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Addressing Ageism In The Workplace

July 9, 2018

It’s not secret that the boomer generation is keen to remain involved and active in the modern workforce. It is a fact that we have not only covered quite extensively on this blog, but also the very reason BoomersPlus exists. Such a large and engaged workforce should not be ignored and we continue to work to ensure the interests of the boomers are being met. Unfortunately, many boomers are finding they are ignored and facing ageism, especially in the workforce.

Just because these professionals want to keep working doesn’t mean they are always being given the chance. As boomers age and remain working, the voices telling them to move on are getting louder. It’s true, there are some who have recognized the value of boomer professionals and are all too happy to have such experience at work in their business, but there exists a fair bit of opposition to this generation as well. Younger professionals have called boomers selfish for remaining at work passed their co-called retirement years. Despite the fact that there is nothing to support the myth of the boomer job thief – and despite the fact that many boomers remain working due to financial necessity – many hold the opinion that they have had the older generation has had their time and must move on. There is also a negative perception that exists coming from the employers’ side who see these workers as unreliable hires as they, in the employers’ minds, are at the end of their careers. Such perceptions have led to a rise of ageism in the workplace.

Ageism does indeed exist, and boomers are starting to experience that first hand. Like most prejudices, ageism is born out of ignorance towards a particular group. In some cases, the person guilty of ageism might not be entirely conscious of the fact they’re doing something wrong. But that can only happen if they are unwilling to learn more about the people they’re interacting with before making judgment calls. As ageism exists in the workforce, it can certainly come up in hiring practices, but is also very much a problem for professionals within their established workplaces. It can be subtle and often excluding, taking for instance a recent piece in the Globe and Mail, in which a professional sought advice after being left out of group messaging by their younger boss. The harm here is that a person was left out of work-focused discussions because it was perceived their age made it too difficult to include them. Now, maybe the boss didn’t mean to offend, but what other approaches could have been taken? Could he have asked the his employee if he would like to join the group? Should he have sought an alternative communication path that would include everyone? Really, any number of decisions could have been made without leaving someone out due to age. And that is the behaviour many boomer professionals now face.

So how should such a problem be dealt with? It is a growing problem that many professionals and businesses are facing. In fact, in a recent study into the issue of ageism it was concluded that it is the most openly tolerated form of discrimination in Canada. Likewise, surveys done on the matter showed 25% of professionals make judgments about those they work with based on age alone. With open ageism seemly not a problem for many, what recourse do those who experience it in their work have? Well, there is a growing number of ageism lawsuits being filed by older professionals. That is certainly a recourse that can be taken if necessary, but if you asked the professionals filing those lawsuits, it’s safe to say they would much rather be working in a comfortable environment.

The best way you can deal with an issue like this is by doing what we’re doing now – addressing it. As mentioned in the study above, ageism is being tolerated. That’s the first thing that has to stop. People should know it’s a problem and when they don’t, they need to be made to realize. Discussing it openly helps to make it a part of the conversation and it becomes harder to ignore. Bring up these issues at work. Speak to your boss about when you’re experiencing ageism, even it’s your boss who’s the guilty party. Some people say we are living in a time where people are too sensitive – I wholeheartedly disagree. I think we are living in a time when people are finding the considerable strength necessary to address issues and injustices that have been there the whole time. Don’t let it be ignored anymore. And keep this in mind as well – ageism knows no age. Be sure you are being fair to those around you just as you want them to be fair to you. Some respect and consideration for each other is what is needed most.


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