Discrimination against older workers is illegal and ethically and morally wrong.
Employment Ageism is embedded and persistent in our culture because it’s built on biased stereotypes and untrue myths. There are 4 big myths that affect many, particularly women over 40. Unfortunately, even many over 40s have come to accept these myths as true, damaging their self belief and confidence.
What are the Ageism Myths Employers Believe?
Ageism Myth 1 – Older workers take more sick days because they are less healthy
No, we are actually healthier and more reliable than younger workers. Just 25% of the over 50 took sick days in the past year, versus 50% of the 20 to 29 (Australian and UK research). The Mature take their jobs more seriously as they need to hold onto them for longer, especially with the raised retirement age and COVID-19.
Younger people are more likely to fake illness because of minor ailments – and due to late nights and hangovers. Less of a problem with us oldies! Many also feel that sick days are an entitlement, sort of like extra holidays.
Then, according to a French study, under 35s have the highest stress, the most depression and are the worst sleepers. But, no matter the reasons they have for taking more sick days, what matters is that the Mature show up to work way more often.
Ageism Myth 2 – We are Technophobes and Resist Change
Let’s acknowledge two obvious facts…
- Technology is now a core component of most jobs
- Some Tech is second nature to Millennials, think Smartphones and Facebook
But neither fact means older workers cannot be equally skilled! In reality, The Mature are the fastest growing users of IT. Who gave us this technophobic label? Millennials! Like everybody unfamiliar with new software, we are trainable (see Myth 4). It’s a huge waste of talent that we are often given less training – presumably because employers believe this Myth and see it as a waste of time. Or that we’ll be retiring soon, complete rubbish (see Myth 3).
Older workers are adaptive to change – we have experienced so much change in our lives that it has made us resilient and able to cope with it. Experience counts a lot when learning new tech – it’s the “this looks like that, and we solved that by doing…” approach to learning.
One more thing: The young are great users of smartphones and Social Networks, but rarely know much more than that. I’ve mentored hundreds over the last 15 years and know how shallow their tech knowledge is, particularly around the all important office productivity tools (think Excel and Database).
Employment Ageism Myth 3 – Our Wages are higher
Let’s start with the obvious: workers must be paid based on their ability to do a specific job. Experience and qualifications must be considered when setting pay, and age is irrelevant.
The claim that the Mature are usually paid more than the younger in the same position is completely unsupported in the research when experience and qualifications are taken into account. Experience + skills = productivity – age has zero impact.
Here’s the real killer when it comes to relative productivity…
The over 55s are five times less likely to change jobs than the young. As you know, staff turnover costs between 4 and 18 months of their salary. When their stability is factored into productivity calculations, then the Mature are a bargain!
Ageism Myth 4 – Mature workers are less Intelligent, Innovative and Creative
Again, just wrong. A study of all OECD nations concluded that verbal skills, communication and intelligence remain unchanged as a person ages.
Why does this Myth persist? Probably because our short term memory often declines with age – so it takes a few seconds longer to recall some facts. This may make us look less snappy in meetings, but the damage it does to productivity is minute.
According to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the biases held against the Mature are unconscious and unintentional.
However, deliberate or not, these biases damage millions of Australians – only HR and Management can stop it.
OK, do you live in Australia and have the wisdom of many years?