Workplace discrimination comes in many forms and one of them is on the basis of age. Although a number of laws exist when it comes to guarding people against age-based discrimination, unfortunately, they are often breached or loosely enforced. In a recent article published in The Guardian, Dr. Emily Andrews, senior evidence manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, reported that “nearly a million people between 50 and state pension age are economically inactive and were pushed out of work involuntarily.” In 2019, news came to light that IBM has dismissed nearly 100,000 older workers to free up resources for ‘fresh talent’.
The World Health Organization also finds that “older women face particular challenges in employment because of their sex and age”. A 2019 Forbes article points to research which shows that while men are viewed as more valuable and competent with age, women are viewed as less capable. This is not to undermine the discrimination experienced by men but to highlight that women are more vulnerable to be affected by ageist practices.
Regardless of gender, workplace ageism can have significant consequences on the lives of older people and on society at large. With increasing life expectancy, better healthcare and changing demographic structures, the idea of “retirement” is changing. People are working longer and better. Social and economic mobility contributes to the overall wellbeing of a person and plays a role in reducing a person’s risk of being affected by diseases of cognitive decline. Of course, mobility alone does not account for risk reduction. The workplace environment also has to be healthy and one that enables people to make better decisions for long-term wellbeing. Ageism is a barrier to that. It reinforces stigma against older people and discourages conversations about mental health. It can also emphasize negative perceptions about self and identity. A Financial Times article reports that a study by the Centre for Ageing Better (CfAB) found that “nearly half of those over 50 thought that their age would disadvantage them if they applied for a new job and a third thought there were fewer opportunities for training and progression with their existing company”. Furthermore, age-based discrimination is expensive. One source cites the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which reports that “lawsuits resulting from age discrimination have cost companies between $2.85 million to $250 million. Many of which are due to companies lowering age for retirement and disability pension benefits as well as laying off or mistreating older workers.” For people to continue to participate actively in the workplace, it is important that they feel safe, supported and empowered to progress in their careers.