HR and Recruiting

Preventing ageism in the workplace

Written by Michael Hoon

Oftentimes, when we think of age discrimination, we assume it happens to workers who are near retirement age or already senior citizens. Or maybe we picture employees who were fired or demoted for being too slow, or “low energy.” But the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was designed to protect workers ages 40 and over and covers any and all conditions of employment—from hiring to salary, to even work assignments.

The issue of age discrimination is wider than we might think at first glance, and the actual discrimination older workers face is often subtle. While it is illegal to discriminate against workers or applicants, according to AARP’s 2018 survey of workers aged 45 years and older, 61% of respondents said they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. If a majority of older workers feel they have faced bias, it’s time for HR teams to do a little soul-searching to improve the situation of this large portion of the working population.

Start with who you hire

The first place to search is in your organization’s hiring practices. Age cannot devalue a candidate’s individual merits. Older workers, on the whole, are less likely to leave an organization and they are more likely to have a longer work history and broader work experience. This can translate to increased engagement, retention, dependability, adaptability, a strong work ethic, and a good sense of workplace practices—all positive attributes that can speak to their potential.

Contrary to these positives, older workers oftentimes must face assumptions that they are less tech-savvy, more forgetful, or less efficient, or even more costly in terms of their medical benefits. These assumptions don’t just hurt this more experienced working population; they also hurt businesses who may miss out on this vast talent pool in favor of someone more “fresh-faced.”

Focus on diversity to create a strong team

The best way to prevent ageism in the workplace is to develop a robust talent acquisition strategy that emphasizes diversity—including diversity in the ages of your workforce. While recent college graduates make up a large portion of job-seeking candidates, many job candidates are seeking mid-career changes or relocation and ought to be targeted to increase your organization’s talent pool.

Having a more diverse workforce has been shown to improve an organization’s performance and profitability. According to an analysis by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from June 2018, this higher performance is also linked with greater employee satisfaction. Workers who feel their company is more diverse are less likely to perceive and experience age discrimination. Older workers also exhibit a greater engagement with their positions, which correlates with other success measures of a company. The engaged worker is more efficient.

Create a clear, sharp, and effective brand

There are several strategies to help ensure your organization courts potential job candidates with a multi-generational aim. For example, the company’s website should communicate its mission and brand, as it’s one of the top ways candidates learn about open positions. Diversifying representation on the website can invite more applicants. By presenting diverse images—including all ages—candidates will be able to picture themselves at your workplace.

Collect data and respond to your findings

It’s important for HR teams to gather data from their hiring practices to look for patterns of bias to root them out. After all, bias is not necessarily intentional. A key target for improvement is in the interview process, which you can ensure is made fair by having a diverse panel of interviewers rather than leaving a decision to one person’s gut check. HR teams can put emphasis on creating inclusive interview questions, as well. Further, surveying candidates post-interview to gauge candidate experience can be vital in uncovering any unintentional biases.

Age discrimination doesn’t end with better hiring practices, but starting there is sure to help. When your workforce presents a generational diversity, only then they can learn from each other and start to move beyond assumptions based on age.

About the author

Michael Hoon