Ageism at Work | Is Your Workplace Making Space for Older Employees?Nisha Kumar Kulkarni Apr 27, 2022 10:00 AM
A quick Google search reveals no shortage of articles about managing millennials in the workplace. However, with so much attention on encouraging and training younger employees, older employees are often left out of the conversation. To nurture a truly inclusive workplace, there needs to be greater awareness of how ageism negatively impacts an organization as a whole.
But there are plenty of ways for older employees to participate more in their organizations—and just as many ways for their younger peers to help foster a more inclusive environment.
A growing demographic
The number of senior citizens in the workforce is on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.5% of employees in the U.S. were aged 65 or over in May 2019—up from 17.7% in 2014.
There are many reasons for this increase, including longer life expectancies, the need for additional income, and just plain boredom. But this trend begs the question: how prepared are organizations to integrate —or reintegrate—older employees into their fold?
You may not be surprised to hear that 2020-2021 saw a drop in labor-force participation and an increase in unemployment among adults age 65 and older, but many agencies and organizations hope to see a slow and steady return of older professionals to the workforce in the coming months and years.
What is age diversity?
When it comes to workplace diversity, the conversation is often focused on gender, race, and sexual orientation. But it’s also critical to acknowledge the role ageism can play in stalling or isolating the trajectories of older employees at the office. An AARP survey reports that two-thirds of employees between the ages 45 and 74 have witnessed or experienced ageism in the workplace.
A big driver for ageism is the bias toward “digital natives”—younger people who have grown up using technology that previous generations did not have access to at such an early age. As a consequence, older employees, who colleagues may assume are unable to expertly navigate social media platforms or new software, are left feeling less relevant at the office.
A focus on age diversity is the clear response to tackling workplace ageism. As the term implies, age diversity means including employees of all ages at the office. But it is not enough to just have a more diverse demographic; workplaces also need to establish an inclusive culture that values the expertise and contributions of all employees.
Viewing age as an asset
There are many benefits to having older employees:
Creating an inclusive environment
To take advantage of these benefits, organizations must find ways to leverage and value older employees. New programs and initiatives should “value wisdom as much as youth.” This can be achieved by:
What can older employees do?
Ageism may not always be overt, so it's important to recognize and call out signs of ageism. If you're an older employee, don't be be afraid to:
Don't minimize situations in which you've identified ageism. Age bias can feel easy to write off, but it presents a major barrier to creating an inclusive, innovative, and productive work environment. If you have witnessed or experienced ageism, inform your manager or human resources department to determine next steps.
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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.