How can we challenge ageism in the workplace?


It’s about broadening our perspective and allowing workers of all ages access to the same opportunities, believes Sally Evans, speaker at the upcoming AHRI inclusion and diversity conference.

How prevalent is ageism in Australian workplaces?

Nearly a third of Australians perceived some form of age-related discrimination while employed or looking for work, starting as early as 45 years of age. That’s according to a Centre for Workplace Excellence study at University of South Australia from 2017.

But where are the ageist attitudes coming from?

Without wishing to shame them too much, it appears that men and young people are more likely to exhibit ageism, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne. Among people under 30 years of age, ageist views were mostly found to be around succession, such as the idea that “most older people don’t know when to make way for younger people in the workplace”. In fact this age group are twice as likely to hold succession-based opinions than people over 50.

Sally Evans, Chair of LifeCircle, a social venture that helps people that care for family and  friends who are dying, and member of the EveryAge Counts and the Consumer and Industry advisory groups, says that there is a common misconception that if an older person stays in a role, they are preventing a younger person from being able to work. “Ironically, exactly the opposite is true,” says Evans. “The more people that are employed, the more cash flows through the economy, which means the more employment opportunities there are.”

Although Evans says ageism is invariably against older people, she is quick to point out that younger workers can also bear the brunt. “There is the notion that as we get older, we get wiser, but this diminishes the experience that young people have. Classifying anyone because of their age, holds them back from experiences and opportunities.”

One of the other major effects of ageism against older workers, Evans says, is that they are being managed out of the workforce, and being forced into early retirement through redundancy. But Evans believes preventing a sizeable portion of the Australian population from participating in the workforce is a big mistake.

“Most businesses in Australia today aren’t realising the benefits of attracting older customers. Disassociating ourselves from ageing makes us blind to the consumer opportunities that this market presents.”

Equal opportunity?

So what are some of the ways organisations can work to stamp out ageism? Evans identifies three key interdependent areas: training, flexibility and performance management.

If older workers are failing to upskill, it could be that they aren’t afforded the same training opportunities as younger employees. “There is a notion, which is supported by research done by the Benevolent Society, that training should be for younger people. Businesses actually should be ensuring that workers’ skills are relevant and continually updated, and that applies to anybody. The idea of lifelong learning is an attitude that benefits everyone.”

Flexibility is one of the rewards that comes from possessing relevant and appropriate skills, and Evans thinks this too should be approached in the same way for workers both young and old.

“Just as younger people need flexible working programs to bring up their children, older workers need flexibility so they can undertake activities they enjoy, or to care for dependents.

“Whatever the needs of workers, we need to look at it through the same lens – whether you’re a full-time student and need to work around study, or you want to maximise your income and optimise your hours, or if you’re an older worker and want to stay in the workforce because it adds value to your life but you want to scale back the hours.”

Evans says it takes management’s commitment to enable transition from one way of working to another and provide training to give people the skills they need to work flexibly.

“What I observe in performance management currently is that people are rewarded for turning up and delivering particular commercial or strategic results. Instead, we should be supporting people who have thought through how work fits into their life and what they enjoy doing.”

Allowing people autonomy over their career gives them greater satisfaction in their work and leads to increased engagement. Evans says that there are long-standing benefits for employers as well.

“By rewarding older workers, by allowing them to transition to what they enjoy doing, employers are actually helping their future selves. We are all going to be in that position one day.”


Learn more about ageism in the workplace and other issues affecting inclusion at the AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference in Sydney on 3 May. Early registration closes 5 April.

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3 Comments On "How can we challenge ageism in the workplace?"

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Lorraine Jennings
There is no doubt that ‘ageism’ exists in organisations, particularly for mature workers. Employers who are keen to cater for the needs of a diverse workforce, need to be savvy at having transition programs available for those employees who may find it difficult to phase into – the dreaded ‘R’ word – retirement! Especially in this era of an aging workforce. Just as Outplacement is available for redundancies, it is critical for employers to cater for the needs of those exiting the workforce with dignity and respect. Organisations have policies in place for ‘attracting and retaining’. Where does ‘retaining’ end?… Read more »
CJT
Whether or not we agree, ageism unfortunately is truly well ingrained within our Australian workplace culture. It is the recruiters, managers et.al. that hire people and that as this tome suggests, crucifies the statement that: “The more people that are employed, the more cash flows through the economy, which means the more employment opportunities there are.” Whether or not we are young, mature or simply seeking meaningful employment regardless of our age, ageism has an impact on us all. We can ‘parachute’ in international HR Managers and conduct a bazillion survey’s but ageism still continues to exit. Why? What ever… Read more »
Alison
I find it disappointing that the narrative hasn’t moved on. This article actually reinforces some of the stereotypes we need to challenge and overcome. Young or old. Regardless. Everyone of all ages and all life stages needs to take ownership of lifelong learning and staying marketable and employable. It is not a ‘failing’ of the older worker, who also desire flexibility for a range of reasons – education, travel, volunteering, hobbies – not just caring for dependants. Let’s move the conversation forward – how can (and are!) employers leveraging the enormous talent pool that exists and creating an optimum late… Read more »
More on HRM

How can we challenge ageism in the workplace?


