The new year is nearly upon us, and that makes all of us another year older. With age comes wisdom, right? If only that was all others thought of older generations. To some hiring managers, a more mature candidate may seem like a less technically savvy candidate, or a candidate with too high of expectations. Age discrimination is an unfortunate reality, but for any reason an employer may have for avoiding mature job candidates, you should have a counter.
What is Age Discrimination?
While the phrase age discrimination is commonly used, many people are unsure of exactly what it means. At its core, age discrimination occurs when an employee receives unfair treatment because of their age. There are four main types of age discrimination including:
- Direct Age Discrimination
Direct age discrimination arises when an employee receives worse treatment than another employee because of their age. For example, if an employee in their 50s doesn’t get invited to attend an industry conference when their colleagues who recently graduated from college do, direct age discrimination may exist.
- Indirect Age Discrimination
If your business has a policy that applies to all your employees but puts those who are a certain age at a disadvantage, indirect age discrimination may be present. If you have a policy that states you don’t give raises to anyone without a graduate degree, your younger employees may be victims of indirect age discrimination.
- Age Harassment
Age harassment is when an employee gets degraded or humiliated because of their age. For example, if a manager states that an older employee won’t be able to use a new tool or piece of equipment because of their age, they may be involved in age harassment.
If an employee makes an age discrimination complaint and is treated badly as a result, they face what’s known as victimization. Let’s say an employee informs their supervisor of their co-worker’s age discrimination complaint. If their supervisor treats them poorly, they are likely facing victimization.
How Does Age Discrimination Happen In The Workplace?
Unfortunately, age discrimination can be seen in all types of work environments, so you’re bound to experience it regardless of if you own a restaurant, construction firm, or insurance company.
It’s particularly problematic in today’s world because there are many older people in the workforce. Individuals are prolonging their working lives for financial reasons and retiring much later than they did in the past.
Often, professionals don’t even realize that they’re discriminating based on an employee’s age.
For example, an employer may tell an older employee that a management position isn’t right for them because it involves travel. They may believe that the employee is unable to travel as much as a younger employee and discriminate against them as a result. This may be something they do subconsciously without even realizing that it’s unfair. The older employee may be just as willing and able to travel as a younger employee.
There are plenty of examples like this one where employers and employees simply don’t know they’re engaging in age discrimination. They are doing what they believe is best for their organizations without giving age discrimination a second thought.
How to handle age discrimination?
- Have a chat: There are some people who habitually make decisions and behavioural choices that are influenced by age-related observations without realising they are doing so. If the person who has been ageist towards you is someone that normally treats people with respect, it might be worth having a low-key discussion with them. It’s very possible that they are open to constructive feedback and willing to review their habitual behaviour.
- Have a difficult conversation: If you have reasonably well-developed conflict-resolution skills and you’re confident about your personal power within your organisation, consider having a one-on-one conversation with the person who has treated you in an ageist manner. Prior to putting this in motion, it’s important to consider how you can maintain your own safety (mental, emotional and physical) regardless of the outcome from the discussion. Conversations like this can be challenging, but the more you do it, the better you will become at having them. Working through a difficult issue and coming to an agreed understanding or outcome at the end can forge worthwhile, long-term connections between the two participants.
- Get support: If you really don’t feel up to having a one-on-one discussion but you still want to address the issue using informal processes, seek out a colleague or manager who may be able to coach you and help facilitate a discussion between you and the other person. Watching how someone facilitates such a discussion can end up being a bonus learning experience.
- Lodge a grievance/complaint: If informal resolution processes aren’t available to you or don’t work, lodging a grievance or complaint is the next best option. Most effective grievance/complaint processes are designed to achieve three outcomes: repair relationships, address systemic organisational flaws (e.g. a policy or procedure that is badly designed) or fix something that’s incorrect (e.g. review and address an incorrectly applied HR policy or process).
- If all else fails: This might be the time to seriously consider what your best options might be. You can go to a trusted mentor, your union or a solicitor for advice. You can decide not to take any further action. You can also decide to look around for a job in an organisation that treats its employees with respect and understands the positive outcomes that flow when workforce diversity is encouraged and supported.
It can be tough to prevent ageism in the workplace. However, this doesn’t excuse you or your employees from treating each and every employee fairly, despite their age. By raising awareness and continuing to expand knowledge on age discrimination, you can create a healthy work environment with happy, productive employees.