While not directly tied to the workplace, the term ageism refers to deeply held beliefs that can influence decisions. Ageism can refer to stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination that can impact all facets of life. Unfortunately, when this belief system permeates the workplace, age discrimination can occur.
Whether intentional or unintentional, age discrimination can devastate older workers – hurting their chances for promotions or forcing them out of their chosen job. Supervisors might hold older workers out from certain programs or pilot projects and, thus, given poor performance reviews based on a lack of participation.
What is Institutional Ageism?
Many psychologists attribute the inception of employment-based ageism to the rise of the notion of a “zero-sum workforce.” As an equation, the concept might seem valid – when one employee leaves, another must be hired – but is untrue based on numerous factors. Unfortunately, many individuals twist this logic against older workers – for every older person in the workforce, a younger person is kept unemployed. Unfortunately, this concept has become deeply ingrained in some individuals who, as a result, see older workers as having a negative impact on the entire organization.
Many organizations rely on coded language or situational assignments to limit older employees in the workplace. When jobs or promotions are based on “culture fit,” for example, this can easily be translated into “young, tech-savvy, eager” employees while ignoring the importance of experience. Additionally, a company might only assign tech-heavy projects to younger employees feeding into the notion that older employees cannot grasp new concepts. Taken as a whole, many sociologists view these nuanced actions as age discrimination.
What can be done?
Employees have numerous legal protections against mistreatment in the workplace. From harassment and physical violence to the myriad forms of discrimination, workers must speak up to put an end to this behavior. Not only can the organization be held accountable for this mistreatment, but these illegal actions can be prevented in the future.