It’s about broadening our perspective and allowing workers of all ages access to the same opportunities, believes Sally Evans, speaker at the upcoming AHRI inclusion and diversity conference.

How prevalent is ageism in Australian workplaces?

Nearly a third of Australians perceived some form of age-related discrimination while employed or looking for work, starting as early as 45 years of age. That’s according to a Centre for Workplace Excellence study at University of South Australia from 2017.

But where are the ageist attitudes coming from?

Without wishing to shame them too much, it appears that men and young people are more likely to exhibit ageism, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne. Among people under 30 years of age, ageist views were mostly found to be around succession, such as the idea that “most older people don’t know when to make way for younger people in the workplace”. In fact this age group are twice as likely to hold succession-based opinions than people over 50.

Sally Evans, Chair of LifeCircle, a social venture that helps people that care for family and  friends who are dying, and member of the EveryAge Counts and the Consumer and Industry advisory groups, says that there is a common misconception that if an older person stays in a role, they are preventing a younger person from being able to work. “Ironically, exactly the opposite is true,” says Evans. “The more people that are employed, the more cash flows through the economy, which means the more employment opportunities there are.”

Although Evans says ageism is invariably against older people, she is quick to point out that younger workers can also bear the brunt. “There is the notion that as we get older, we get wiser, but this diminishes the experience that young people have. Classifying anyone because of their age, holds them back from experiences and opportunities.”

One of the other major effects of ageism against older workers, Evans says, is that they are being managed out of the workforce, and being forced into early retirement through redundancy. But Evans believes preventing a sizeable portion of the Australian population from participating in the workforce is a big mistake.

“Most businesses in Australia today aren’t realising the benefits of attracting older customers. Disassociating ourselves from ageing makes us blind to the consumer opportunities that this market presents.”

Equal opportunity?

So what are some of the ways organisations can work to stamp out ageism? Evans identifies three key interdependent areas: training, flexibility and performance management.

If older workers are failing to upskill, it could be that they aren’t afforded the same training opportunities as younger employees. “There is a notion, which is supported by research done by the Benevolent Society, that training should be for younger people. Businesses actually should be ensuring that workers’ skills are relevant and continually updated, and that applies to anybody. The idea of lifelong learning is an attitude that benefits everyone.”

Flexibility is one of the rewards that comes from possessing relevant and appropriate skills, and Evans thinks this too should be approached in the same way for workers both young and old.

“Just as younger people need flexible working programs to bring up their children, older workers need flexibility so they can undertake activities they enjoy, or to care for dependents.

“Whatever the needs of workers, we need to look at it through the same lens – whether you’re a full-time student and need to work around study, or you want to maximise your income and optimise your hours, or if you’re an older worker and want to stay in the workforce because it adds value to your life but you want to scale back the hours.”

Evans says it takes management’s commitment to enable transition from one way of working to another and provide training to give people the skills they need to work flexibly.

“What I observe in performance management currently is that people are rewarded for turning up and delivering particular commercial or strategic results. Instead, we should be supporting people who have thought through how work fits into their life and what they enjoy doing.”

Allowing people autonomy over their career gives them greater satisfaction in their work and leads to increased engagement. Evans says that there are long-standing benefits for employers as well.

“By rewarding older workers, by allowing them to transition to what they enjoy doing, employers are actually helping their future selves. We are all going to be in that position one day.”


Learn more about ageism in the workplace and other issues affecting inclusion at the AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference in Sydney on 3 May. Early registration closes 5 April.

Leave a reply

3 Comments On "How can we challenge ageism in the workplace?"

avatar
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Lorraine Jennings
There is no doubt that ‘ageism’ exists in organisations, particularly for mature workers. Employers who are keen to cater for the needs of a diverse workforce, need to be savvy at having transition programs available for those employees who may find it difficult to phase into – the dreaded ‘R’ word – retirement! Especially in this era of an aging workforce. Just as Outplacement is available for redundancies, it is critical for employers to cater for the needs of those exiting the workforce with dignity and respect. Organisations have policies in place for ‘attracting and retaining’. Where does ‘retaining’ end?… Read more »
CJT
Whether or not we agree, ageism unfortunately is truly well ingrained within our Australian workplace culture. It is the recruiters, managers et.al. that hire people and that as this tome suggests, crucifies the statement that: “The more people that are employed, the more cash flows through the economy, which means the more employment opportunities there are.” Whether or not we are young, mature or simply seeking meaningful employment regardless of our age, ageism has an impact on us all. We can ‘parachute’ in international HR Managers and conduct a bazillion survey’s but ageism still continues to exit. Why? What ever… Read more »
Alison
I find it disappointing that the narrative hasn’t moved on. This article actually reinforces some of the stereotypes we need to challenge and overcome. Young or old. Regardless. Everyone of all ages and all life stages needs to take ownership of lifelong learning and staying marketable and employable. It is not a ‘failing’ of the older worker, who also desire flexibility for a range of reasons – education, travel, volunteering, hobbies – not just caring for dependants. Let’s move the conversation forward – how can (and are!) employers leveraging the enormous talent pool that exists and creating an optimum late… Read more »
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