top of page

Breaking Through The Grey Ceiling

The Washington Post published an article on some of the challenges that older workers may experience if they were planning on working in retirement. In their post they cited the term “the grey ceiling”.

You might be familiar with the term “glass ceiling” as it relates to women and their career advancement but what about the term “grey ceiling”?

As you know, ageism exists in the workplace. Given the supply and demand for skilled workers, this situation has begun to improve slightly. It still remains a reality, however, that many older workers are having to face.

Even though there are laws in Canada and the United States that prohibit age discrimination, it can still be an extremely difficult case to prove and often goes unchecked.

So what is the “grey ceiling”?

It is a barrier within a hierarchy that prevents older employees from obtaining upper-level positions.

The grey ceiling extends even further. It encompasses hiring older workers, continued employment for older workers, development and also advancement for older workers.

There are many reasons why people may encounter the grey ceiling but many of them are based on poorly constructed stereotypes of aging.

Older Workers Cost More

If someone has been doing a job much longer than a younger worker they would more than likely have received increases to their salary over time and in turn naturally would cost more than a new hire. As well, older individuals may also have increased benefit costs due to increasing health needs.

When focusing strictly on the bottom line, older workers possibly do cost more. However, companies fail to realize that when they let go of their older and experienced workers, not only do the individuals leave the organization but so does their productivity.

As well, knowledge and experience is not replaced overnight.

Organizations need to look beyond the salary expense. They need to consider the skills, experience, and business relationships that may impact their company.

This could cost an organization both time and money to replace and could even be a costlier financial impact.

Limited Development Opportunities For Older Workers

Companies often don’t want to invest in development for older workers preferring to invest in younger workers who have more “growth potential”.

This is short sighted.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 was 10.1 years, more than three times that of workers aged 25 to 35 at 2.8 years.

If you were to conduct a return on investment as it relates to development, there is potential that the older worker would provide the larger return to an organization than a younger one given that they may actually stay with that organization and apply those new skills longer.

Older Workers Are Not Technologically Savvy

A report published by the AARP shared that 73% of people aged 50 to 59 and 54% of people aged 60 to 69 all owned smartphones. Not only do they have them, they are using their smartphones as much as millennials.

And as for using and adapting technology in the workplace, CIO Magazine breaks that aging stereotype with the following research.

Cloud storage provider Dropbox and Ipsos Mori, a UK-based market research firm, surveyed more than 4,000 information workers in the U.S. and Europe about their use of technology in the workplace and found that people 55 and up use 4.9 forms of technology per week, on average -- slightly more than the overall average of 4.7.

The survey also revealed that older workers are less likely than their younger colleagues to find using technology in the workplace stressful.

Just one-quarter of the respondents who are 55 or older said that they find tech in the workplace stressful. Meanwhile, 36 percent of the respondents who are 18 to 34 years old -- the ones who supposedly grew up with technology -- said they find tech in the workplace stressful.

Let’s Break The Grey Ceiling

Like so many other stereotypes -- many perceptions of older workers are not based on facts. They are based on preconceived ideas and thinking that can have a dangerous outcome. In this case, they can not only limit an older worker’s opportunities but could even impact their livelihood and future.

When it comes to older workers, those who affected by the grey ceiling…

Business needs to celebrate and value the knowledge, experience, and contributions older employees can bring.




Our Weather-Ready Care Kits

include items vital to surviving the extreme weather of every season.

From cold & damp to hot & humid.


Your monthly donation

means year-long support

for elder homeless men.


bottom of page