Age discrimination in the workplace is slowly becoming passe

There’s never been a better time for people 50 and older to stay active in their current role or launch a new career. Government initiatives, programmes awarding companies for pro-actively hiring older workers, and the groundswell of baby boomers working later in life mean turning 60 or 65 does not have to bring with it the mandatory retirement sentence it once did.

Nearly one-third of the UK’s workforce is comprised of older workers, up from around 21% in the early 1990s, according to a 2018 report by the Centre for Ageing Better. Statistics are also showing a similar aging workforce in other developed countries.

People are working later in life for a variety of reasons, chief among them the feeling of worth and contribution this brings together the ability to leverage decades of experience. For some, working longer is also due to the need to maintain an income.

Business champion for older workers

Two years ago, the government appointed Andy Briggs, the chief executive of Aviva UK Life, as the business champion for older workers. Briggs is leading a government initiative to encourage employers to recruit, retrain and retain older workers by promoting the benefits they bring to the office.

Eight UK companies, including Aviva and Barclays, signed on to the programme that commits them to hire 12% more older workers by 2022 and to publish the number and percentage of over 50s on staff. In late 2017, Aviva announced it would hire an additional 1,000 older workers meaning 25% of its UK employers will be over 50 in the next four years.

The Age Smart Employer Award programme started several years ago by Columbia University’s Columbia Aging Centre at the Mailman School of Public Health gives awards to New York City-based businesses and non-profit companies who make a point of hiring older workers. Those who have won the award focus on skills rather than age.

See also: What is diversity without inclusion?

Tackling stereotypes

While all of this is encouraging, age discrimination still exists. In the fall of 2017, the HM Courts and Tribunals Service noted that age discrimination claims had increased by 32% over the previous 12 months.

A July 2018 report issued by the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee called on the government to be ‘clearer that prejudice, unconscious bias and casual ageism in the workplace’ is unlawful under the 2010 Equality Act. It is difficult to find anyone aged 50 and older working as a trader, and banks and insurance companies, among others, have long had practices that workers at 65 must retire.

There are facts to keep in mind and steps to take to avoid having the ‘older worker’ stereotype applied and to stop feeling bad if age discrimination is experienced.

Advances in neuroscience show that our brains continue to grow new neural pathways, so long as we stay active. Long-held myths that an older brain loses cognitive ability and is no longer agile are simply not true.

Studies in neuroplasticity show that our brains continue to change throughout our lives. Moreover, we can affect the change based on our behavior, emotions and the way we think. Keeping a positive mindset does more for our health, and our brain, than was previously thought.

Older workers are from a generation that focused more on health and had relatively more education than predecessors. Together these facts fly in the face of old beliefs that people aged 50 and older are less willing to learn new technology, will take more sick days, have less energy and watch the clock as they wait for retirement to begin.

See also: How to embed diversity in the workforce

Three ways to help avoid age discrimination

There’s no reason to stop what you’re doing in your ‘60s, ‘70s or ‘80s if you don’t want or need to. There are a few steps you can take to help make yourself attractive to an existing or potential employer.

  1. Focus on doing what you do best and know your key talents. Keep in mind examples of situations where your skills, ability to learn quickly and intuitiveness paid off.
  2. Stay on top of technological changes in your company and know the words or phrases associated with these changes. You’re not going to be expected to start programming, unless you’re in a technology role, so knowing what the technology does and how it benefits the company will keep you current. It will also go a long way toward debunking the stereotypical view of the older worker who won’t or can’t embrace technological change.
  3. Avoid falling into the trap of talking about how things were done in the old days as this only draws attention to how long you’ve been working and, inevitably, your age. If someone is directly or indirectly hinting that your age is an issue and you think age discrimination is occurring, redirect the conversation to how your decades of experience is an asset for the company.