Ageism in the workplace, although rarely blatant (it’s illegal, after all) is not uncommon.
While some organizations have begun to understand the societal and economic advantages of a diverse and inclusive workforce, many others are yet to take decisive steps to fight ageism in the workplace.
Listed below are the six most common signs of ageism in the workplace:
1. Sign of ageism in the workplace: Training opportunities
If training opportunities are offered exclusively to younger employees but not older ones, this could be a sign of ageism. It may include –
- Access to the learning material
- Employer funding or subsidizing the education or training of younger employees
- Employer sending younger employees to attend industry seminars, exhibitions, conferences, etc.
- Employer excluding the older employees from internal skill training & certification programs
2. Sign of ageism in the workplace: Team activities
If a company’s HR department routinely organizes a set of team activities that demand athleticism, it may be a sign of ageism. This is because these activities can easily put older employees at a disadvantage.
If you and other employees above the age of 40 feel that the HR department always picks team activities that you cannot participate in, it could be intentional.
3. Sign of ageism in the workplace: Work assignments
An employer or a supervisor may continually overlook older employees for seemingly challenging work assignments even when there is a history of these employees having performed similar duties in the past.
A supervisor may also assign the most tedious or monotonous tasks to older employees.
If you have been singled out for workplace assignments that other workers do not want or delegated to back-office jobs that keep you away from customers, it could be due to your age.
4. Sign of ageism in the workplace: Performance reviews
If you are good at what you do in the workplace but find your supervisor increasingly reprimanding you about the work quality.
Or the HR department for inexplicable reasons has now begun to give negative performance reviews, they may be in the process of establishing a paper-trail to justify firing you in near future.
Such tactics are at times used by employers to protect themselves from potential wrongful termination lawsuits.
5. Sign of ageism in the workplace: Age-related jokes and remarks
Employers or co-workers may pass comments or remarks about older workers.
It can at times be playful, with others joking about your future retirement plans or physical abilities and limitations such as difficulty climbing up the stairs, slow typing speed or lifting a bunch of file folders.
Or, it could be a downright aggressive remark, made especially to make you feel bad about yourself, pressure you to quit or free up a specific position in the workplace for another, younger employee.
Often, older workers may be treated by supervisors or employers as too sensitive and communicated that “it’s just a joke!”
Disparaging comments about someone’s age or even seemingly harmless jokes in the workplace imply that an employer isn’t taking workplace age discrimination seriously.
6. Sign of ageism in the workplace: Raises and promotions
Different decisions concerning raises and promotions may be perceived as ageism or workplace age discrimination even when based on individual performance.
Therefore, it is necessary to look at organization-wide trends.
If you had been getting consistent raises and promotions for many years until you turned 50 when your employer abruptly stopped promoting you or raising your salary, it could be due to your age.
The company management can also put older employees on an employee improvement plan despite the fact that their performance had been satisfactory.
Dealing with ageism and age discrimination in the workplace
1. Fight the stereotypes
You need to commit yourself to fight stereotypes concerning professionals above the age of 40.
If certain stereotypes or prejudices have crept into the company culture, inform the company management or the HR department about it.
Employers or young supervisors, for instance, may have the wrong notion that older employees are incapable of embracing new technology or dealing with a new client.
They may even think that you lack the ambition and energy to achieve organizational goals, while completely ignoring the wealth of knowledge and industry experience acquired over the years.
2. Be assertive
Don’t subscribe to prevailing beliefs about aging professionals and don’t let anyone else make assumptions about you.
Also, do not ignore a playful or tacky comment about your age.
Avoid knee-jerk reactions but clearly explain to a co-worker or supervisor that he or she should refrain from making remarks that sound ageist.
Be willing to contribute to the best of your capabilities.
Make it clear to a co-worker or a supervisor that you do not want them to ‘take it easy’ on you.
If you believe a training program can help you do more for the company, ask for it.
4. Invest in yourself
When you start to think you are lagging behind in learning a new skill and technology or understanding a new business practice, patiently invest in your development.
Use all the resources at your disposal, such as the Internet, to keep learning.
What to do when you experience age discrimination in the workplace?
Start preparing detailed documentation the day you first understand you’ve become a victim of age discrimination in the workplace.
Record all important communications and write down all important dates and the names of witnesses to related events and conversations.
If you’ve been fired from the job and think it’s unfair, make sure you understand what wrongful termination actually means in the legal sense of the word.
Contact an employment law attorney who can analyze your situation and guide you on what to do next.
Under federal law, age discrimination in the workplace is prohibited under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
This act covers employers with a minimum of 20 employees; employees above the age of 40 are protected.
States such as California also have stricter laws such as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) that protect workers from age discrimination in the workplace.
Disclaimer: This is not legal information. No attorney-client privileges are substantiated from this article.
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Frank Feldman is PR/Media Manager at Stephen Danz & Associates, one of the largest law firms committed solely to representing employees in their disputes with employers in California.