The state pension age in the UK is set to rise to 66 for both men and women by October 2020. The government’s expectation is for employees to work later into life, but are our workplaces following suit? Let’s take a look at age and discrimination in the workplace.
What is age discrimination and is it illegal?
Age discrimination is where you are unfairly treated because of your age. It is an illegal practice as age is identified as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
What form does age discrimination take in the workplace?
Age discrimination can occur for both junior and senior employees and can arise in all aspects of employment:
Take care with jobs adverts. Specifying a length of time of experience (“10 years’ experience in this field or similar”), calling for “recent graduates” or promoting a “work hard/play hard, fast paced and ambitious working environment” risk alienating certain age groups and therefore can be seen as discriminatory.
Promotion and training
Overlooking employees for promotion because of their age is a form of direct discrimination – that is, being treated unfairly because of who you are. As is demoting an employee or transferring them to a different department (“let’s put Steve in the mail room, out of sight”).
Similarly, age discrimination may also manifest in removing or reducing opportunities for professional development by creating training programmes suitable for graduates only, for example.
The workplace culture
A workplace where age-related bullying and harassment is allowed to occur indicates a toxic culture. Employers have a duty of care to their people, which includes preventing bullying and harassment so that individuals are not subjected to inappropriate or threatening behaviour, or offensive comments/jokes/bants that cause distress and humiliation.
It is also important to create a culture where speaking out against such behaviour is encouraged, and where victims and witnesses are confident they won’t in turn be (further) unfairly treated in making their voices heard.
Check out my blogs “Is no news good news” and “Cultivating a culture of openness” for more insight here.
Distressingly, this does occur and can also take the form of forced early retirement.
So how do we tackle age discrimination in the workplace?
Let’s start by taking an employee-eyed view of the working world and assess how can we change the workplace model. Flexible working is key here. Do we need to enforce a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday working pattern? Can we embrace remote working?
But let’s also change our outlook when it comes to older employees. Are older colleagues observed from a far as change-averse, prehistoric creatures (“she’s set in her ways”)? Revered? Yes. Respected? Probably not. Or are they seen as a font of knowledge (they’ve succeeded, they’ve failed, they’ve improved) and mentors who are eager to share lessons learned?
Harness this wealth of experience and knowledge – and reap the rewards. And if you have this opportunity for business consultancy by seasoned professionals in-house, all the better!
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