Ageism in the Workplace Essay
Ageism can happen to anyone, young or old. Many times when discussing Ageism or age discrimination, most people consider older generations as those affected, but the reality is that younger generations can be affected by Ageism as well. Ageism is growing in America today, and there are many significant issues that are being associated with this form of discrimination. The purpose of this paper is to define Ageism and who is being affected by it. Those affected are experiencing a wide array of issues that can ultimately have serious and sometimes fatal consequences.
Ageism is not something that cannot be cured, and there are definitely ways to overcome it. Ways to combat this problem, include education and mentoring. This paper will outline many different opportunities within these two areas and ultimately conclude with recommendations for organizational management to combat the growing issue of Ageism. Ageism Definition What is Ageism? In simple terms, ageism is defined as a form of discrimination targeting older adults, generally 55 years of age and older. Dr. Linda Woolf uses a definition by A. J. Traxler to define Ageism as any attitude, action, or institutional structure which subordinates a person or group because of age or any assignment of roles in society purely on the basis of age. Ageism is different from other forms of discrimination in that an individual’s age is static unlike their race or gender (Woolf, 1998).
What Dr. Woolf means by this is that a person’s age is constantly changing, and no one is exempt from experiencing ageism in some form. All of us at some point will be affected by Ageism, whether we stereotype others or we are stereotyped based simply on how old we are at that point in time.
Ageism is slowly becoming a major issue within the workforce of America. Persons Affected Baby Boomers. There are some discrepancies in which period of time the Baby-Boomer generations actually begin and end, but for my research, the period is established as 1946 to 1964 (Gibson, Jones, Cella, Clark, Epstein & Haselberger, 2010). Baby-Boomers were born in a five to six year period immediately following World War II. The current age range for Baby-Boomers would be around 63 to 68 years of age. This generation is obviously within the prime age range to be affected by Ageism.
The consulting firm, Age Lessons, lists 3 R’s as areas of concern for Baby-Boomers: redundancy, relevance, and resentment from younger co-workers (Gibson, Jones, Cella, Clark, Epstein & Haselberger, 2010). Boomers definitely have reason to be concerned about redundancy. In this day and age with so many layoffs occurring, many companies are looking at older employees, especially those within retirement age, as individuals to cut. The Boomer generation, having been around a while, most times is more expensive to retain than younger employees.
Many older employees struggle to remain productive and relevant within the organization. They fear being left behind unless their employer offers them training opportunities (Gibson, Jones, Cella, Clark, Epstein & Haselberger, 2010). The final R, and maybe the harshest, is resentment from younger employees looking to grow and advance within an organization, but feel they are being held back by the Boomer generation. I have seen this type of resentment first hand, and it can and does often lead to an unstable work environment. Generation X. Who makes up Generation X?
Well there are many different ranges of time given to define this group of individuals, but a good estimate is 1965 to 1980 (Jochim, 1997). The age range of this group is now around 33-48 years of age. That doesn’t seem very old, and one would wonder how Ageism could be affecting this group. They would seem to be in their prime working years. The reality is that as of 2003, more and more young workers feel they are being discriminated against because of their age (Armour, 2003). Revealing statistics support this belief among young workers.
In an article for USA Today, Jennifer Armour reveals that in 2003 the unemployment rate for workers 25 to 34 was at 6. 9 percent, well above the 3. 9 percent for employees 55 and older. A more recent poll by Gallup, as of April 2012, puts the underemployment rate for adults 30 to 49 at 14 percent, still ahead of the 13. 6 percent for adults 50 to 64. Compare both of these with a 12. 7 percent rate for adults 65 and older, and you can see that ageism can affect all ages. This is a startling increase since 2003 and speaks to our current economy and the mindset of employers when determining who to retain and who to let go.
With so many young adults underemployed or unemployed, they are unable to attain the experience and skills necessary to help them grow and attain better jobs in the future (Jacobe, 2012). These issues combined could lead to significant repercussions for the future of American business. Issues of Ageism Health There are many issues that lead to Ageism in the workplace. One issue is the health of the employee. Generally, organizations worry about the health of their older employees and how it may relate to work attendance.
One stereotype is that older workers seem to be more fragile and are not able to physically perform as well as their younger counterparts (Gibson, Jones, Cella, Clark, Epstein & Haselberger, 2010). Issues of Ageism surrounding employee health are not only limited to physical requirements, but include mental aptitude as well. In fact, a 2001 survey conducted at Duke University found that nearly 80 percent of respondents age 60 and older experienced ageism such as people assuming they had memory impairments because of their age (Dittmann, 2003). Costs
Many costs are associated with Ageism, but they are not all economic in nature. Costs to the elderly, costs to the younger generation, as well as social costs are a few that contribute to the problem. The discrimination of Ageism can affect individuals in many ways such as being denied employment or being passed over for promotion, just to mention a couple. One significant, yet subtle, blow can occur to the individual’s self-esteem (Palmore, 2005). The feeling of no longer being needed or wanted within an organization can have significant consequences to an elderly individual.
