According to the Centre for Ageing Better, today’s workforce is ageing, with one-third of employees aged 50 or older. This demographic shift impacts the workforce with the average age of workers increasing and the workplace becoming more age-diverse. Different generations of employees ranging from Baby Boomer, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z, are working side by side now more than ever. Yet, age discrimination remains a persistent and common problem. Ageism is the unfair treatment of an applicant or employee because of age. Ageism is one of the most pervasive biases in the workplace; it can appear in many forms and go completely unnoticed.
Persistent misperceptions and negative stereotypes about age, which generally associate older employees as being out of touch, reluctant to pick up new skills, limited productivity and digitally incompetent, all too often contribute to the age discrimination climate in organisational settings. This misconception can deter older people from new employment opportunities and inhibit their progress at work.
Research conducted by AARP found that “64% of workers have witnessed or experienced age discrimination”. While there is some awareness surrounding ageism in the workplace, this is almost entirely focused on discrimination toward older people. Little attention is paid to bias against young people in the world of work (Generation Y and Generation Z ).
Workplace ageism continues to be a problem since assumptions about older workers are often based on perceived value, leading to the older workforce being denied chances, promotions, and even employment. The hiring process itself is a substantial component of ageism. Many job applications prefer younger applicants across industries, which may discourage older prospects from applying. According to Forbes, older workers who apply for jobs in person, where employers can see their age, have a lower chance of getting hired than those who apply online. The prevalence of age discrimination in the workplace has had serious effects, ranging from the economic impact to lack of productivity and mental health.
In Nigeria currently, no concise and well-articulated provision in the Nigerian Labour Act seeks to criminalise age discrimination as it is in developed countries. For example, The United States Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 was implemented to protect productive older workers from age preconceptions. This law forbids discrimination in the workplace against those aged 40 and over. The ADEA prohibits companies with 20 or more employees from hiring, terminating, promoting, or determining an employee’s compensation based on age. Discrimination in other elements of employment is likewise prohibited under the law (e.g., wages, job assignments, layoffs, training, and fringe benefits). However, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2011 (as amended) (the “Constitution”) has fundamental provisions which generally guarantee all citizens of Nigeria freedom from discrimination. The law is quiet on age discrimination, hence the justification by employers who deliberately peg entry age and discriminate against older applicants for job placements.
Age discrimination is on the rise, notwithstanding the growing presence of women in the workforce. According to AARP research, 64% of women have experienced age discrimination on the job, compared to 59% of males. There are various ways organisations can minimise ageism in the workplace and foster greater inclusiveness.
Minimising Ageism in the Workplace
Employers can endeavour to address age discrimination by adopting and encouraging the development of multigenerational workforces. This indicates that a company purposefully recruits and hires personnel from various generations, resulting in a diverse range of talents, perspectives, and experiences.
It is also critical to be mindful of one’s biases. More importantly, managing bias necessitates critical self-evaluation to discover how these biases may be obstructing interpersonal connections. Furthermore, inclusive hiring procedures produce many committed employees and create a diverse, intergenerational workplace which inevitably increases the talent pool and retention rates.
In the end, any workplace discrimination has a negative effect on the individual employee and the entire workplace. Bias on skilled and talented employees due to age, either young or old, tarnishes an organisation’s reputation both as an employer and as a business. In today’s business world, ageism is an issue that has significant implications on the morale of the workforce, productivity, and mental health. Age-related biases/ discrimination is unacceptable as race, gender, disability, sexuality etc. and will continue to exist unless organisations have a discourse with employees and consciously put strategies/plans in place to effect change.