With organizations implementing DE&I initiatives, you might think the modern work environment is becoming an equal place for all to excel and build lifelong careers. However, have we forgotten about the worker over 50? In the U.S. about 35 percent of the population is now age 50 or older. Unfortunately, ageism in the workplace occurs every day across America, and it is often not recognized and sometimes accepted as harmless. You have probably overheard the comments and jokes about older workers being less than mentally astute.
The Great Divide
AARP reports that workers age 50+ comprise a commanding 38% of the essential workforce. Yet even with strong representation in corporate America, surveys still show that 3 in 5 older workers have experienced age bias in the workplace. If people are working beyond traditional retirement timelines and are protected by law, how did this bias become so pervasive? Age discrimination has many different faces in the workplace. It manifests in these categories:
- Recruitment and hiring lean toward the younger candidate for no other reason than age or perceived cultural fit.
- Learning, development, and training are offered to younger workers while overlooking senior workers. These missed opportunities could be in the form of classroom training, online course work, degrees, or attending conferences.
- Older employees are not asked to participate in new projects, key initiatives, and assignments in the work place.
- Raises and promotions go to younger workers even if the individual performance of an older worker is exemplary.
- Terminations are often aimed at senior employees in an organization restructure.
- Negative comments about age, ability, or stamina are targeted at the over 50 crowd either subtly or overtly.
How Can Companies Stop Ageism?
- Examine your mindset. We shouldn’t assume our work place is free of age discrimination. We all have developed stereotypes over our lifetime. Learn to recognize your own thought patterns, and challenge yourself to modify them. Work with your team and leadership to mold the culture of the organization to be free from age bias. Hold each other accountable and strive for change.
- Invest in senior workers growth and development. Whether it be formal classroom leadership training, conferences and seminars, or online technology courses, help them enhance their skill set. They already have a wealth of experience and business acumen, so modernizing their impressive tool kit not only benefits the worker, but also improves results for the organization. Create a culture of learning and design training programs that address the needs of early, middle, and senior career professionals.
- Empower older employees to lead company projects/ initiatives. They likely have a distinguished track record of tackling new assignments over their tenure, so keep them energized with new leadership duties and responsibilities. Further, include them in company activities and client/organizational meetings – they add value and experience!
- Evaluate your practices for raises and promotions. Are they fair, equitable, and based on performance data? Also, you may believe that older workers don’t want a promotion because they plan on retiring soon. Employees of all ages want meaningful and valuable work, so don’t make assumptions and risk short changing the company and the individual. Engage in dialogue and determine what is important to them.
- Assess your hiring and recruiting practices. Sometimes we hire people similar to ourselves instead of objectively hiring based on skills and qualifications. Put checks and balances in place for your hiring process to ensure candidates aren’t eliminated due to bias. Utilize standardized, objective questions in the evaluation process and have multiple people on different teams involved in interviews to avoid preconceived opinions from dominating. Also, don’t think all senior candidates command a high salary. People are driven by different motivators -- ask the questions.
Reimagine the Future Workforce
Today’s older work force is an irreplaceable asset of industry knowledge, skills, and expertise. They have a command of workplace mechanics and have achieved massive accomplishments through decades of shaping American organizations. If they leave a company due to a stagnant future, their intellectual capital goes with them. With a little education and teamwork, we can hire and cultivate a range of qualified employees regardless of their age.