5 Ways to Fight Ageism in the Workplace

By Jenny Barnes on Apr 28, 2023
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More than ever before, organizations are coming together to show just how important it is to support all of their employees. Doing so isn't just great for your business' human capital, it also leads to boosted innovation and stronger financial results, according to Forbes and the Wall Street Journal

As we seek to build, maintain and champion a diverse workforce, it's critical we don't forget workers over the age of 40. Inclusive workplaces must support the careers of employees in all stages of their careers: junior, mid-level and senior.

You can practice anti-ageism in your company, likely with just a few tweaks to your normal hiring and HR strategies. Here's what some of the top-performing businesses are doing to avoid and combat ageism in the workplace, and how you can make their best practices your own. 

RELATED: Preventing Age Discrimination at Work >>

What is Ageism? 

Ageism, or the practice of age discrimination, is defined by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as "treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age." Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), ageism in the workplace is illegal when the employee in question is aged forty or older.

While age discrimination can affect individuals of any age, only individuals over the age of 40 are protected by federal statutes. It's important to remember that anyone, whether younger or older than 40, can be guilty of ageism. 

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What Can Companies Do to Avoid Ageism? 

Age discrimination isn't just a legal issue, it affects real people. All too often, indications of ageism are accepted as normal behavior. According to the AARP, two out of every three workers between the ages of 45 and 74 report seeing or experiencing age discrimination at work.

What's more, job seekers over the age of 35 say that it is a "top obstacle to getting hired." Not only do companies hurt employees when they fail to avoid ageism, but they also lose out on valuable talent and experience. 

Learning to recognize and combat our internal biases is no easy task, but there are simple ways that you can begin to fight ageism in your workplace.

Here are some of the top strategies to implement now: 

  • Shake up your recruiting practices

How (and from where) do you typically recruit for open positions within your company? If yours is like many businesses, you may be leaning toward high school, trade school, or university job fairs, or be leaning on an internship to an entry-level position pipeline.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with fielding new talent in this way, creating diverse channels for recruitment will help your company attract individuals at all stages of their careers. 

RELATED: Recruiting Biases - How to Avoid Blind Spots & Make Smart Hiring Decisions >>

  • Take a closer look at your hiring process

Are you one of the many businesses that utilize an online application system or ask applicants for open positions to fill out a paper application that you supply? If so, take a look at your application form. If it requires applicants to supply start or end dates for completed education, you could be leaving open an avenue for age discrimination in your hiring staff.

Refraining from asking an applicant for their age or graduation date is a simple tweak that you can make to help keep the age factor out of the hiring process altogether. 

  • Consider who is being promoted (and how often)

Young employees aren't the only workers you have who are eager to advance in their careers. People of all ages have the desire to climb in their industry, and yet, it seems that young people are promoted more frequently and at faster speeds than their more senior counterparts.

Just because an employee is senior does not necessarily mean that they feel they've reached the peak of their career or that they see retirement as their next step. During performance reviews or manager meetings with all employees, make sure to ask what they want from their careers. What do they see as the next steps and where would they like to be in five years? 

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  • Assign new projects fairly

Employees who are senior in their careers are often just as willing and able as newer employees to learn new skills, take on new projects, and spearhead new initiatives. Innovation and creativity do not end with age, and nor should the assignment of new projects.

Consider how (and to whom) new projects are assigned within your company. Are your senior workers getting the chance to try something new? Would they like to? Begin to tackle this lesser-recognized facet of ageism by assigning projects fairly and equitably, based on existing skills and past performance. 

  • When it comes to technical skills and willingness to learn, banish your biases

Some of the most common (and most unfounded) stereotypes about employees who are advanced in their careers include the false idea that they lack technical skills and are unwilling to learn new concepts or strategies. Not only are these ideas not evidence-based, they can be harmful to the development of your employees' abilities and their relationships with their coworkers.

The next time an individual at work makes an ageist comment or implies that a senior employee is behind on tech capabilities, correct the behavior. A zero-tolerance policy for ageism will make your company's cultural environment one of encouragement and accountability, and that benefits employees of all ages. 

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Axcet: Your HR Solution 

Could you use an HR expert at your company? Small to mid-sized businesses don't always have the resources to hire an entire HR department, but they can outsource HR functions to the experts. Meet Axcet HR Solutions: we’re your HR, culture, and compliance specialists – guiding your business to mitigate risk and create a healthy work environment.

If you're interested in learning more about what you can do to prevent discrimination in your workplace, and how Axcet can help, schedule a conversation with us today.

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Written by Jenny Barnes

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