inspiring and inviting to people of all ages. One way to achieve this is to avoid using buzzwords aimed towards millennials in job postings. Terms like “recent graduate” “growth hackers” and “tech-savvy” can make older workers feel like they’re not invited to apply to your jobs. Using terms more specific to the seniority level, i.e. “entry-level” or “experienced manager,” can broaden your search pool and make people of all ages feel welcome.
It’s also important to examine your hiring pipelines. If you advertise job openings only on Instagram or by attending college, you will likely attract younger candidates. Be cognizant of where you’re recruiting and the language you use to promote the position.
Defining ageism for your employees is perhaps the best way to ensure that everyone recognizes it. Your employee handbook can clearly include ageism in your company harassment policy, defining it as a no-tolerance behavior. This can also help employees understand how to act when they’re on a hiring committee so that they treat people of all ages equally during interviews.