AGEISM IN THE WORKPLACE
Youthfulness is king. It is nearly impossible to go a full day without seeing the signs that youthfulness runs our society. Whether it is a Calvin Klein ad with a 20-something, impossibly handsome model in his underwear or a Victoria’s Secret ad featuring a gorgeous, scantily-clad model, our culture is engrossed with the image of youth. Most people may not consciously pay much attention to this phenomenon, but it continues to persist, and not just on billboards and bus benches either. As rampant as it is in the streets and in the media, these unfeasible standards of looking and feeling have also been seeping their way into the U.S. workplace for years. More youth are beating out older folks because of their spry, energetic attitude and the image they give off, even if they have less experience (Payne, 2013). This could be included in the definition of ageism which, similar to sexism and racism, is the discrimination against people because of their chronological age (most cases deal with old age discrimination) (Payne, 2013). The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), passed in 1967, forbids employment discrimination of anyone over the age of 40 (Feder, 2010). However, when lawsuits claiming age discrimination come to court, complications arise, as it is exceedingly difficult to prove age was the chief factor involved in something like a job termination (Salcedo, 2009). However, even with the ADEA in our back pocket, and as society has seemingly gotten generally more accepting, this widespread, inconspicuous form of injustice is still ubiquitous all over America. Ageism contributes to the discrimination of our older population, particularly in the workplace, but with simple awareness and willingness to rethink old ideas, we can make ageism the exception, rather than the rule.
Ageism can be seen in most aspects of life, but in the workplace, it is pervasive and insidious, as more of our growing elderly population, Baby Boomers for example, are being forced to work much further into their lives (Payne, 2013). In Harry Payne’s article published in October of 2013, he brings up the fact that a lot of prospective older Americans are looking for work, but it is not because they are bored: “No one is 55 and looking for a job that doesn’t need it” (Payne, 2013, p. 2, pg. 3). He goes on to mention how the longer these 50-70 year olds are out of work, the worse their chances of getting hired become (Payne, 2013). These folks are forced to go on unemployment, a finite amount of aide, which limits what they can do and even where they can apply: “Older applicants, perhaps longer out of work and more financially stretched, also face policies of some employers who do not hire anyone on unemployment benefits or who have a lower credit score” (Payne, 2013, p. 2, pg. 3). Suffice it to say, something has to give here. Payne goes on to offer some simple solutions and ways that this form of discrimination is being dealt with today. If your track record is good enough, age should not matter and this has held true, according to Payne (2013). But, for the majority of others, Payne offers some advice to employers asking them to give that senior’s résumé another gander, and keep an open mind that some of the applicant’s skills may be helpful (Payne, 2013). Most senior applicants have been in the workplace for multiple decades and their skills could transfer over and benefit a company in a previously unforeseen way (Payne, 2013).
While the skills that elderly applicants have when applying for a job are usually vast, the trend continues nonetheless: this age group is simply not being hired. What is worse though, is that another sinister form of ageism rears its head in the workplace: harassing, mistreating and even laying off perfectly proficient employees simply due to their age (White, 2013). In addition, the real irony is that the “higher-ups” of most of these companies are of this same age group (White, 2013). John Cassar White wrote in October of 2013 that a good chunk of these VPs and CEOs of companies are just as old, if not older, than the employees they are laying off (White, 2013). In White’s article, social psychologist Robert Butler gives his two cents on these upper management types laying off “their own kind” (White, 2013). He mentions that they see themselves as the exception to the rule, as still being spry, creative, clever and on top of their game (White, 2013). However, in Butler’s opinion, he believes that these people discriminate against people in their same age bracket simply because they can (White, 2013).
Doing something because you can is not necessarily a great reason to do much of anything, but it is in practice all over the workplace in our society. However, there are times when, perhaps, jobs should have an age restriction. For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) limits its pilots’ ages to 65, and if you are over 60, a co-pilot under 60 must accompany you during the flight (FAA, 2012). I think most of us can agree that this example is justified. On the contrary though, these instances are very few and far between. Youth still reigns supreme in America, and all the attributes that are associated with youthfulness reign as well (Nickels, 2013). Our older population is not usually considered to be clever, sharp-witted, or bright-minded, these words are much more associated with the younger population. However, what we must realize is that these are unfair stereotypes and just because ageism exists, does not mean we have to continue to feed into it. The less power we give to ageism and the more willing we are to do something about it, the sooner this prejudice can disappear from our society.
FAA. (2012). Pilot Age 65 Retirement Law. Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved at http://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/airmen_certification/pilot_age_65/
Feder, Jody. (2010). The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): A Legal Overview. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved at http://www.aging.senate.gov/crs/aging21.pdf
Nickels, Thom. (2013). Growing Older in America. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thom-nickels/growing-older-in-america_b_4071750.html
Payne, Harry. (2013). Older Workers Face Ageism. Star News Online. Retrieved from http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20131009/ARTICLES/131009643/-1/opinion?p=1&tc=pg
Salcedo, Martin. (2012). Never Trust Anyone Over Forty: Supreme Court Rules in ADEA Mixed-Motive Case. The Human Equation, Inc. Retrieved at http://www.thehumanequation.com/en/news_rss/articles/2009/08-10-Never-Trust-Anyone-Over-Forty-Supreme-Court-Rules-in-ADEA-Mixed-Motive-Case.aspx
White, John Cassar. (2013). Ageism is a Pervasive and Dangerous Mindset. Times of Malta. Retrieved from http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20131003/business-comment/Ageism-is-a-pervasive-and-dangerous-mindset.488801#.UlmIUTBBldw