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Managing a 21st Century Workforce: Risks of Age Discrimination

by | May 14, 2019 | Business Training

Managing a workforce in today’s corporate environments is a tricky business. There are a wide variety of risks that can impede today’s managers and corporate leadership when it comes to managing with purpose.

It’s important for corporate organizations to understand that opportunities for age discrimination lawsuits in corporate environments and higher education are common and a large risk for employers.

It’s important for employers to understand their staff includes a variety of ages, genders, and a diverse array of other unique identifiers that create a varied employee demographic. Read on to see how employers can train their staff to understand the warning signs of ageism and how to appreciate and encourage diversity in the workplace.

What is Ageism & Age Discrimination?

Ageism can be considered a form of discrimination that is solely about an employee’s age. Age discrimination suggests that employees of a specific age are not as important or cannot fulfill their duties as expected. The EEOC reports that 20,857 people filed age discrimination charges in 2016, down from the high of 24,582 filed in 2008, during the great recession. Although it is lower than the 2008 great recession, it is an alarmingly high number.

A recent study from SHRM shows that from 1992 to 2016, 56 percent of older workers are either laid off at least once, or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than left voluntarily. The study is part of ProPublica and the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. Since 1992, the study has followed a nationally representative sample of about 20,000 people from the time they turn 50 through the rest of their lives.

Two Forms of Age Discrimination

In the eyes of The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals over 40 from age discrimination, especially when it comes to benefits. Examples of potential age discrimination aimed at employees over 40 include:

  • You were let go because they wanted to cut costs by keeping a younger workforce on payroll.
  • Company layoffs targeted an older demographic in comparison to the younger employees that have been asked to stay on.
  • Before being fired, comments were made about your age such as being “over-the-hill”. 
  • Reducing or removing benefits from an employee based on their age.

While there are other federal laws that protect more mature employees, it’s important to understand that ADEA is the heavy-hitter for protecting these employee rights.

The second form of age discrimination, though not protected by the ADEA, is against younger employees in the workplace. This can take several forms, according to EEOC, such as age-based jokes or comments, offensive cartoons, stereotypes, or gestures and other verbal and physical conduct based on an individual’s age. 

Proving Age Discrimination in the Workplace 

Similarly to many other discrimination cases in the workplace, age discrimination can be incredibly difficult to prove. In fact, there are several different cases that have been tried in different jurisdictions that have changed the way that age discrimination has been prosecuted.  

One case from WorkplaceFairness.Org shares a 2009 Supreme Court decision, Gross v. FBL. Financial Services, Inc., that held the plaintiff must prove that age was the sole reason for discrimination. This significantly restricted the cases relating to age discrimination.

Does Age Discrimination Affect the Workplace?

According to Florida State University’s College of Medicine, a 2014 study found that older adults who perceived weight discrimination and older adults who perceived discrimination based on age, a physical disability or other aspect of appearance had significantly lower physical and emotional health and greater declines in health compared to people who did not report experiencing such discrimination.

Employees that experience age discrimination find that it dramatically affects their emotional, physical and emotional health. This finding is exacerbated when you consider additional health concerns from other employees who witness or hear about age discrimination within their own company. 

Both ageism and age discrimination, against an employee of any age, can create a hostile work environment and bring up health concerns not only for the victim but also for the witnesses to the harassment. Overall it can affect office productivity, lower morale, and ruin an overall positive corporate culture. This has the potential to create an environment that workers may not feel the need to be loyal to. 

Four Ways to Encourage Diversity in the Workplace

As a leader in your organization, it’s important to show to your employees that ageism isn’t tolerated. Look at the below tips to see some common practices to help unify your team.

#1: Consider Starting a Mentorship Program

Show all your employees that they’re important by creating or sponsoring a mentorship program that will allow younger and older employees to interact regularly. It will help younger employees gain guidance that they crave and allow the more mature employees to engage with younger employees through imparting company and industry knowledge.  

#2: Show That You Value Diversity In Your Organization

One definite way to help dissipate any ageism is to educate your current employees about company culture and diversity in the workplace. By taking part in seminars or online learning sessions, your employees will engage with topics that interest them and potentially build comradery within the workforce.  

#3: Manage Your Talent Through Standardization

Although it may be common sense, hiring, firing, and managing your employees through a standard process will help your company find confidence in consistency. If you create human resource and management practices and standards that must be followed throughout the organization, the opportunity for ageism or any other negative consequences are limited. Focus on creating an organization that thrives in the creativity of your individuals while keeping the same expectations for success.

#4: Avoid Generational Labeling in the Workplace 

Even if the intent is only off-hand remarks or teasing, labeling employees from their age can seriously hurt morale. Avoid calling employees by their age groups, such as millennial, or identifying them by a teasing term such as “old timer.” Comments like these can affect the company culture and create tension between the age groups that is unnecessary and can lead to conflict. 

Encourage Workplace Diversity with Business Training

When employers understand the significance of age discrimination in the workplace and the effect it can have on employees, there are steps management can take to improve and prevent ageism in their office. DigitalChalk has workplace diversity training solutions that can create a diverse workplace and foster a positive energy that can influence corporate culture.

Our inventory of business training courses, such as those listed here, includes many focused on inclusive, diverse training for employees and managers alike.

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