Age discrimination is one of the most unfair paradoxes in the labor market: people put in decades of hard work and then are penalized for having done so.
And the problem is only getting worse: nearly 80% of older workers say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, according to AARP’s most recent survey. That was the highest percentage since the group began asking the question in 2003.
Even as the economy recovers from the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, older workers are having difficulty being rehired. The percentage of job seekers over age 55 in February who were “long-term unemployed,” meaning they had been looking for work for 27 weeks or more, was more than 36%, compared with about 23% among those between the ages of 16 and 54. (About a quarter of the workforce is over 55).
Here are some strategies to combat the problem according to Applewhite, Alison Chasteen Jhon Tarnoff and Jeff Vardaro:
1.Start by realizing what’s internalized.
You may have your own frustration and sadness about getting older; That’s understandable, said Applewhite: “We live in a culture that bombards us with negative messages about aging.” And, as a result, he said, “older people are often the most discriminatory of all.”
To begin to dispel some of this pessimism and its consequences, Applewhite recommends being skeptical of generalizations and becoming more educated about the facts.
And while some deterioration in memory and processing speed is common as we advance in years, comprehension, reading and vocabulary are some of our skills that remain stable, or even improve, over time, research shows.
“We talk about aging as if it’s a total loss, but there are gains,” Applewhite said. “Find me an older person who really wants to go back to their youth.”
2.Focus on how you continue to grow
Alison Chasteen, a University of Toronto professor who studies prejudice, found in her research that some older adults fared better than others during the pandemic.
What was their secret? They focused on areas where they could still thrive.
“We’re talking about feeling like you’re on a trajectory of improvement,” Chasteen said.
Fortunately, there are more ways than ever for older workers to continue to progress, said John Tarnoff, a career transition coach.
He pointed to the seemingly endless amount of free content on YouTube, as well as classes available on platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, Skillshare and GetSetUp.io, a learning community aimed at people over 50.
Another useful strategy, he said, may be for people to contact the technology or software vendor they want to learn more about directly. “The company will likely be able to provide information and training to help you get started.”
3.Be prepared for bias
Because age discrimination is so common, experts say that, unfortunately, older workers must be prepared to address incidents.
If you’re in front of a hiring manager and suspect he or she is concerned about your age, Applewhite recommends responding head-on. “Say, ‘I know how to use this software’ or ‘I’m used to working with a younger team and I don’t care if my boss is 12 years old.'” But how you confront the problem is key.
Chasteen, the professor who studies prejudice at the University of Toronto found in recent research that older people who respond to confrontations with ageism in a way that is not accusatory are more likely to get a positive reaction than, say, those who receive warm-up.
As an example, he described a situation in which an older person is offered help in performing a task that he or she is more than capable of doing on his or her own. Such acts can be considered benevolent age discrimination.
“We found that the moderate approach of saying, ‘Thanks, but I can manage on my own,’ resulted in fewer negative reactions to the older person,” Chasteen said.
“Such a response acknowledges that there were probably no ill intentions on the part of the person who offered the unwanted help,” he added. “But it also provides an opportunity for the older person to assert his or her competence in the situation.”
4.Consider reporting it
It’s important for people to keep a record of repeated incidents of age discrimination they experience and then report them, said Jeff Vardaro, a civil rights attorney in Columbus, Ohio.
“It doesn’t fix itself,” Vardaro said. “Workers have to take these things into their own hands.” You probably don’t want to hold onto your complaints for too long, either, he added, since some states require age discrimination issues to be reported within a certain period of time. For example, instead of writing that your boss said something bad about your age, you’ll want to specify that on 24 different occasions he or she asked you when you planned to retire. “That can be really helpful when you go to report it,” he said.
Applewhite said one of the most powerful ways for older people to stand up against age discrimination is to resist hiding who they are.
“If you feel like you’re experiencing discrimination, I’m really, really sorry,” she said. “If you have to dye your hair or change your resume, don’t judge yourself. Do what you have to do.
But, she said, “as long as we pretend we’re younger than we are, we contribute to the discrimination that makes those behaviors necessary.”
Finally, the work for those in Human Resources is a total challenge, and this because they are in a world of many changes, both in the environment and technology, but thanks to advances, today there are digital tools designed to measure, learning platforms (E-learning) that allow continuous training, assessments that allow to identify basic aspects of personality. These are some of the solutions that would help to improve and identify the type of collaborator that surrounds us.
Therefore, we are aware that discrimination is a problem in all parts of the world, especially in older people, as many studies show, but we are also aware that there are several solutions that HR professionals should not miss, so what are we doing to remedy it? Is there discrimination in my organization or work team? Are we applying the right strategies to avoid it?