Combating Ageism in the Workplace

Combating Ageism in the Workplace

Key Takeaways:

  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines age discrimination as an employer " treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of their age.” 
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act explicitly forbids ageism in the workplace. Examples of ageism in the workplace include being fired, denied a job, or passed over for promotion due to one’s age.
  • Though ageism affects all workers, older individuals tend to be particularly vulnerable. Stereotypes about their professional capacity and the high value some societies place on youth abound. 


Age Bias: What the Statistics Reveal

In 1995, most workers planned to retire by the age of 60. In 2022, the target retirement age rose to 66. As a result, many older employees are working well past the age at which they would have liked to wrap up their careers. Nevertheless, many individuals who previously left the workforce between 55 and 64 have since rejoined at even higher rates than younger age groups, mainly due to financial issues. 

In general, one in six retirees want to rejoin the workforce. But that isn’t a simple process. Once individuals are over 65, their labor force participation rate drops sharply from 65.2% to 26.6%, a decline that could be rooted in ageism and other biased practices. A recent AARP survey reveals that just as many adults (14%) have reported being turned down for a job in the last two years due to age. A different AARP survey found that 76% of respondents believe their job search will surpass a three-month threshold due to age bias. 

Unfortunately, age bias isn’t limited to hiring practices. One in five employed adults over 40 has personally experienced age discrimination. According to yet another AARP survey, about 80% of workers between ages 40 and 65 report either witnessing or personally facing age discrimination at work.

However, older employees are still a significant part of the applicant pool, and experts believe companies can benefit from having older employees as mentors and key contributors, given their extensive knowledge and experience. Innovation is necessary to ensure this, as these employees are often overlooked in favor of younger candidates.


Common Assumptions Associated With Ageism

Ageism often occurs because of biases (conscious or unconscious) or stereotypes that recruiters, hiring professionals, and business leaders cling to regarding employees at both age extremes. Let's examine a couple of myths that can affect employees and lock them out of opportunities due to their age:

Stereotypes of Older Employees

Some sincerely believe that employees over 55 are stubborn and lack the desire to learn new skills. That’s far from the truth, as statistics show that 86% of employees over 40 (and 76% of those over 50) employ a growth mindset and actively seek ways to learn new skills. 

Those numbers also help combat the myths that older employees don’t know how to work with technology and have slowed their productivity. Only 20% of employees over 50 reported having difficulty keeping up with required technologies. And nearly three-quarters reported having accomplished all or most of their career goals.

Some believe that older employees take more sick days. However, statistics show that older employees are working more hours than in past decades, and their careers are thriving.

Assumptions About Younger Employees

Though it seems less frequent, age discrimination against younger employees is also harmful and can hinder career progression. An online survey conducted by The Harris Poll recently found that 36% of Gen Z and younger millennial workers reported experiencing age-based discrimination at work. 

Some may assume that younger employees are lazy and less reliable when meeting deadlines and arriving to work on time. Many also assume younger employees are unmotivated to improve and arrogant about their skills. Unfortunately, 40% of hiring managers report these biases against Gen Z, and some admit they avoid hiring them. 

Still, younger employees have high ambitions in the workplace. Though they value a solid work-life balance, 63% of Gen Z undergrads who are entering the workforce say that learning advanced skills is essential to their definition of career success. And nearly 90% see learning and development benefits as critical or essential overall.

Examples of Ageism in the Workplace

Ageism in the workplace can appear in many different forms that impact younger and older workers alike, such as:

Hiring Practices

Using language like “recent college graduates,” “digital natives,” or “energetic and active” in job descriptions can make older employees feel excluded. Similarly, filtering out resumes with earlier or later college graduation dates, requiring a LinkedIn URL on applications, asking about retirement plans, or assuming younger employees don’t have much job experience during an interview are all examples of discriminatory hiring practices based on age.

Denial of Opportunity

In some cases, employees are passed over for projects or promotions because of an assumed inexperience or diminished capacity.

Poor Treatment At Work

Employees may experience infantilization in the form of being spoken down to or treated like children. Others may endure harassment, such as ageist jokes, name-calling, or pressure to retire. Some employees may be intentionally excluded from meetings and activities for similar reasons.

How Ageism Negatively Impacts Recruitment Practices

When hiring professionals discriminate against older or younger candidates, they limit their applicant polls and their ability to build solid talent pipelines. Furthermore, ageism can put the employer’s brand at risk should employees and candidates voice dissatisfaction with a lack of inclusivity or biased hiring practices.

Ageism, which is prohibited by law, can also put the organization at risk of legal repercussions. If an employee or candidate files a complaint with the EEOC or brings a lawsuit to court, the organization may face hefty fines, penalties, and payouts.


7 Ways to Effectively Combat Workplace Ageism

Ageism doesn’t have to be a prominent feature of every workplace. Hiring professionals can use the following seven tactics to help them avoid age discrimination and embrace the benefits of a multigenerational workforce:

1. Training and Education

Recruiters should consider conducting regular unconscious bias training for their hiring teams, as well as managers in each department. Doing so will help them recognize and mitigate age discrimination. Employees must be educated on inclusive language for job postings, interviews, and written and verbal communications.

2. Review and Revise Hiring Practices

Blind recruitment processes that remove age-related information (such as graduation dates, years of experience, or the period a job was held) can prevent age discrimination in application reviews. A team of hiring professionals that focuses on core competencies identified through skills assessments instead of experience requirements can achieve the same goal.

3. Diverse Sourcing Strategies  

Posting job openings on AARP’s job board and other networks catering to older employees can help recruiters widen their applicant pools. The use of diverse imagery representing employees of every age on career websites and other recruitment materials will also go a long way.

4. Promote an Age-Inclusive Culture

Mentorship or reverse mentoring programs can give employees of all ages a chance to learn from someone in a different age group. Similarly, flexible working options, such as job-sharing and remote roles, can appeal to both older and younger employees seeking a solid work-life balance.

5. Ensure Fair Assessment and Selection Process 

Structured interview techniques with a standard set of questions can help avoid age bias and ensure candidates are assessed fairly based on predetermined criteria. Additionally, the interview panel should have employees from multiple age groups.

6. Monitor and Evaluate 

Hiring professionals can track and assess recruitment metrics and analytics data to spot age disparities in the workforce and in hiring practices. Feedback tools should also be made available for candidates and employees to report any of their experiences with ageism.

7. Promote Success Stories

Success stories of employees from different age groups should be highlighted in internal and external communications. It’s also wise to recognize teams doing well in embracing age diversity.

Ending Workplace Ageism Is a Win for All

For the first time in history, five generations are all in the workforce together! A multigenerational office has many organizational benefits, including diverse perspectives, a stable workforce, and robust knowledge transfer. However, these benefits can only come to fruition when hiring professionals work toward an organizational culture free of age discrimination. 

With some in-depth training, a review of current practices, and a commitment to do better, hiring professionals can ensure that every candidate and employee feels valued and appreciated.


Eliminating ageism in the workplace is not just a legal requirement but a strategic advantage. By fostering an inclusive culture that values the contributions of all age groups, hiring professionals can unlock a wealth of experience, innovation, and diverse perspectives. 

Take the first step today by reviewing your current practices, implementing comprehensive training, and committing to continuous improvement. Together, we can create a workplace where everyone feels valued and empowered, regardless of age.

Ready to lead the change? Connect with Recrutics to learn more about how we can help you build an age-inclusive recruitment strategy. Visit our website or contact us today to get started. Let's work together to make ageism a thing of the past.


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