Ageism in the Workplace is Bad for Business

Written by Steven Marwick
Author

Any kind of “ism” in the workplace is obviously to be frowned upon, whether it is sexism, racism or ageism and all companies should be doing their utmost to stamp them out if they are present. 

This contributes to the overall workplace culture and it is important that management is seen to be doing what they can to support any workers who are being bullied, but this holds especially true for workers who are being bullied based on their protected characteristics.

Protected Characteristics – Ageism in the Workplace

Protected characteristics” is a term used in UK legislation which means that there are certain characteristics that are protected by law from discrimination in the workplace. These protections are detailed in the Equalities Act (2010) and the nine protected characteristics are as follows: Age, Disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, Pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.  

Age

One of the most common types of discrimination in the workplace is ageism. These can appear to take the form of jocularity, with jokes like “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” being used when older members of the team are asked to complete computerised tasks and younger members of the team believe they could do them quicker. These words are still hurtful and discriminatory and jokes about a person’s age are ageism, regardless of intent.

Benefits of Having Older Staff in the Workplace

There are many benefits to having older staff in the workplace. They bring a level of experience and maturity that many of the younger staff are still lacking, and have accrued considerable transferable skills over the course of their working lives.

Modelling Good Workplace Behaviour

In a workplace which is dominated by younger, more inexperienced people, there can be a tendency for the noise levels to rise and productivity to lower. With a more mixed workforce in terms of age, the older worker can model what good workplace behaviour looks like and help younger staff members to conform to the expectations of the management. 

Giving Good Advice

The interactions between different age groups in the workplace can actually lead to some pretty lovely work friendships, with some younger people finding positive male or female role-models for the first time in their lives. It isn’t uncommon for young people to find a “work aunt” or “work uncle” to mentor them along their way and to provide good advice, not just on work matters but life more generally and this helps to counter ageism in the workplace. 

A Happy Workplace

A way to ensure that you have happy staff in your workplace is to ensure that the mix of people is as diverse as possible. This allows everyone to play their part and to develop as a team. 

Having access to people who are older and who can provide mentorship and support can give a real confidence boost to younger staff. It can help them to embrace the merits of upskilling and understand how career progression works, in order to rise more quickly through the company ranks. 

Closing the Skills Gap

There has been a real skills gap exposed at the heart of many British businesses with employers struggling to cope with the combination of the fallout from Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The “Great Resignation” of 2020/2021 saw a vast exodus of workers from businesses at the tail end of the pandemic and some are still struggling to replace the talent that they lost. 

This means that the existing talent that businesses have at their disposal is more valuable than ever. Most companies simply can’t afford to allow ageism in the workplace to flourish and for the older workers who are on their books to leave as they will be taking with them valuable experience that it is hard to teach someone brand new to the role. 

The most successful businesses on the other side of the pandemic will be the ones who have given the most thought about how to retain their current staff when there are so many options now for different styles of working, including fully-remote and hybrid. 

Higher Degree of Employee Loyalty

Studies have shown that older workers are far more likely to stay with the company for a long time than younger workers. The average time that older workers from 55-64 stayed in a job was 10.4 years compared to just 3.0 years in workers aged 25-34. 

This means that you can be sure that time invested in older workers has been well spent, whereas it may be that you are throwing away training and resources on some younger workers who will then take that training and experience to work for a competitor. 

Businesses with a high staff turnover, such as in the retail sector have said they really appreciate workers in older age categories for this fidelity and unwillingness to chop and change their employment on a whim. A lot of the time this is largely explained by the fact that they have families to support and mortgages and don’t necessarily want the upheaval of searching for a suitable new job. 

Older Workers Take Fewer Days Off

Many young people will push up against the maximum possible number of sick days so that they can sleep off hangovers and mitigate the results of partying with friends. People who are a bit older tend not to do this as much, though they may have more genuine health problems that they need time off to see a doctor about. 

At its heart is a genuine work ethic that some modern practices like quiet quitting tend to be the opposite of. Having committed workers who are predictive and positive in their interactions within the company can help the whole place to thrive. In terms of company culture, people who are that bit older can definitely be seen to be assets rather than liabilities.

Some may not be as quick at picking up new skills as some of the younger digital native workers but their commitment and cumulative skills that they have gained over decades more than make up for any negatives in this area.

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