An older worker on his laptop with the title of the blog "Age Discrimination in the Workplace"

For the first time in history we have five generations of workers in the workplace. That’s right, five generations. And each of these generations, from “Traditionalists” to “Gen Z”, have a variety of values and relationships towards organizations, authority, and work styles. While this provides a wonderful opportunity for us to embrace the diversity and value each group offers, it also creates obstacles that can impede us from realizing its potential. Almost all of us are familiar with or have been a victim of ageism.

What is ageism and why does it exist?

Ageism has historically been a problem in the workplace. Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age. Generally, members of the “baby boomer” and “gen x” generations have been victims of ageism. While there are laws in place to prevent this practice, the fact is that it still exists. But where does this bias come from? Why do people believe that people of different ages have varying levels of ability? It really all boils down to bias. As humans, we have bias in our ways of thinking. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is just a product of human nature. In this case, we identify and feel more comfortable with people that are similar to us. The problem with this bias is that it can influence our decisions and cause us to unfairly assess someone based on their age and assume it has an impact on their work performance. 

While ageism is usually thought of only applying to people of older generations, there is evidence that those of younger generations can also be victims. Because someone is younger and by definition, has fewer years of experience than their older counterparts, they are assumed to not have the skills necessary for a particular position. Unlike members of older generations, there are no laws in place to protect them from age discrimination.

However, there is good news. There is growing evidence that many companies and individuals are embracing and practicing age inclusion. By promoting methods that utilize the skill sets of individuals regardless of their age, companies are able to capitalize on larger talent pools, increased innovation, and an increased ability to reach more people across more generations.

Why is age inclusion important?

Unlike other forms of bias, ageism is unique because we all age and could at one point be a victim of ageism. By 2050, 62 countries will have at least 30% of its population over the age of 60. Also, life expectancy is continuing to lengthen thanks to scientific advancements and our understanding of healthy lifestyle choices. This means that we are currently having a population of skilled employees that is getting older and becoming more prevalent in the workplace. By ignoring this group, there is massive potential for loss of valuable skills and overall labor shortage.

But what are the benefits of age inclusion?

  • Older employees have a proven track record of performance that makes them better candidates while demonstrating productivity and skills
  • Younger employees can have more recent exposure to new innovation and non-traditional ideas for an organization
  • Specialized skills are often easier taught from one individual to another as opposed to learning in a book or lecture hall. By practicing age inclusion, these skills can be passed from one employee to the next
  • Less turnover in an organization where skills and performance are valued over age
  • Increased exposure to customers or other groups because of your ability to communicate with a message that reaches all age groups
  • Enhanced motivation! Older workers get excited about sharing their ideas and skills with younger workers. Younger workers are able to learn proven skills and past failures from seasoned workers 
  • A more robust and diverse workforce that combines new ideas, proven methodology, collaboration, and innovation.

Why neuroinclusion is important and how it relates to age inclusion

Neurodiversity, of course, refers to the human reality of the infinite variation of human brains. There is no one “normal” brain, and as such humans (and consequently, any organization or team) are naturally neurodiverse.

Yet the term “neurodiversity” here – relating to a category or pillar of diversity and inclusion  – is really short for “neurodiversity at work”, a phenomenon or movement with its earliest roots in the mid 2010s.

Neuroidentities such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia are much more prevalent than they were even 10 years ago. Imagine being a child in the 1960’s or 1970’s when autism was mistaken as shyness, and living a full adult life masking behaviors and not knowing your brain just works differently! Some autistic speakers and influencers such as Tim Goldstein speak about being diagnosed in their 50s and 60s. Dr. Samantha Hiew of ADHD Girls often speaks about her late ADHD diagnosis in her 30s. A diagnosis can be life-changing, and being inclusive of your employees who either have not been diagnosed yet, or recently received a late diagnosis, is critical to workplace wellness.   Read more about neurodiversity at work.

What are the next steps? 

Now that we’ve established the benefits of practicing age inclusion, how do we promote a system where it can flourish?

  • Training and Awareness
    • There are a variety of courses to further an organization’s commitment to increased age inclusion, from reputable organizations like AARP and Cornell
    • Continued training of managers and leadership to the benefits of age inclusion can keep the topic fresh and at the forefront of their policy decisions
    • PWC’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Survey found that employees are unlikely to be aware of efforts by organizations to promote Diversity and Inclusion. If this is an initiative your organization is practicing, let your team members know it!
  • Close the gap between formal education and competencies for a job. Too much emphasis is placed on education alone, while real-world experience and proven results are marginalized. By doing this, we inhibit our organization’s ability to become more dynamic and competitive in the marketplace.
  • Review marketing and promotional material to ensure it is representative of the diverse and age-inclusive environment of the company.
  • When seeking to fill new positions at the company, have people of various ages review the posting. Instead of looking for years of experience alone, focus on knowledge and applicable skills.
  • Add age inclusion to a company’s DEI policy
  • Promote collaboration of different age groups within your organization. Intentionally blend various age groups on a project to get the most of their skills and abilities!

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