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May 4, 2021

How Age Discrimination in the Workplace Impairs The Older Worker

It’s illegal to discriminate against workers based on age. However, the practice is so entrenched that it often goes unnoticed. More than a third of the populations in the United States and the European Union are over the age of 50. Still, a 2018 report from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that age discrimination continued to be a major problem. Another text found that the EU was not adequately responding to prejudice on the basis of age. In fact, author Nena Georgantzi determined that “age discrimination is the only form of inequality that is widely accepted as normal, legitimate, and justifiable”. With this in mind, it’s worth examining how ageism negatively affects the older worker. This article will also touch on how organizations suffer when mature talent isn’t valued.

What is Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination refers to when a worker or job applicant is treated less favorably because of their age. Discrimination is illegal in all aspects of employment and not just hiring and firing. This means anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination as it relates to job assignments, wages and salaries, promotion, training, and any other conditions of employment. Age discrimination typically manifests in:

  •  Hiring – Many organizations simply prefer younger workers.
  •  On-the-job prejudice – Mature employees may be harassed or overlooked for training, rewards, and opportunities.
  • Termination – When companies need to reorganize or cut their wage bill, they tend to encourage senior workers to retire or target them for layoffs.

How Prevalent is Ageism?

Some people don’t realize ageism is illegal. Others don’t even recognize that they’re engaging in the practice, and they can’t detect it when others do it. Therefore, it’s not surprising that employees report almost startling accounts of discrimination. An American Association of Retired Persons study found that almost two-thirds of workers age 45 and older had either witnessed or experienced age discrimination at work. Ninety-one percent of them believed such prejudice was common.

Meanwhile, research by CV-Library found that almost three-quarters of workers in the United Kingdom said age discrimination was common in their workplace. Among those between the ages of 55 and 64, 85.3% believed ageism was prevalent. Furthermore, a whopping 89% of 45 to 54-year-olds said they felt they were discriminated against because they were too old. Despite these figures, people often don’t talk about how age discrimination hurts mature talent.

What Happens When Workers Fall Victim to Ageism

Many older people want to continue working. Some need the money, while others want to feel fulfilled. As a result, discrimination on the basis of age has serious emotional and financial implications. It affects longevity, ability, and mental health. A 2007 study in the Journals of Gerontology found that mature employees who don’t feel useful are four times more likely to die prematurely and three times more likely to develop a disability. 

Research also shows that women who experienced age discrimination at work showed more symptoms of depression as a result of the financial strain they felt. When workers are unable to gain or retain employment, or they keep getting overlooked for promotions, their financial wellbeing is threatened. Naturally, this leads to greater levels of stress.

There are also clear financial issues that result from ageism. More than a quarter of US households are headed by individuals age 55 and over who have no retirement savings or pensions. Their only options for survival are to rely on 

Social Security or continue working. Unfortunately, hiring managers often discount their intellectual capacity and professional experience, forcing them to take minimal wage jobs that are well below their skill level. Not only does this affect the worker but other members of their household.

Age discrimination also has an adverse effect on businesses. When mature workers aren’t engaged and motivated, they don’t give their best, and eventually, they may leave the organization. This is known as “the drift,” and it deprives organizations of valuable employees. Mature workers have first-hand knowledge that younger workers don’t. Employers who don’t embrace 50-plus employees lose out on this know-how. They also lose out on workers who are productive, efficient, and confident in their work. Furthermore, they create a deficit in mentors for younger workers. 

Even when mature employees remain on the job, they may not share as much as they could with their juniors. One study found that perceived discrimination lowers “occupational self-efficacy,” which in turn lowers knowledge sharing. This hampers knowledge retention in the workplace.

Let Us Help You to Fight Ageism in Your Organization

If you want to ensure that your company helps rather than harms mature workers, WiseForce Advisors can help you. We are experts in attracting and managing 50-plus employees, and we assist human resource managers and departments with building productive multi-generational workforces. Get in touch with us today to learn about the solutions we offer.