Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Age Discrimination

Canadian workplaces are diverse environments, comprised of individuals from varying backgrounds, cultures and experience. However with diversity, may come discrimination. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was created as part of our constitution to protect all Canadians from prejudice in the form of equality, language and legal rights, but the unfortunate reality is that discrimination still happens. A workplace is a second home for your employees so any form of discrimination, no matter how slight, can be very damaging to your organizational culture and morale.

One of the most common forms of discrimination that almost everyone can relate to is ageism. It is likely that everyone has a least one experience where they were told that they couldn’t do something because of their assumed experience based on their age. When we typically think of ageism, what first comes to mind is discrimination against seniors or older individuals. With that in mind, it makes sense that most of the literature about ageism focuses on prejudice against older individuals. This is especially true because Western society has historically valued youth and all of the advantages that come with it.

Canada’s population is aging and so is our workforce, with baby boomers retiring at a rapid pace. There are many common misconceptions about older workers that may cause an organization to hesitate replacing their departing older employees with employees of similar age. When recruiting I sometimes hear from hiring managers that they are concerned that older workers are going to have salary expectations too far out of scope, so they would like to hire someone younger. Additionally, hiring managers worry that hiring an older candidate will be a waste, because they are more than likely to retire soon. These are all assumptions based on judgement and prejudice. How can managers be certain their thoughts are true? These thoughts are the beginning to creating a discriminatory workplace.

I think we can all agree that it is time to put the above misconceptions to bed. In reality, there is so much value in your organization’s older employees. Most of their experience and knowledge comes from exposure, which comes from decades of experience. When senior workers leave your organization, they take with them valuable human capital, experience and knowledge that cannot be easily replaced. This causes large gaps in organizational knowledge pools and takes a very long time to replenish.

On the other end, discrimination against young people is just as frequent in the workplace, and is something that many millennials can relate to. Coming up in the ranks as a young professional myself, I experienced age discrimination from a few of my colleagues who did not know my background and made the assumption that I was much less experienced than I actually was based on my looks. It is so important not to diminish anyone’s potential contribution or ability based on how old you think they are. Young workers and new graduates are the future of your organization and some of them have capability beyond their age.

Ultimately, your workplace culture should be one that exudes acceptance and inclusiveness. Discriminating against your younger and senior workers, or any employees based on age, is certainly not acceptable and should not have any place in your culture. When you extend opportunity to employees of all ages, you will be surprised at not only what they can do, but also how wrong your original stereotypes were.

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