Is your business discriminating against older employees? Ageism in the workplace can be subtle and hard to spot, at least for those not on the receiving end. Whether intentional or not, it can have the unfortunate effect of driving older workers to disengage from their jobs mentally or even quit.
While the loss of experienced employees is harmful to any business, it’s especially so for small companies. Entrepreneurs may not realize how much institutional knowledge is concentrated in a few key employees until it’s too late. Right now, baby boomers, Generation X and millennials are all in the workforce at once, so it’s more important than ever to be sensitive to ageism.
Signs of Ageism in the Workplace
Even if you yourself are over 40 or 50, you might be behaving in ways that are ageist without even realizing it. Here are 8 signs ageism could be a problem at your workplace.
Training and Development Opportunities are Offered to Younger Employees, But Not Older Ones
Do you regularly send younger employees to industry seminars or training events, or encourage them to get certifications, but don’t do the same for your older employees? Even if older workers have plenty of education under their belts, there’s always something new to learn. Offer older employees the same opportunities to learn new skills as you would to younger ones.
Your Employee Handbook Explains Your Policies Against Sexual Harassment, But Not Age Discrimination
Include an age discrimination policy in your employee handbook, as well as steps employees should take if they feel they have been discriminated against. Explain the policy to all your employees and make sure your managers understand it.
You Plan Team Activities That are Suitable for Twenty-somethings, But Not Those Over 50
You may be excited about your company’s upcoming paintball tournament, but activities that require athleticism can put older workers at a disadvantage. Choose activities everyone can feel part of without worrying about throwing out their backs. A potluck lunch or karaoke night knows no age limits.
You Notice Older Employees Showing Less Interest in Their Work and Putting Forth Less Effort
If an older employee who has always been a great worker suddenly seems to be just going through the motions, find out what’s wrong. Make sure the person doesn’t feel left out or undervalued.
You Let Younger Employees Leave Early to Attend a School Play but Fuss When Older Employees Ask to Leave for Other Family Commitments
Flexible policies need to apply to all workers, not just some of them.
Your Job Applications Ask Employees to Share Milestone Dates
Some online job search sites ask for this information, too. See if you can remove this field; it may discourage some older workers from even applying for jobs. If you can’t, be sure you don’t consider the information when eliminating applicants.
Employees Frequently Tease or Joke About Another Employee’s Age
It’s a fine line when friendly teasing becomes discrimination, but it can happen more easily than you think. If you notice someone making frequent comments about someone’s age, no matter how lighthearted they seem to be, take the employee aside and let them know it’s not a good idea to do this.
Your Business Website Conveys the Impression Your Office is Full of Twenty-somethings
If you have an About Us page or Work for Us page on your website, be sure it feels welcoming for all. Whether you’re using stock photos or photos of your actual staff, make sure they’re diverse and feel inclusive. Otherwise, you could be driving potential job applicants away.
The bottom line: Having a diverse range of employees strengthens your business by providing a multitude of perspectives and life experiences. By treating all employees equally, you’ll make your company a better place to be — and a better competitor in the marketplace.
Factory Workers Photo via Shutterstock