8 Signs of Ageism in the Workplace and What to Do About Them

8 Signs of Ageism in the Workplace and What to Do About Them

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


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

8 Reactions
  1. This is an issue that most businesses should address. There is really much discrimination on ‘aged’ people in the workplace.

  2. I have been employed for the county for 12 years and have been passed by promotions eight times. For the past 12 years i have noticed only 30 and under aged people have been promoted. Many people see the trend not just me. What can we do about it?

  3. After 24 years in the same position in the same company, I requested a promotion (in place) last January. I was turned down. It was since mentioned that as soon as I get ready for retirement, they will hire my replacement in the classification I requested and have me train that person. When asked why I couldn’t have the reclassification before I retire next year, I was just told that “it won’t happen.”

    I sometimes think I should hire a lawyer! Isn’t it awful to feel that way?

  4. Elizabeth De La Rosa

    It is a sad day when we don’t honor and appreciate the experience and skills that a more seasoned staff offers. We live in a society that focuses on the younger generations without realizing that our assets lie with the older generations and the values that they possess. People are working longer and the retirement age is pushed back so we need to embrace our elders and make sure they feel valued supported and have the same if not more opportunities in the work place.

  5. Agism is so subtle in any work place. It is a tactic of senior management to weed the garden so to speak for the sake of a quick profit. Often the nastiest hang on to their jobs whilst bullying their colleagues. HR work for senior management. So it follows that victims of unfair treatment of any kind will get support. I suggest get out and move on. Even build your own business. Take control of your own life.

  6. Moved from NY to ID with all the right experience and education to make a unilateral career move. Never factored the xenophobia, and learned my strengths were treated as deterrents. My ethnic name, my maturity and confidence, my high level of education, even my voice made me a target of insulting “feedback.” My voice was not girlish and lilting – I was actually told I was “bad for business.” (My voice is lower and hoarse from asthma!) I was also told after one interview that a panelist said “better watch this one, she’ll want my job.”As I read through this article, my heart sank. I never considered exclusion due to AGEism, but it’s glaringly obvious. Wasted time/effort to be a part of this region. So I chose to make my own way in this place. Isolated, however less insulted by rejection. I reallly miss people and teaching Yoga in a studio.

  7. I never realised people between 50/60 were a bullied group.i got a real eye opener as im 50 myself and experiencing bullying.its so distressing and anxiety over employment and being able to provide leaves me stressed.bullies seem to be able in some places to call the shots and I’m quite sure they are in work.

  8. There definitely needs more attention in governing and legal action addressed in this area of ageism in the workplace. Many of us more seasoned workers can’t retire until we die, essentially. So we are in between a rock and a hard place. We are left hanging on by the hair of our chinny chin chin.