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Ageism And Age Discrimination In The Workplace

– Posted in: HR Management, HR Training Courses Blog, Human Resources

Age is something we all possess. Age discrimination none of us want but age discrimination in the workplace is a growing problem


From birth our age is important to us. In the early stages our parents love to tell people how young we are. In time we are at the age to start formal education. Then we reach teenage years. Soon it is time to leave home and get your own house.

That is probably the time when most people find their age rapidly increases and many things occur. We find partners to live with, work colleagues to cooperate or compete with, spend happy years building our careers, enjoying the benefits of career success and eventually start the age of decline towards retirement.

There is even a vocabulary of age related words and phrases which becomes more relevant to us as we get older including retirement age and pension age. Nearing retirement age people start to ask, "What age can I retire?" and to help them they use an online retirement age calculator or a pension age calculator.

During our earlier years age progression is generally a good thing. Eventually most people come up against ageism.

What is ageism?

Well, an ageism definition tells us it is discrimination based on a person's age. Ageism happens at all ages and here we are concerned with discrimination against all people in the workplace regardless of their actual ages.

Most people suffer some form of ageism in the workplace during their adult years. That probably includes you but you might not recognize employment discrimination in your own job or career.

When ageism in the workplace affects your job prospects what can you do?

Ageism comes in many forms. What you are probably interested in is the type of ageism and examples of discrimination you will almost certainly experience at various stages in your working life. It typically starts when you are seeking your first job and continues, in one form or another, until after retirement. You are a victim of job discrimination so what is the answer?

This article concentrates on the typical workplace discrimination many workers experience in today's highly competitive work environment. In fact it starts when you are preparing to apply for your first job and gets more and more evident once you are in employment.

Are you too young for the job?

When you finished your formal education and started looking for your first full time job what happened?

In part that depended on the type of job you were looking for. If you just wanted any job offer in order to get into the workplace you probably found yourself in low grade work that did not demand much from you. A big problem with that would have been that your wages would have been at the lowest possible level.

That was your first experience of discrimination at work. You were too young to be taken seriously and your career progression was not the most important thing on your employer's mind.

Maybe that first job did something for you. It gave you a start. It put you in a place where you learned something about paid work for adults. Hopefully it gave you a desire to find a better job; something that really would help you to develop the career or working life that you wanted.

You might not have stayed in that place too long before moving on. Your next job application would have been in a totally different context. You had experience and you should have been able to supply your next employer with something they were specifically seeking such as job experience.

How can job experience put you in a better place?

Throughout your working lifetime you expect to build experience from one job to another. You might have gained promotion and become responsible for more important work or managing other employees.

Over the next few years your work experience will have built in many ways. You will have developed your ability to communicate with your fellow workers. You probably continued your education in the workplace by attending courses or work experience opportunities in new ventures or related departments.

At some time in the early years of your working lifetime you will have shown your employer how good you are and they would have recognized that by giving you salary increases and more job responsibilities.

For a few years all goes well. You probably did not suffer any further examples of ageism or age discrimination at work. Then, when you are probably at your most valuable to your employer what happens?

Ageism says you are too old for promotion

You suddenly become too old; but too old for what? Certainly not old from your point of view. After all you have a very active brain. You still play sports. You enjoy social activities with family and friends. You're still up for a challenge and can compete with all you come into daily contact with.

You are confident and at the top of your career. Except - there is one further promotion you really would like. The position is currently on offer and the company is seeking applications.

You know you are the best person for the post. You have years of experience of just the right type for the position on offer. You are a reliable employee and have done everything possible for the company over many years. This is your opportunity to take them into the big league.

They must appoint you

Everything is right for them to do so. None of the applicants know the company, its business, its technology and its market better than you. After all, it was your years of devoted service that put them where they now are.

You don't get the post. It goes to some youngster who you know will fall down at the first serious hurdle.

What happened? You were a victim of ageism in the workplace. That is something you had forgotten about many years ago. You were so successful in your career and the company was so happy with you that you never gave a thought to age discrimination.

It gets worse. Suddenly your employer starts making suggestions that you should be thinking of retiring before they have to make you redundant.

"How can this be happening?" you ask yourself. "I'm not too old" you tell yourself. "I feel at the peak of my working career". "I know I still have a lot to offer".

Soon you start to see your employers in a different light. Most of the board members are older than you. They don't have your skills. They would never have succeeded without you. Now you are not wanted. You are too old. You start to feel bitter about it.

Age discrimination is illegal but it is a fact of life for many employees

It's illegal but it happens. Looking back you remember the time when you were too young to be accepted in a job you really wanted. Now you are too old according to your employers.

Often employees do not see age the same way as employers do. At the start of a working life young people often come to a job with enthusiasm and a desire to learn about the company, develop valuable job skills, and build their careers.

At the other end of a working lifetime you're no longer wanted at what could be your most productive age. That's your interpretation but an employer sees it a different way. They fear keeping you in a job and losing the opportunity to find somebody who is the equivalent of what you were when they first appointed you.

Who's right and who is wrong? Again, that depends on your viewpoint but there are many ageism examples that both sides see in opposing ways.

In many countries the law sees age in a different way from many employers and a vast number of employment lawyers make a lot of money from employment discrimination cases. Most countries have strict discrimination laws to protect you.

How can you beat age discrimination in the workplace?

Without expert employment law advice all we can do is consider opposing examples that could result in job discrimination.

Let's start at the time you write your résumé. Does it make you appear to be too young or too old? And does it really have an adverse effect?

Some HR managers start with a look at how you layout your résumé or your CV (curriculum vitae). Fashions change so is your layout dated or is it up to date. What does it tells the reader about your age? What do you want it to say about you?

Does all this adverse thinking of age really matter?

To a large extent it all depends on what you want to say about yourself. You will have noticed the word "résumé" has been written as " résumé" above. "Résumé" is the technically correct spelling with the accents included but younger people generally miss them off and write "resume".

Should you show an HR person that you know the correct spelling and let them believe you are able to handle details or do you not think it matters? The choice has to be yours.

Do you give your age away by including details of skills you gained thirty years ago but are no longer relevant? Perhaps you want a company to know you are over fifty or even over sixty but with a lot of value they will not get from a thirty year old.

There are good and bad points on both sides

However, it is a certainty that your age will be discovered at an interview so why try to hide it? Consider letting your potential employer know about the things you will bring to the job that a young person will probably not be able to do.

Good employers still recognize the benefits to their businesses that come with an older person able to bring a valuable work ethic, maturity, reliability and good life skills that are often missing in younger employees.

Discrimination at work comes in many forms. When it happens labor law provides the tools to manage both employee rights and employer rights.

Fortunately good HR managers are well aware of employment rights and employment discrimination risks. They take care not to resort to the services of an employment law attorney to sort out workplace problems. Their best solution is to eliminate ageism and age discrimination in the workplace before the problems arise.

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