Employers in Canada and the U.S.A. have largely abolished mandatory retirement and opened the gates for unretired Boomers to keep working. What lingers is possible age discrimination which will vary in degree, depending on the work setting.

For those un-retired workers who need or chose to keep working up to and past 65, ageism is a force that can work against your success in doing so.

Not only is age discrimination painful, it is unfair and can pose a barrier to finding or maintaining a job. It can also be experienced in settings other than the workplace.

age discriminationWork related ageism is due to long-held cultural beliefs and policies that we stop working at or before 65, because at this age we are too old to work.To be accurate, older workers who have attitude, skill and/or health issues, may no longer be competitively employable.

Human Rights and Discrimination

The Ontario Human Rights Commission describes age discrimination in employment as: “Assumptions and stereo-types about older workers are unfortunately all too prevalent in our workplaces. Older workers are often unfairly perceived as less productive, less committed to their jobs, not dynamic or innovative, un-receptive to change, unable to be trained or costly to the organization due to health problems and higher salaries. These ideas about older workers are simply myths that are not borne out by evidence. In fact, there is significant evidence that older workers:are highly-productive, offering considerable on the job experience;

  • do as well or better than younger workers on creativity, flexibility, information processing, accident rates, absenteeism and turnover;
  • can learn as well as younger workers with appropriate training methods and environments;
  • and do not fear change but rather discrimination.

In the United States, employment-related age discrimination charges can be filed through the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In Canada the governing body is the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Effects of Ageism and its Practice in the Workforce

Jen Laskey (2008) provides the following definition of Ageism and the psychological effects. “Ageism refers to a basic denial of older people’s human rights. The term was coined in 1968 by Robert N. Butler, M.D., a gerontologist, psychiatrist, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author. Like racism or sexism, ageism has a myriad of negative effects on emotional well-being. Age-based discrimination can decrease one’s self-esteem; it can cause feelings of stress, anxiety, guilt, shame, or helplessness. Others may also be quick to accept stereotypes about aging, thus compounding these effects.”

Alison Doyle, a job search expert advises that “Employment discrimination happens when a job seeker or an employee is treated unfavorably because of his or her race, skin color, national origin, gender, disability, religion, or age.”

The next paragraph is of particular interest to unretired Boomers:

How ageism is practiced is summarized by Kacey Stapleton (2009) in the following excerpt: “Ageism in the workplace is usually seen as a prejudice against anyone nearing or passing the standard age of retirement. Discrimination can either be systematic or incidental denial of employment, advancement or fair treatment. Systematic discrimination means an employer deliberately instructs management either against hiring individuals of a certain age or to force out workers as they near the age of retirement.” 

Age discrimination can occur not only from a younger person towards an older one, but also in the other direction. Members of the older generation may view younger workers as inexperienced, or not reliable to name a few additional stereotypes, and values can clash. These types of discrimination issues can be found in the increasing number of inter-generational workplaces.

Beliefs Underlying Ageism

A post retrieved from the Older Adults-Aging in Canada website (2012) indicates that: “Older adults in the workplace are often perceived to be lower in productivity, slower in decision making, resistant to change, and slow to learn. Evidence suggests that this is not the case. Even with radical changes in technology and the expectations of faster and more intensified work, older workers are as productive as their younger counterparts with the appropriate training.

The central issue is not necessarily what your age is, but one of attitude of those perpetuating ageism. Read the list of six common stereotypes below and determine if they hold true for you. If so then it will become your homework to address them as need be.

  • Have Reduced Learning Capacity
  • Possess Outdated Skills
  • Are Resistant to Change
  • Demand Higher Wages
  • Demonstrate Slower Decision- Making
  • Have Lower Productivity

In the next post I will provide strategies to encounter the 6 common stereotypes above that can act as barriers to staying employed. By confronting ageism in the labour market, un-retired Boomers may defuse this form of discrimination not only for themselves, but also the younger generations that follow.