Ageism in the workplace – the privilege of being the ‘right age’

In a world of ageing populations, extending working lives is widely viewed as an economic necessity. With up to four generations working alongside each other, organisations must ensure that their workplaces are inclusive, avoiding individual, interpersonal, and organisational harm. Sharon Raj writes that age discrimination can lead to the formation of workplace ingroups and outgroups, which reduces information sharing and collaboration. She discusses ways to address ageism in the workplace.

Biased beliefs or assumptions held by others mean that our physical characteristics, for example gender, appearance, or ethnicity, have the potential to be a huge advantage or disadvantage in the workplace. One such characteristic with the potential to affect virtually all employees during their working lives is age. Ageism has been defined as “stereotypes, prejudice, or discrimination against (but also in favour of) people because of their chronological age” (Ayalon & Tesch-Römer, 2017, p.1). While ageism can be positive or negative for an individual, ageism generally has negative connotations. The typical experience of ageism is U-shaped across the lifetime, with both the youngest and oldest workers more likely to suffer from age-based discrimination (Duncan & Loretto, 2004; Marchiondo et al., 2015). That said, how harmful it is to be outside the optimal ‘middle age’, will vary by role, industry, and the economic environment at the time.

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