- Ageism at work is widespread, tolerated and viewed as the "last acceptable bias," according to an AARP investigation, the organization announced Dec. 30.
- The research found that age bias occurs in three basic areas: 1) hiring, whereby employers target younger applicants job ad language; 2) on-the-job situations, in which older workers are harassed and prevented from advancing due to misperceptions about their tech skills; and 3) firing, whereby older workers are targeted for dismissals because of false perceptions about their pay levels and contributions.
- The report also found that large employers often tolerate age bias because the laws that protect older workers are "decidedly weaker" than those prohibiting other forms of discrimination, AARP said.
AARP's report joins a growing body of research with similar findings. For example, more than 20% of employees over age 40 in a 2019 Hiscox Ageism in the Workplace Study said they experienced age discrimination in the workplace; those around 51 years of age were the biggest targets. Based on the study results, Hiscox recommended that employers provide workers with training on age bias, look out for harassment and exclusion from hiring or advancement, and respond immediately to bias complaints.
Misperceptions about older workers' skills and proficiencies may not be more pronounced anywhere than in the tech industry. Visier, a people analytics firm, found that the average age of tech workers and managers is lower in the tech industry than in the non-tech arena — and that the frequency of promotions in the industry decreases rapidly after age 36.
Employers attempting to attract young workers by appearing more youthful in the way they communicate their brand and job opportunities could further jeopardize older workers' chances of being hired, promoted or generally well treated. IBM faced such an allegation when a former vice president alleged the company fired 100,000 workers to appear "cooler" and "trendier" to the millennial and Gen Z applicants it wanted to attract. IBM denied intentionally discriminating against older workers.
And when an employee's skills are truly lagging — due to any number of factors — experts say that training can both prevent discrimination claims and reduce costs. Tom Scroggins, partner with Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, previously told HR Dive that cross-training employees to spread skills from one employee to another can also "produce tremendous benefits." "Retaining an existing experienced employee is usually more cost-efficient than replacing them with someone new," he said.