Agata stops by to guest post on the results of a recent LiveCareer study on older people in the workplace. She discusses the problem of age-related stereotypes and age discrimination at work, what the survey uncovered, and more. Let’s give her the floor.
Talking age discrimination at work
Steve Jobs was right – death is the destination we all share. But it’s the final station, let’s say. With many others to reach before we get there. Aging, for example. It happens in the meantime. And no one can escape it.
Philosopher’s stone, genie granting your three wishes, and an elixir of youth sound like great options, sure. But they belong to fairy tales. Dream about everlasting youth won’t come true, sorry.
First wrinkle, first gray hair. On the one hand, that’s the natural order of things. On the other, ageism and age-related stereotypes are still alive – in the workplace and beyond. Not convinced? Keep on reading. You’ll change your mind, I bet.
Let’s start with the example of Lisa LaFlamme, a well-known Canadian TV journalist, who was let go from the network in August. That caused major backlash from viewers. Some compared how early she was asked to leave to Lloyd Robertson (former anchor) and how she let her hair go gray. Rumors of ageism and sexism appeared straight away. The network denied it.
Was it a kind of odd-one-out game? You know, “a successful career – years of hard work – gray-haired woman at the age of 55+,” pick a mismatch.
We don’t know the reality of why LaFlamme left the network. We might never know.
Regardless, women seem to be deprived of the right to age. Not literally, of course. But it’s hard not to get the impression that they become invisible at some point in their lives. In work lives, especially.
Too old to work, too young to die?
Age discrimination at work is a real social problem that can bring disastrous consequences. The facts speak for themselves. Just have a look:
- According to the World Health Organization, ageism leads to poorer health, social isolation, and earlier deaths. What’s more, 6.3 million cases of depression globally are attributed to ageism.
- AARP 2022 study leaves no doubt that workplace ageism exists. About 2 in 3 adults aged 50+ in the labor force (62%) think older workers face discrimination in the workplace today based on age. And among them, nearly all (93%) believe that this harmful phenomenon is common. Additionally, 80% of older employees report they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
- The Generation 2021 Annual Report reveals that individuals aged 45+ make up a high share of the long-term unemployed. Labor market struggles and challenges that 45+ individuals face are global. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
- The current economic situation in most countries doesn’t help. Older people feel more and more worried about the possibility of losing their jobs. Due to growing recession fears and rising inflation, businesses want to save money and cut costs. Getting rid of middle management is one of the ways to achieve this. In practice, this means unemployment for millions of employees aged 40+.
At LiveCareer, we conducted a study on today’s situation of older people at work. The research findings are not comforting, to put it mildly.
- 8 in 10 respondents believe age stereotypes are still alive in the workplace.
- The highest percentage (64%) of people who have experienced workplace age discrimination are those working in the educational sector. A female-dominated one, just for the record.
- More than 7 in 10 (72%) respondents claim that older employees are a target for workplace bullying.
- Fun fact. Turning forty is the moment when you officially become old. For as many as 43% of survey takers, at least.
Let’s dig deeper.
Struggles of employees aged 50+
The first problems appear during a job hunt. A full 86% of respondents born in 1972 and earlier believe that most job postings are addressed to people younger than them. Also, 76% claim that finding a job is easier for the younger. And it is not just a matter of perspective, I’m afraid.
Think about job postings. Shouldn’t they be age-bias-free? Aren’t skills, work ethic, and professional experience way more important than the year of birth? Let’s be honest – “young, energetic team” may be great in practice but discouraging for a 50-year-old looking for employment who reads a job offer like that.
And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sad but true.
7 in 10 respondents aged 50+ are afraid to lose their job because of how old they are. At the same time, more than half of the surveyed would feel useless (54%) and lonely (56%) without work. Heartbreaking.
Getting a job, keeping a job, losing a job. A vicious circle of fear and worry.
Time to take a closer look at age-related workplace stereotypes. According to our respondents, older people:
- work more slowly than younger people. – 67%
- learn more slowly than younger people. – 66%
- are less motivated to work than younger people. – 65%
- are less productive than younger people. – 65%
- are less creative than younger people. – 63%
- are less sociable than younger people. – 62%
- have worse tech skills than younger people. – 69%
- are resistant to change. – 69%
On a positive note, older workers are believed to make better leaders (78%) and be wiser (78%) than younger people.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, right? Wrong.
Age diversity in the workplace
Modern, human-centered, and growth-oriented companies value all employees’ knowledge, skills, talents, and positive working habits, regardless of their age. Greater life experience, good interpersonal skills, valuable insights to share, and a strong work ethic are just some of the things older workers can offer.
Diversity is a workplace blessing. All age groups bring different skills to the table. Everybody wins. Have a look:
- Knowledge-sharing. Age diversity goes hand in hand with skill diversity. Inspire each other to grow. Everyone has something to teach and something to learn.
- Enhanced problem-solving. Different generations come with different perspectives and a wide array of available life experiences.
- Broadening horizons. The wider range of people you work with, the more understanding, empathetic, and flexible you become.
- An eye-opening experience. Working in an age-diverse environment proves that negative age stereotypes are wrong. The more you see, the wiser you become.
Multigenerational workplaces are like a treasure chest, basically. Avoid making age-based assumptions and stereotyping. They do nothing but harm.
After all, race, gender, or age should never define your value – both on career paths and beyond.
About today’s writer on age discrimination at work
Agata Szczepanek is a job search expert at LiveCareer. Her professional insight and thinking outside the box help people from all walks of life find their dream job. Agata’s work has been featured by top media outlets, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Motley Fool, and HR Dive. A bookworm, cat lover, and working mum of a two-year-old. Feminist.