There have been significant strides in diversity, equity and inclusion at the workplace in the last decade. However, diversity is still synonymous with gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. An often-neglected factor in diversity is ageism.
What is ageism at the workplace?
Ageism is the bias or prejudice felt against people entirely due to their age. More than a perceived bias, ageism is the practice and policy that discriminates based on these preconceived notions about age. While this prejudice can be experienced by both younger and older employees, it is more common for those above forty-five years of age.
Recruitment – The door that is shut from the start
The first catalyst of ageism is the job description that is shared by companies. Seemingly innocuous words like ‘enthusiastic', ‘energetic’ or ‘recently graduated’ make older applicants think twice before applying to the positions. Explicitly stating an age-bracket that can apply to the position or asking for the applicant’s date of birth or age is a form of discrimination.
Accelerated digital transformations within organizations have also added to the unconscious bias against those who are older. There could be older, more skilled candidates who have the experience and aptitude to do the job, but could be filtered out due to a technicality. After crossing the application hurdle, candidates have to deal with the bias of the interviewer and their age. Younger hiring managers have been observed to be less inclined to hire older applicants. Anti-discrimination training for hiring managers should be initiated by companies to overcome this bias at the hiring stage if they wish to be a truly diverse organization.
Some companies have a strict retirement age policy. Even though older employees are in great health and spirit and wish to continue working, they are forced to leave when they reach a certain age. Given the advances in healthcare and the increase in the average lifespan, the retirement age limit adopted by certain organizations seems unfair and out of practice. If an individual is capable and willing to work, they should ideally not be robbed of an opportunity to continue working. Companies also fail to factor in the cost of living these individuals have to bear to support themselves without a steady income source and rising inflation. They need to support themselves and their families long after they are forced to exit the company.
What age brings to the table
Older employees bring their wisdom and experience to the table. Having multi-generational teams allows for different viewpoints on problem-solving, thus, positively impacting business outcomes. Their life experiences contribute to them working through stressful situations in a calm and collected manner. They could also be role-models to other employees through well-crafted mentorship programs. Utilizing the experience of a workforce helps younger employees grow, older employees learn new skills, and creates an environment which empowers and celebrates each individual.
Companies are missing a golden opportunity of maximizing the potential of their older employees by not investing in the right talent development programs to close their skill gaps. That said, older people should not have a monopoly over senior positions as well. In the true spirit of hiring the right person for the right position, capability should be the only factor driving the decision.