Most common forms of discrimination have their roots in cultural myths or pervasive stereotypes. Racism and sexism, for example, paint huge portions of the population with broad strokes that may not reflect an individual’s personality or behavior. The same is true of ageism, which involves discriminatory behavior and attitudes based on the advanced age of an individual.
Although ageism can work the other way, with younger people not receiving the same respect and agency that older professionals enjoy, the law is clear that only ageism affecting those age 40 or older is actionable as discrimination.
Older workers face several cultural stereotypes that impact the ability to keep moving upward at their current job and to secure new employment when they want to change jobs. Understanding these myths can help you counter them in how you represent yourself to your co-workers and how you communicate during the job hunt process.
Older workers can’t adjust to new technology
The idea that adults with a certain degree of life experience are resistant to new technology has some basis in reality. If you invested hundreds of dollars in a LaserDisc, MiniDisc or even an 8-Track system for your personal enjoyment, you realize how frequently new technology fails, changes or becomes obsolete. However, just because older adults don’t always rush to become early adapters to new technology doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t learn the necessary technology skills for their job.
The same myth can also trickle down to any other major change in the workplace. Employers may assume that older workers will more strongly resist systemic changes, which may be one reason why they often try to let more experienced workers go during mass layoffs.
Older workers affect the cost of employer-sponsored benefits
Some companies offer pensions and retirement benefits that they don’t want to have to pay. They may try to force a worker out after years of loyal employment just so they can deny them a pension by terminating them for cause.
Pensions aren’t the only benefits that affect how employers view older staff members. Many people presume that health will decline with age. Some older workers may require more medical care, ranging from diabetes medication to emergency treatment for cardiac issues. Big claims can affect the costs of group insurance plans, leaving some employers to focus more on possible health costs than the increased productivity and expertise of an experienced worker.
Workers getting close to retirement have already checked out mentally
You may not plan to retire for five years or even another decade, but your manager and co-workers may assume that your ambition is gone. You may struggle to receive the same consideration for exciting new projects. You may still want to increase your wages and push for that next promotion, but it will be an uphill battle if everyone believes you are winding down for retirement.
Ageism can affect your upward trajectory or job security at a current position. It can also impact your ability to find another position, even when you are an expert in your field. Those facing age discrimination at a job or during their job hunt may need to take legal action to fight back against this insidious and commonplace form of discrimination.