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Study – Age discrimination in the workplace is happening to people as young as 45

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Have you been discriminated against in the workplace? Chances are, if you’re 45 or older, you have been. Following is an article that appeared in Starts at Sixty.

‘Two-thirds of older workers surveyed by The University of South Australia experienced age discrimination.

 Almost a third of Australians perceived some form of age-related discrimination while employed or looking for work in the last 12 months – starting as early as 45 years of age, our study finds.

We conducted a national survey of 2,100 men and women aged 45 years and over, and 100 telephone interviews. The most common form of perceived discrimination was negative assumptions about older workers’ skills, learning abilities or cognition.

Survey participants also reported limited or no opportunities for promotion or training, working in an organisation that undervalued them and difficulty securing work due to age.

Our findings align with previous research from the Australian Human Rights Commission where 27% of Australians aged 50 years and over had recent experience of age-based discrimination in the workplace. In this survey the most common forms were limited employment, promotion or training opportunities and perceptions that older people have outdated skills or are too slow to learn new things.

Older adults in our study described a subtle pressure from their colleagues and management to stop working in order to “make room for the younger generation”. This was regardless of their experience, enduring capabilities or working preferences.

Workers also faced patronising attitudes, where employers or colleagues assumed they would struggle to pick up new technology or work systems quickly, due to their age. Some survey participants felt they were not afforded the same promotional or training opportunities as their younger colleagues.

Experiences differed for men and women in our survey. Men were more likely to suggest discrimination based on assumptions about their physical abilities or working pace, and women reported the organisation they worked for undervaluing older workers as a group.

To avoid discrimination interviewees reported using strategies such as minimising health conditions, concealing their age or maintaining a “youthful” appearance.

Although there has been some research into industry specific experiences of age discrimination, there are limited comparisons in research of prevalence and type of discrimination between industries.

Our data indicates that age related discrimination traverses all industries in worrying proportions. Industries where age discrimination was particularly common included construction, administrative services, education, manufacturing, essential services, information technology and professional service industries.

Hiring and firing of older workers

Over two thirds of retirees in our study, who had experienced age related discrimination, attributed their retirement to involuntary factors such as “having no choice”, redundancy or dismissal. Negative experiences at work (with a colleague, management or client) or dissatisfaction with organisational changes were often the trigger events for retirement.

Older job seekers reported being candidly or surreptitiously rejected through recruitment processes on the basis of age alone. Education, training and a steady working history were not guaranteed to help study participants in their search for employment.

Some interviewees had found it necessary to accept work for which they felt overqualified. Job seeker services in particular were considered ill-equipped to assist older, highly experienced and often well-educated adults.

These findings are in line with similar research in which study participants interpreted suggestions from potential employees that they were over qualified or experienced for a role, to mean they were “too old”.

Our interviewees believed that younger managers can feel intimidated by older workers. This may be based on concerns regarding an older employee’s ability to take instruction from somebody younger, learn new work methods and technologies or readily adopt change.

Why we should fight age discrimination

Beyond the moral and ethical issues of how older adults are treated, the experiences recorded in our study can have tangible implications for individuals and employers.

The government is trying to reduce dependency on the aged care pension by encouraging workers to stay in the workforce longer and accumulate sufficient superannuation (and other assets). Employment in high quality work can support and protect the health of men and women as they age.

But adults who feel devalued in their workplace, or unable to find suitable employment, are more likely to enter retirement earlier than anticipated and less inclined to re-enter the workforce.

Our survey results also suggest that people experiencing work-related ageism tend to report poorer health, lower household incomes and lower total superannuation fund balances, than those who have not had this experience.

Mature aged workers bring with them a range of favourable characteristics such as stability, reliability, loyalty, experience, wisdom and maturity. One way to tackle work related ageism is to firstly address negative perceptions regarding the competency of older workers.

This may be best addressed by employment services and human resource staff who are often on the front line of helping these workers find suitable employment. These workers can be skilled to respond to the needs of mature age job seekers. The introduction or reinforcement of policies supporting diversity in the workplace is another important step to support older worker participation.’

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This article was written by The Conversation

The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public. Their team of professional editors work with university, CSIRO and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public. We republish The Conversation’s content under Creative Commons License.

 

4 thoughts on “Study – Age discrimination in the workplace is happening to people as young as 45

  1. Always so shocking to hear things like this…with an ageing population we need to work hard on fighting this ageist culture that has been instilled in Australian businesses. It is unacceptable individuals as young as 45 are facing discrimination due to their age… it is all misconceptions. Over 45’s bring experience, skill, adaptability and increased productivity to businesses.

    According to the Australian Human Rights Commission (2016) 33% of individuals who experienced age discrimination, abandoned job searching which is extremely worrying for the Australian Labour Force.

    Individuals are in a predicament because they are too young to retire but ‘too old’ to find a job.

    It was great to see the recent news that the Turnbull government has taken small action to helping mature aged Australians find their place in the labour force as part of the 17-18 budget by offering a Career Transition Assistance Program to help with the re-training and re-entering to the workforce.

    Hopefully we will see further steps to come!

    However, ultimately it is businesses who’s attitudes on this topic needs to change if we are going to see some real changes.

    – ‘Don’t Fight The Silver Workforce’
    We are campaigning in a bid to fight these misconceptions in support of the Silver Army in work.

    silversinwork.wordpress.com

    1. Hello Georgina

      I fully concur with you – don’t fight the silver workforce. We need to impress with our experience and what we can offer an employer based on our life experiences. Keep up the good work.
      Regards
      Dawn

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