According to Butler (2008), ageism is defined as systematic prejudice and discrimination against older adults (as cited in Harris, Krygsman, Waschenko, & Rudman, 2017). Unfortunately, ageism—as well as the other isms (sexism, racism, etc.)—has become increasingly pervasive in American society. In the recent 2016 presidential election, the extent to which ageism exists in this country became ever more apparent. Many Americans wondered and outright asked presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump of their ability to serve given their older ages. These concerns about ability to perform not only show themselves in the political arena, but also in employment decisions.
As people are living longer due to advancements in medical care, the population of adults ages 65 and up is increasing exponentially. According to the Administration on Aging (2014), in 2003, the population of older adults was 35.9 million; by 2013, that number had grown to 44.7 million. It is projected that by 2060, 98 million Americans will be at or above the age of 65 (as cited in Levy, 2016). It is unfair that the modern-day job market excludes or pushes out many capable people from their occupations. According to Biggs (2014), once out of a job, these individuals usually struggle to achieve gainful employment and often resort to part-time, lower-paying, contractual, or entrepreneurial work (as cited in Harris et al., 2017). There are several ethical and economical reasons why ageism in the workplace must come to an end. Not having a substantial amount of the population contributing to the economy is detrimental, and negative encounters with ageism negatively impact the psychological and physiological health of older adults. Creating an online training course through an lms system with psychoeducational content about ageism is one of the many ways to combat ageism.
How to Combat Ageism in the Workplace
- Provide a psychoeducational training about aging via an lms system.
- Negative stereotypes about older adults are harmful not only to the productivity of an age-diverse organization, but also damaging to the health of older adults. Combatting these untrue stereotypes with a psychoeducational training is an effective way to improve interactions between younger and older employees. For example, if a younger employee does not trust an older employee with an important task due at 5pm because he or she believes the older employee will not remember to complete the assignment, this constitutes ageism. Psychoeducational content easily delivered to staff on an lms system can then focus on debunking myths about memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease among individuals aged 65 and older (Wohlmann, 2013).
- Acknowledge that ageism exists.
- Ageism affects not only interactions between older adults and their employers, but it also affects the interactions between older adults and their younger colleagues. One of the first steps to combating these negative interactions is acknowledging that ageism exists in your work environment. How do you find out if ageism exists in your workplace? Have employees taken an online assessment? There are several on the market that are reliable and valid, and easy to deliver to staff via an lms system. One assessment commonly used to detect implicit bias is the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Another measure is the Workplace Intergenerational Climate Scale (WICS; King & Bryant, 2017).
- The IAT is explained in greater detail in the following blog article: http://blog.certcentral.com/implicit-racial-bias-online-cme-trainings/. The IAT can measure implicit attitudes toward older adults.
- The WICS measures the affective-cognitive-behavioral attitudes toward older and younger employees. The WICS also measures the degree of positivity in the workplace toward older and younger generations via reports of inclusiveness and friendliness. The results of this assessment also indicate the areas of the intergenerational climate that need improvement. There are five subscales of the WICS: Lack of Generational Stereotypes, Positive Intergenerational Affect, Intergenerational Contact, Workplace Generational Inclusiveness, and Workplace Intergenerational Retention. Evidence indicates that this scale is valid and reliable to detect ageism in the workplace between coworkers (King & Bryant, 2017).
- Encourage reciprocal knowledge transmission between older and younger employees.
- The experienced, wise, older employee has a lot of valuable information to better integrate newer, younger employees. It is helpful to increase the older employee’s self-efficacy by continuing to offer them opportunities in which they feel that their expertise matters and is valued. Similarly, younger employees can increase their self-efficacy by teaching older employees a thing or two as well. Depending on the extent of the generational gap between coworkers, this may mean that a younger coworker may show an older employee how to integrate a new software into his/her daily practice. This mutual transmission of knowledge allows both younger and older employees to feel valued. It also enables a close-knit, productive working environment where older and younger employees can rely upon each other for help and guidance (King & Bryant, 2017).
- Encourage management to clarify reasoning for promotions.
- Sometimes, certain people are chosen for promotions over others. When younger employees are promoted rather than older coworkers, this might come across as ageist to older adults. If older employees are promoted rather than younger employees, younger employees may see this as unfair and seniority-based—and this may cause younger workers to harbor resentment about not being chosen for the promotion. To counteract these negative rationalizations, management should make it clear to employees that promotion is based on merit and the value of that employee’s contributions to the organization. This can be clarified in an online training delivered to staff via an lms system (King & Bryant, 2017).
Harris, K., Krygsman, S., Waschenko, J., & Rudman, D. L. (2017). Ageism and the older worker: A scoping review. The Gerentologist. Advance online publication. doi:10.1093/gnw194
King, S. P., & Bryant, F. B. (2017). The workplace intergenerational climate scale (WICS): A self-report instrument measuring ageism in the workplace. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38, 124–151. doi:10.1002/job.2118
Levy, S. R. (2016). Toward reducing ageism: PEACE (positive education about aging and contact experiences) model. The Gerentologist. Advance online publication. doi:10.1093/geront/gnw116
Wohlmann, A. (2013). [Review of the book Agewise: Fighting the new ageism in America, by M. Morganroth Gullette]. American Studies, 58, 518–520. Retreived from http://www.amerikastudien.de/quarterly/