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Older workers feel left out and undervalued

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  • Age discrimination remains a pervasive issue in the workplace, with a third of people believing attitudes towards older workers have deteriorated due to the cost-of-living crisis.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges for older employees, with many forced to shield or furloughed for extended periods, impacting employment rates among those over 50.
  • Combating ageism requires a multi-pronged approach, including strengthening age discrimination laws, promoting age-inclusive recruitment and retention policies, and fostering a culture that values the experience and knowledge of an aging workforce.

As the workforce continues to evolve, a concerning trend has emerged – age discrimination against older workers. A recent survey by AARP has shed light on the prevalence of this issue, revealing that a staggering one-third of people believe attitudes towards older employees have worsened since the onset of the cost-living crisis. This alarming statistic underscores the challenges faced by experienced professionals in an increasingly youth-centric corporate culture.

The survey, which polled 2,000 UK workers, painted a grim picture of the anxieties and discrimination endured by those over 55 in the workplace. One in five older workers admitted to feeling discriminated against due to their age, a figure that has remained relatively unchanged from the previous year. This statistic serves as a sobering reminder that ageism is still deeply entrenched in many organizations, despite efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.

Age discrimination is a complex and multifaceted issue that manifests in various forms, both overt and subtle. Rebecca Jones, a professor at Henley Business School, shed light on the unique challenges posed by ageism, stating, "An interesting point that sets ageism apart from other forms of discrimination is that those exhibiting ageist behavior will eventually belong to the group they are discriminating against."

Jones further explained that negative stereotypes surrounding aging and work can be internalized, influencing not only how we perceive older workers but also how we view ourselves in the context of employment as we age. These "internalized ageist beliefs" can have far-reaching consequences, impacting everything from learning and development opportunities to workplace relationships and retirement decisions.

The Economic Impact of Ageism

The survey also revealed the economic toll of age discrimination, with a quarter of respondents stating that their employers value older workers less than before the crisis began. Alarmingly, half of all workers felt that opportunities for career progression and advancement have diminished for older employees since the onset of the cost-of-living crisis.

This perceived lack of opportunities has led to increased pressure on older workers, with 47% reporting a heightened need to perform well at work. Mike Middleton, founder of Pro-Vision Lifestyles, highlighted the potential consequences of this pressure, stating, "Employers may often believe that investing in an older worker is a greater risk as they may not remain with the employer long enough to justify the cost."

However, Middleton also challenged this assumption, arguing that "an older worker given a chance to retrain and remain in employment is possibly more likely to remain with an employer than an ambitious 30-something seeking to climb the corporate ladder."

The Pandemic's Impact on Older Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges faced by older workers, with many forced to shield due to underlying health conditions or the vulnerability of household members. Stuart Lewis, chief executive of Rest Less, emphasized the "devastating impact" of the pandemic on attitudes towards older workers, stating, "Four years on from the start of the pandemic, and while moving in the right direction, employment rates among the over 50s have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels."

Lewis also highlighted the disproportionate impact on older workers during the pandemic, noting that they were more likely to be furloughed for extended periods, with many never returning to work.

Combating Age Discrimination: A Call to Action

Addressing age discrimination in the workplace requires a multifaceted approach, involving both organizational and societal changes. Lewis advised organizations to consider offering flexible and part-time roles, menopause policies, carer's leave, and pension advice to support older workers. Additionally, he emphasized the importance of ensuring that recruitment strategies reflect an age-inclusive workforce and that internal support networks encompass age-related concerns.

Middleton reinforced the value of retaining older workers, stating, "If a business loses older people, it will not only impact their total human resource, but run the risk of a great deal of experience and knowledge being lost for good."

Furthermore, the AARP survey revealed strong support for strengthening age discrimination laws, with 86% of adults aged 50 and above agreeing that older Americans should be protected from age discrimination, and 90% supporting efforts to bolster the nation's age discrimination laws.

Age discrimination in the workplace is a pervasive and deeply rooted issue that demands immediate attention. As the workforce continues to age, it is imperative that organizations foster an inclusive and supportive environment for older workers, recognizing the invaluable experience and knowledge they bring to the table. By implementing policies and practices that promote age diversity and combat ageist attitudes, companies can not only retain valuable talent but also cultivate a culture of respect and empowerment for all employees, regardless of age.

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