Age Discrimination in the Workplace
We recently spoke about discrimination against women in the workplace, but unfortunately, gender bias isn’t the only prejudice found in companies across the nation.
Ageism is becoming increasingly common in organizations, especially those in tech industries based in Silicon Valley, where the median age of an employee is 30. Tech industry workers also often see a decline in their salaries and the number of jobs available to them once they turn 45.
Let us repeat that. Forty-five.
But before we continue, let’s address what age discrimination is and how it can affect your company legally and culturally.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act
Age discrimination is the unfair treatment of someone older than 40 solely due to their age, and it’s illegal for companies to do under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). This law applies to all parts of the employment process – including age discrimination in hiring, which is a hot topic due to recent ageism lawsuits against a few big-name corporations.
In April 2019, an age discrimination lawsuit filed against PwC earned class-action status in federal court. The plaintiffs in the case allege that PwC discriminated against older applicants by recruiting mainly on college campuses and school-affiliated job sites.
That’s a big deal.
Recruiting on college campuses has become a common practice for a lot of organizations. And while recruiting on college campuses isn’t illegal, it’s a form of ageism if open job listings are only accessible to the younger workforce – like millennials and Gen Z.
The outcome of this lawsuit has the potential to change the way companies, like yours, hire new talent moving forward.
But unfair hiring practices aren’t the only trending practice of ageism. Google and IBM also faced claims of age discrimination after a large number of older employees were laid-off from both companies in what some call an attempt to make their workforce younger.
How Age Discrimination Affects Company Culture
After looking at these cases, it’s understandable why some older employees have a constant fear of being fired. This uncertainty hinders the employee experience and impacts company culture negatively. Here’s how different types of age discrimination affect a company’s culture:
Age Discrimination in Hiring
As mentioned earlier, age bias is a massive problem in hiring. By excluding an entire generation of candidates, businesses are limiting their talent pool and diversity, too. Older employees have years of experience to share with their company, and they also tend to have a network they can leverage for business opportunities. It’s a good idea to be openminded in hiring and make sure you consider a person based on their qualifications and not their age.
Age Discrimination in Firing
Wrongful termination due to age is not only illegal, but it ruins company culture by spreading fear and uncertainty – which are the opposite of what you’d want your company culture to be. Fear and uncertainty also fuel an employee’s decision to leave a company. The cost of onboarding a new employee is much more expensive than retaining one. You can calculate the cost of employee turnover specific to your company using this employee turnover calculator.
Age Discrimination in Promotions
Older employees often get overlooked for promotions, even if they are the most qualified person for a leadership position. Promoting an inexperienced employee over someone who deserves it creates disengaged employees. What’s the point of working hard if someone less certified than you will get the job anyway? Disengaged employees are the last thing you want at your company because they are expensive to maintain. A Gallup report found that the U.S. loses an average of $450 billion to $500 billion a year due to disengaged employees.
How can you put older employees at ease? Here are some recommendations:
- Be transparent with lay-offs and hiring practices. Nothing feeds fear more than unannounced firings or questionable new hires. Trust is the core of all great organizations, and your employees deserve open communication, with no penalties, to develop trust.
- Avoid labeling employees the “mom” or “dad” of the office. This can be hard to enforce because it depends on a person’s personal preference. Some people may find work nicknames fun, but others may strongly dislike it. Use your better judgment on nicknames and listen to an employee if they ask you to stop calling them a certain term.
- Represent an all-inclusive workforce. It’s fine to use a specific set of images for design purposes, but try to make them inclusive of all ages, genders, and racial groups. Details like this matter particularly when you’re hiring or promoting your brand.
- Embrace continuous feedback. An “always on” feedback system ensures your employees have a voice in the company. It alerts your managers on any issues or suggestions employees have to improve company culture and helps drive employee-centric decisions.
- Recognize your employees often. Constant recognition makes your employees feel valued. It also lets them know that the work they’re doing matters – and it fuels their sense of belonging in the company.
- Use performance management software. Performance management software provides clarity for promotions and firings. It also helps employees understand where they stand with the company in terms of opportunities for advancement, or if they’re at risk of being let go.
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