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How old is "old"? How young is "young"?

The term ageism was first used by gerontologist Robert N. Butler to describe the discrimination of older adults. Nowadays, it is clear that age-based discrimination can also affect younger people. This is called reverse ageism. Dismissing the younger generation as too inexperienced or unprofessional are examples of how reverse ageism can hold younger people back.

Although it is universal, people do not always take ageism as seriously as other forms of inequity. We should not forget that the impact of ageism can be damaging and life-altering. People forced into early retirement might not have enough funds to survive. I have literally heard the following on more than one occasion: “Let’s hope I won’t get older than 70. I won’t have enough savings to last longer. And let’s not talk about what happens in case I am going to suffer from serious health issues even before that age.”

Very sadly, bullying still happens on a large scale. And not only amongst children and teenagers which is already worrying enough. Age-related workplace bullying occurs when a colleague or manager harasses or intimidates another employee based on age. Workplace bullying is just as serious an issue as the school-related problem and can have major lasting consequences. Low self-esteem, not feeling safe at work and losing sense of belonging are no exceptions. Not too long ago someone told me: “I am totally being ignored in my office. It is as if I am not there. I go to work with a heavy heart and I cry myself to sleep. But I can’t give up my job, it is all I have and I need the money.”

Other examples of ageism in the workplace include:

➡️ Refusing to hire people over or under a certain age

➡️ Dismissing input from younger people

➡️ Viewing older people as being resistant to change

➡️ Negative comments about someone’s age

A 2021 UK survey by Legal and General Retail Retirement and the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that 52% of jobseekers over the age of 50 believed their age meant they were less likely to receive offers of employment.

There are a number of actions organisations and their leadership can take to fight ageism. To prevent workplace ageism problems, initiate discussions on age bias in DEI programs. Images also play a significant role in determining whether an organisation encourages and embraces workplace diversity and inclusion or not. Including people from different ethnicity and gender in images is common, but people might not think about including the age spectrum. These are just two examples of actions.

Change will never happen if nobody addresses the issue and starts fixing the root causes. What can business leaders and organisations do to tackle ageism?


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