Why you need to be aware of age bias at work

Last time unemployment was at this low it was October 2005. As a result, both the private and public sectors are struggling to attract and keep top talent.

Organisations are adopting new approaches and opening their minds to new ways of working and strong diversion and inclusion policies. In 2019 and going forward fully incorporate D&I practices are a business imperative.

There has been an emphasis in recent years on gender and LGBT biases. Interestingly though age discrimination is one of the most prevalent biases, despite being prohibited in Ireland since October 1999.

Most people are unaware of the subconscious stereotypes they hold about other people, whether young or old. Ageism is an insidious human trait that some of us may not even recognise.

It can be defined as the stereotyping and prejudice against people based on their age and can lead to age discrimination – whether intended or not.

Ageism can be subtle and bundled up in vague references, for example referring to a candidate as “not the right fit” purely down to what generation they are from.

Ageism – discriminating against young and old

Ageism can appear in many forms. It’s the norm in many organisations that people over the age of 50 experience some form of ageism. The 50 plus group may be depicted as:

  • Out of touch
  • Passive
  • Digitally incompetent
  • Failing physical or mentally, and dependency

When organisations apply age limits, such as mandatory retirement ages, they fail to take into account the capabilities and expertise of older people. Instead, they suggest that all older people are easily bundled into one group and less valuable than their younger co-workers.

Ageism can also impact younger professionals. Stereotyping of Millennials and Generation Z are causing some companies to be reluctant to hire younger employees.

These stereotypes include, Millennials and Generation Z workers are:

  • Lazy
  • Spoiled
  • Unpredictable
  • Unreliable
  • Unprofessional

Employers tend to think that young workers aren’t as loyal, are less skilled and will leave once they get offered a better opportunity.

Cpl’s CFO Lorna Conn stated in an article on Cpljobs that “my age has at times proven to be more of a challenge to me than my gender. Young people, irrespective of their lack of career or life experience, have valuable contributions to make both to society and in the workplace. Don’t fall into the trap of dismissing youth – listen to them, better still mentor them”.

The stereotyping of individuals or a group of individuals based on their age is of real concern. As the workforce becomes increasingly age-diverse, there is potential for age stereotypes and age prejudice to become even more entrenched in the workplace.

So how can organisations work to eliminate this?

Create a strong D&I strategy

It’s essential to include age within your diversity and inclusion strategy along with gender and race etc.

While all aspects are crucial, including age as a dimension in your diversity and inclusion strategy is beneficial when it comes to hiring and retaining a multigenerational workplace and minimising the risk for age discrimination.

Make sure leadership are engaged

Cpl’s Head of D&I Siobhan O’Shea stresses that “without leadership buy-in when implementing any Diversity and Inclusion strategy it will fail”.

It’s essential your leaders promote the importance of age inclusion and promote the value of all ages. They need to understand and embrace your strategy in order for things to work.

Implement D&I training

When implementing any Diversity and Inclusion strategy, training of staff is essential for success. Organisations need to ensure they are providing unconscious bias training to all staff, particularly hiring managers and recruiters.

Educate against ageist assumptions such as older workers will only be around for a couple of years before they plan on retiring or that younger workers are lazy and move around more.

Ensure that you educate employees on the benefits of having a multigenerational work environment through formal training and continuous reinforcement of these ideas.

Be conscious of your hiring methods

Review and update your recruitment and selection processes. Mitigate opportunities for age discrimination by using age-neutral language in job postings, eliminating questions asking for milestone dates such as dates of graduation on applications and in your applicant tracking system, standardise the evaluation process all job applicants and use age-diverse interview panels whenever possible.

Encourage mentoring

Companies that embrace mentoring are generally warm and inclusive places to work. By providing cross-generational or reverse-age mentorships your employees are encouraged to share their skills and a natural pathway for transferring knowledge is created. This benefits both the mentor and mentee and highlights the strengths of all age groups.

The best way to avoid age discrimination is to embrace a multigenerational workforce. That means recognising that all your employees, no matter their age, can contribute to your organisation’s success. It also creates a culture that welcomes employees and recognises the unique strengths everyone brings to the table.

If you work towards age inclusivity, you will reap the rewards from a diverse, inclusive culture within their organisation.

Anne Heraty, CEO Cpl stresses that “every generation has something to bring to the table, and it’s important for businesses to have an environment where generations can learn from one another.”

If you would like to find out more about multigenerational workforces, download your free copy of Cpl Insights here. To learn more about incorporating a strong diversity and inclusion policy within your organisation get in touch.