It can lead to depression and a rapid deterioration of mental and physical skills. At the other end of the spectrum, is the much younger generation of workers. The costs of ageism can affect them as well. The costs to them are related to the topic of economic costs. According to Mr. Palmore, special programs that benefit only older persons, such as Medicare and Medicaid, are funded by the tax dollars of the younger employees within the workforce; the amount was greater than $300 billion annually in 1999. The final cost is the social cost to not only the elders, but the younger generation as well.
The younger generation loses a significant wealth of knowledge to pull from while the elderly lose an opportunity for social interaction. Technology As time goes by, technology continues to progress at a rapid pace, and it is often difficult for individuals, as well as organizations, to keep up with the ever changing products. Many managers feel that older workers do not like change and lack the desire to learn new technology or simply have no valuable technical skills to offer (Gibson, Jones, Cella, Clark, Epstein & Haselberger, 2010).
In my own personal experience in the technology industry, I have supervised older employees who had the minimal skills to succeed but did not want to put forth the effort to learn new skills in order to advance. Likewise, I have had supervisors who are “old school” and had no interests in keeping up with the technological advances. This led to younger employees actually having a greater knowledge base than their manager. Education Education of older employees is also a concern for managers in today’s constantly changing environment.
The changes of the work environment have brought new knowledge, skill, and ability requirements for all workers (Lee, Czaja & Sharit, 2009). The question that managers have to answer is, do older employees have the necessary cognitive abilities to learn and perform these new requirements. As I mentioned earlier, some older adults do not have the desire to learn new skills at such a late stage of their career, and this is an issue many managers are faced with. Attitude can play a large part in a manager’s decision to select older adults for the necessary training to keep those individuals gainfully employed.
A negative attitude by older employees can lead to negative stereotypes and concerns about the trainability of such individuals (Lee, Czaja & Sharit, 2009). Older adults, who display a desire and enthusiasm about learning new skills and abilities, have a greater opportunity to overcome the negative stereotypes and contribute significantly to any organization. Risks While efforts are being made to eliminate all forms of discrimination, it continues to occur today to many groups including older adults.
Wendy Taormina-Weiss states, “Despite efforts to provide a level of protection that might be based upon compassion, ageism continues to lead to disempowerment of seniors in this nation. ” The question becomes, what are the risks we are creating for seniors by discriminating against them because of their age? Poor health, reduction or loss of financial security, and social isolation are three major risks created by ageist beliefs (Taormina-Weiss, 2012). Many seniors have lived a long and productive life, and the need to make a contribution is important to them.
By looking at them with these negative stereotypes and discriminating against them simply because of their age, the risk factors above can have severe consequences. Taormina-Weiss goes on to say that these risk factors can contribute to a lower quality of life, lower self-esteem, and ultimately a shorter life span. Combating Ageism Education Outsourced. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits age discrimination in the workplace for employees or potential employees 40 years of age or older. (Farrell, 2011).
Assistance, such as Professional Employer Organizations (PEO), is available to employers to assist with understanding and compliance of the law. According to PEO Spectrum, one benefit of a PEO is that they co-employ with a client accepting half the risk of managing an organizations employees. Just as important, is the fact that PEOs provide training to supervisors and managers to not only improve employee communication and relations, but also to keep leaders up to date on applicable laws pertaining to age discrimination (Farrell, 2011).
Other areas that PEOs offer training in is proper interviewing techniques, managing through a layoff, discrimination, and harassment (Farrell, 2011). Organizations should have liability protection insurance for a worst-case scenario such as a wrongful termination. The issue here is that liability insurance can be expensive. According to Farrell, most PEOs offer their clients coverage, but the cost can be as much as $5000 a year for a company with only 10 to 20 employees.
However, with the proper training and education, such as that provided by PEOs, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of facing such a lawsuit. In-house. In a study conducted by several faculty members and students at Nova Southeastern University on the subject of Ageism, the authors recommended the TEAM approach in order to build diverse high-performing teams. The TEAM approach stands for team composition, education and training, awareness, accountability, and accommodation, and mentoring (Gibson, Jones, Cella, Clark, Epstein & Haselberger, 2010).
Team composition is the first and most important step. When building the team, you should ensure to include employees across all age groups. Education and training are also vital to your employees. Diversity training has become very important along with opportunities for older adults to receive training to keep technical skills current. Research shows that the 2008 U. S. Presidential election was notable for many things, mainly the difference in how each candidate reached their constituents; one used email and text messaging, while the other did not (Gibson, Jones, Cella, Clark, Epstein & Haselberger, 2010).
