Is there ageism in the workplace?
Ageism, the discriminatory treatment of individuals or groups based on their age, is a recognised form of prejudice in the workplace. Despite being illegal in many countries, including New Zealand, ageism continues to be a major issue that affects workers of all ages.
From negative attitudes and stereotypes about older or younger workers to unequal treatment and missed opportunities, ageism can have a devastating impact on the careers and well-being of those impacted. This can not only harm the individuals targeted by ageism, but it can also contribute to a less diverse and less flexible workforce.
Why does ageism in the workplace occur?
There are several reasons why ageism can occur in the workplace:
- Stereotypes and biases: Age-based stereotypes and biases can shape perceptions and attitudes towards older or younger workers. For example, older workers may be perceived as being less technologically savvy or less able to adapt to change, while younger workers may be seen as inexperienced or lacking in judgment.
- Economic factors: Ageism in the workplace may be driven by the belief that older workers are more expensive, less productive, or less flexible than their younger counterparts. This can result in employers being reluctant to hire or retain older workers, or in discriminatory practices such as denying promotions or reducing hours.
- Resistance to change: Some employers may view older workers as more resistant to new ideas and processes, leading to discriminatory practices such as lay-offs or demotions.
- Lack of understanding: Some employers may not understand the value that older workers bring to the workplace and may not appreciate the skills and experience they have accumulated over time.
- Culture and social norms: Ageism can also be perpetuated by the culture and social norms of the workplace, where age-based jokes or comments are tolerated, or where older workers are excluded from social or professional activities.
Older workers and ageism in the workplace: Overcoming the challenges
Here, we examine three key strategies that older workers can use to overcome ageism in the workplace.
Keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date
One of the most common stereotypes about older workers is that they are less technologically savvy or less able to adapt to change. To counteract this perception, it’s important to keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date, and to demonstrate that you are a valuable and adaptable employee. This could involve seeking out training and development opportunities, staying informed about industry developments, and investing in technology and tools that can help you to remain competitive and productive.
Be proactive about seeking opportunities
Older workers who are proactive about seeking opportunities can help to demonstrate their value to the organisation and counteract negative attitudes and perceptions. This could involve taking on new challenges, volunteering for projects or assignments outside of your comfort zone, or seeking opportunities to lead and mentor others. By being proactive and demonstrating your willingness to contribute, you can help to create a more positive and inclusive work environment and build good relationships with co-workers and managers.
Build strong relationships
Building strong relationships with co-workers and managers is another effective strategy for overcoming ageism in the workplace. This could involve participating in team-building activities, seeking opportunities for informal interaction, and actively promoting positive and inclusive workplace behaviours. By building strong relationships, you can help to create a more supportive and positive work environment and counteract negative attitudes and perceptions about older workers.
Preparation for ageism in the workplace: Long-term strategies for people in their 40s
People in their 40s can make several long-term plans to prepare for a time when they might face ageism in the workplace. Here, we examine four key strategies for preparation.
Build a diverse professional network
Building a strong and diverse professional network is an essential part of preparing for ageism in the workplace. By participating in professional organisations, attending networking events and building relationships with co-workers and managers, you can help to create a supportive network that provides resources, opportunities and perspectives. This network can help you to stay informed about industry developments and find support when needed.
Consider alternative career paths
If you’re concerned about facing ageism in your current line of work, consider exploring alternative career paths that may offer more flexibility and opportunities. This could include entrepreneurship, consulting, or a transition to a different industry. By staying open to new opportunities, you can help to ensure that you remain competitive and adaptable, regardless of your age.
Stay physically and mentally healthy
Maintaining good physical and mental health is essential for staying competitive and resilient in the workplace. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, engaging in regular exercise and seeking support when needed, you can help to ensure that you remain focused, energetic and productive throughout your career.
Be open to change
Change is a constant in the modern workplace, and it’s essential to be open to new opportunities and challenges. By taking on new responsibilities, exploring new industries and seeking out new job opportunities, you can help to demonstrate your value and adaptability, and counteract any negative attitudes and perceptions about age.
In conclusion, ageism in the workplace is a complex issue that affects many older workers, but there are steps that can be taken to overcome it. By keeping your skills and knowledge up-to-date, being proactive about seeking opportunities and building strong relationships, older workers can demonstrate their value and overcome the challenges posed by ageism in the workplace. If you have time to plan ahead, considering alternative career paths, staying physically and mentally healthy, and being open to change can help to overcome the challenges posed by ageism and secure a bright and successful future.
Overcoming ageism: A case study of success through consultancy
Maria, a highly experienced marketing professional in her mid-60s, faced a common issue in the modern workplace: ageism. Despite her impressive track record and years of success in the industry, she was repeatedly passed over for promotions and opportunities in her previous role.
Determined to overcome this discrimination, Maria took a bold step and transitioned into consultancy. By leveraging her wealth of experience and expertise, she offered her marketing services to organisations on a freelance basis.
The transition was a resounding success for Maria. Her clients valued her in-depth knowledge and experience, and she was able to secure a variety of high-quality projects and opportunities. She quickly established a reputation as a sought-after and trusted consultant in her field.
Entrepreneurship: A solution for overcoming ageism in the workplace
John is a seasoned software engineer in his early-60s. Like many individuals in their later years, John faced ageism in the workplace. Despite his decades of experience and proven track record, he found himself feeling undervalued and unappreciated.
But John refused to let ageism hold him back. Instead, he decided to take control of his career and start a software development company. With proven expertise and experience, John was able to secure a steady stream of clients and projects, and quickly established his company as a leading provider of software development services.
John’s entrepreneurship journey was not without challenges. He had to overcome initial scepticism from potential clients, as well as the difficulties of starting a business from scratch. However, with determination and hard work, he was able to overcome these obstacles and build a thriving and successful company.