Ageism at work is illegal under the 2010 Equality Act – yet it is the most widely experienced form of work discrimination, according to a study from the charity, Age UK.
A record 10 million workers are over the age of 50. And this population is forecast to grow to represent more than a third of all workers in the UK in the next decade.
Yet two thirds of older people believe age discrimination still exists in the workplace. It can take many forms – from the overt and individual, to the implicit and institutional.
In a survey carried out in 2018, nearly half of those over 50 thought that their age would disadvantage them if they applied for a new job and a third thought there were fewer opportunities for training and progression with their existing company.
How many older candidates have been turned down for a promotion or training that ended up going to a younger worker who was less qualified, with no evidence of the decisions being based on merit?
Several forms of age discrimination persist due to assumptions about older workers, including:
- young people invest more in developing new skills
- young people feel more excited by their jobs
- older people neglect their health
- older people are not as up-to-date technologically as young people
- older people get exhausted by their work
- older workers are looking to slow down and coast toward retirement
- older workers have less interest in exploring new ideas and opportunities.
- But beliefs about different age groups that supposedly held true in the past are no longer valid.
A study by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott of the London Business School found each of those assumptions to be statistically untrue.
They argued that technological advancements and increased longevity mean we must stop viewing life in three stages: education, work, and retirement.
People of different ages are participating in similar activities, and the workforce is becoming increasingly age-diversified.
Older employees are emphatically not slowing down. In fact, the younger age group reported significantly more interest in slowing down their life pace.
Lynda Gratton says that ageism at work begins at 40 for women and 45 for men and is now becoming worse than sexism.
Many of our institutions and policymakers fail to promote age-friendly workplaces and support older workers to remain in fulfilling work for longer.
Organisational research has shown that a diverse, inclusive working environment leads to a greater mix of skills, experiences, perspectives and ideas.
Older workers offer a wealth of experience and knowledge that companies are potentially missing out on. With skills and labour shortages predicted in future, employers will need to recruit, retain and support those older workers if they want to remain competitive.
It’s time for workers to challenge the prejudice and negative stereotypes aimed at ageing professionals.
Life experience is a valuable commodity. Employers must eliminate age discrimination in employment practices and provide supporting measures for their older workers to realise their potential and enjoy longer working lives.