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How to identify and prevent age discrimination at work

Research suggests that companies can save money by retaining older workers who are more loyal. Here are guidelines to follow and areas to focus on to retain these valuable employees.

How to identify and prevent age discrimination at work
[Photos: David Lee/Unsplash; Scott Graham/Unsplash]

Workplaces are dynamic and constantly changing, which leads some managers to think that new perspective is better. However, older employees are an advantage for employers because they often bring a strong work ethic and unparalleled knowledge from their tenured careers.  

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These employees can share their personal experiences from the different economic cycles they have lived through. For example, what worked for their companies during the last period of high inflation is something that millennials don’t currently have as a workforce life experience. Through their tenured careers, older workers have honed their skills, many of them pursing further career education that cannot be replicated in a younger employee due to lack of time in their profession.  

According to the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation, companies that choose to train and retain older workers often save money because of the time it takes to integrate a new hire into their workplace culture. This report also suggests that older workers may remain more loyal to companies, especially those that invest in them, as opposed to younger generations that may be more likely to job hop. 

Different point of views within the organization will naturally arise from working with individuals of different age groups. These varying viewpoints help companies make stronger decisions, but they can also cause friction. An open-door culture, with investments in diversity and inclusion and zero-tolerance for harassment and discrimination, can reduce this friction.  

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The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination against people aged 40 or older. It applies to companies with at least 20 employees during any 20 weeks in either the current or preceding calendar year. Keep in mind that some states have lower threshold ages than 40 for their laws. 

To have a dynamic workplace and comply with the law, employers must be poised to identify potential age discrimination in the workplace by following these guidelines.  

Have zero-tolerance for use of derogatory terms

Companies must have a zero-tolerance attitude for derogatory comments, like referring to older employees as “dinobabies,” “grandma,” “grandpa,” or “mother hen,” and require that they are reported and corrected quickly.  

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Watch for disparate impact, bias, cultural shifts, and differences

  • Have measurable and business neutral criteria for performance so that employees can be properly assessed against the same standards. 
  • Have training available to all employees for new technologies and procedures.  
  • Understand the approaches to work for different generations may be different.  
  • Acknowledge different communication styles and methodologies.  
  • Create an inclusive office environment that’s welcoming to all communication styles, as each is extremely beneficial.  

Keep an eye on promotion and hiring policies and procedures

When it comes to hiring and promoting, be mindful of implicit bias.  

  • Older workers may be less direct about their desire for a promotion because they may be observing the values of the office environment they were brought up in. Millennials may be outspoken about their desire for a promotion.  
  • Management should have clear criteria for what they desire in candidates and evaluate all on that basis.  
  • Avoid the assumption that a younger employee is more dedicated because they stay later or seem more “energetic” about the company.   

Focus on these areas

Recruiting 

Job postings

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  • Avoid terms like “energetic” and “fresh” in job postings. 
  • Include an “Inclusivity Statement” in job postings. 
  • Cast a wide net in posting to multiple websites, including industry associations and networking groups. Partner with groups that are focused on recruiting a mature workforce. 
  • Post positions internally to tap into the existing workforce. 

Networking Groups

  • Recruiters can join industry networking groups or target networking groups to widen their nets. 
  • Companies can create affinity groups within the organization. 

Retention 

Mentoring

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  • Create cross-mentorship programs in the workplace where employees are brought together to share different strengths. An example is a long-term employee partnered with a younger employee to cross mentor each other, allowing individuals to socialize within the workplace and build relationships.  

Policy Review

  • Companies should regularly review their policies for disparate impact on older workers. Disparate impact is a form of discrimination, and it occurs when a company has a practice or policy that unfairly impacts a protected group.  
  • Attendance and Leave policies should be reviewed to make sure they are compliant with the law. 
  • Flexible workplace policies should be reviewed and offered consistently. 
  • Any type of forced retirement policy should likely be eliminated. Companies that are looking to offer retirement incentives should only do so with the consultation of an employment attorney.  

Training

  • Diversity and inclusion training should include discussions of communication styles, the benefits of diversity, and recognizing implicit bias.  
  • Skills investments by companies can help develop their existing workforce so they don’t have to recruit for outside talent. This can include leadership retreats and management programs.   

Companies should build a culture of diversity and inclusivity by promoting communication and idea sharing at all levels. Diversity and inclusion training, including unconscious bias training, should be offered to employees regularly and be part of the company culture. By recognizing the benefits of a mature workforce, their knowledge, dedication, and strong work ethic, companies can succeed and reduce costs.  

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Vanessa Matsis-McCready is associate General Counsel and director of Human Resources at Engage PEO.


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