Organizations need to be aware of discrimination laws and ensure that all employees are aware of the requirements to be in compliance with said laws. The Human Resource department of an organization must be responsible for developing strategies to ensure that all employees, especially the Baby-Boomer generation, are given the same opportunities for performance and promotion (Gibson, Jones, Cella, Clark, Epstein & Haselberger, 2010). The final peace of the TEAM concept is mentoring. Mentoring can be a two-way street in any organization.
Not only do the older adults have an opportunity to mentor and train the next generation of employees, but the younger employees have an opportunity to mentor and train older adults to keep them current on new technologies and techniques. Mentoring Management. There are many opportunities for mentoring members of an organization’s management team. Many professional services are offered as well as opportunities from within an organization to use firsthand experience and knowledge. As discussed in the previous section, mentoring can and should occur in both directions.
Knowledge should be gained from those adult co-workers who have been with an organization or industry for multiple years and have unique ideas and insights. Conversely, the younger generation of leader may bring a fresh set of ideas and beliefs that could make the organization more efficient. Two key areas of opportunity for mentoring managers is the use of Senior Mentors and Peer to Peer mentoring. Senior Mentors. Our own U. S. military is a good example of using Senior Mentors to assist individuals in upper leadership positions.
These mentors help conduct exercises and offer advice to their still-active colleagues (Vanden Brook, Dilanian & Locker, 2009). The majority of these retired leaders has experienced what our new leaders are about to experience and can offer valuable advice on how to handle certain situations and what steps to take in certain scenarios. While I could not find statistical data to show that the program has been effective in the military arena, I have no doubt that having the insight of someone who has held the same position previously is nothing short of valuable.
Many of the same principles applied in military circles can be applied in the business sector as well. Retired military leaders know all too well the issues of discrimination, no matter what form, and can help guide the next generation of leader in avoiding these pitfalls. In the military, we sometimes find Ageism pointed in the direction of the younger generation because of a lack of experience. This scenario is where Senior Mentors can advise leaders to listen to their younger leaders and avoid the appearance of prejudice against them simply because of their age. Peers.
According to Judith Germain, peer to peer mentoring occurs when the mentor is not in a position of authority over the mentee. Peer to peer mentoring can be very valuable in a group setting because mentors are able to pass on knowledge based on life experience and professional experience gained in the business arena (Germain, 2011). Too often we think of a peer as someone similar in age, but in the business world it relates directly to job title. Putting peers together from different age groups to exchange information and ideas goes a long way in helping them understand each other and eliminating any stereotypes about each other.
Germain goes on to say that in this group setting with such a diverse group of leaders, the learning curve for the business owner is greatly reduced. In the long run, peer to peer mentoring offers a relaxed environment among managers of all experience levels to pass on valuable life experience and information. Employees. Mentors use their leadership to advise and nurture their employees either voluntarily or involuntarily (Gibson, Jones, Cella, Clark, Epstein & Haselberger, 2010).
As discussed earlier, managers and leaders need mentoring before they can mentor their employees. The information held by the leaders of an organization must be transferred to the next generation in order to assure continuity of key organizational functions (Gibson, Jones, Cella, Clark, Epstein & Haselberger, 2010). When related to Ageism, managers must mentor their younger employees/supervisors concerning discrimination laws so that any issues with age discrimination may be avoided. Communication should be imperative in the mentoring process.
With the proper mentoring program in place, valuable knowledge can be transferred, new and valuable friendships can be formed, and unnecessary litigation can be avoided. Conclusion Ageism is a rapidly growing form of discrimination. As we have learned, many Baby-Boomers today are experiencing or already experiencing this form of discrimination. Ageism is not limited to the Baby-Boomer generation, however, as many younger generations are experiencing this prejudice as well. Many factors have been discussed here including health related issues, social issues, and financial issues that arise out of this act of prejudice.
These factors have a negative impact on employees of all ages and can have a significant negative impact on an organization if steps are not taken to correct any form of age discrimination. The good news for any organization is that there are ways to combat this growing problem. Organizational management should conduct an audit of policies and procedures to determine if they have allowed for any opportunities for this form of discrimination to occur. If so, they must take the necessary steps to correct the issue.
Management should take advantage of every opportunity to educate their staff from top to bottom on applicable state and federal laws as well as internal policies and procedures related to any form of discrimination. Finally, it is recommended that management create and support a company mentoring plan. This plan should use outside resources, such as Senior Mentors, as well as current employees of the organization. With the proper policies, procedures, education, and mentoring programs in place, an organization can avoid any potential pitfalls of Ageism or other forms of discrimination.
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