Tackling the Ageism Crisis

Tackling the Ageism Crisis

Ageism is one of the last acceptable “ism”s in the workplace. Over recent years, we have made progress in combatting racism and sexism, but it is still considered okay to make comments about a person’s age. We may use code in how in how we facilitate ageism: placing job ads that look for “fresh thinking” or referring to candidates as being “overqualified”.

Screening out candidates and not giving older workers opportunities to develop is bad for business. Older workers have a lower staff turnover rate and take fewer sick days than younger workers; their motivation for working often comes from a sense of purpose and they have experience in dealing with complex situations.

We know ageism exists, but what is it? The World Health Organization has established a platform called the Decade of Healthy Ageing. They define ageism as how we think, feel, and act towards others or ourselves based on their age. With half the world’s population being ageist against older people, clearly work needs to be done to make our workplaces more age-friendly.

Last week, Lucy Standing and I attended an event at the Southbank Centre in London. Four speakers from industry spoke about programs they had in place to combat some of the negative impacts of ageism. The keynote speaker was Lyndsey Simpson, CEO of 55 | Redefined, she had six practical tips to share with employers:

1.     Check our own biases and language when talking to older colleagues. Questions like, “when are you going to retire?” may be well intentioned but send an unwelcome message to the recipient.

2.     Invest in technology reskilling so that older workers can keep their skills up to date and transition to new roles in the company as they become available.

3.     Create flexible ways of working that would allow people move from full-time to part-time work and investigate other ways of working such as working on a retainer or a contract basis.

4.     Mine the HR data you have on workers based on age to see how age-friendly your policies are. Questions like how many people over the age of 50 have you hired in the past year or promoted can be very revealing.

5.     Ask your employees over the age of 50 what benefits they want and adapt your benefits for older workers.

6.     Look at your recruiting processes to make sure that the algorithms you are using to screen resumes are not screening out good candidates by virtue of some of the parameters used.

Lyndsey’s tips gave rise to a lively discussion and it was encouraging to see many big-name companies actively working to create an age-friendly work environment. My take away is that it is also on us as employees to be part of the discussion and part of the solution. I learned a new phrase at the seminar “pale, male, and stale”. I am well over 50, but, like most people my age, feel I have a lot more to give and am looking forward to many more productive years in the workforce.  

Have you been the subject of ageism at work? Or maybe you work for an organization that is actively recruiting across the age spectrum? We would love to hear from you.