When you think of ageism in the workplace, you might think first of discrimination towards older employees, forgetting that, today, Millennials are the brunt of many supposedly innocent jokes. All kidding aside, ageism is wrong, no matter the target.
"I used to work for a major Canadian telcom. I had
a bulls eye on me. I was making a lot of money and
was in my fifties. It was inevitable that I'd be laid off."
One of the best examples of planned ageism in the workplace is the existence of an often unspoken rule or formula in HR. It goes something like, "80/50/30".
When a company looks to layoff, if an employee is earning over $80,000 a year, is over the age of 50, and has 30 years at the organization, that employee often ends up top of the list for termination.
While the numbers may have changed, the formula exists thus ageism is not only a regular business practise, it is seemingly acceptable.
Up to 91 percent of older people say they have experienced ageism, this according to a recent study by the University of Alberta. 98 percent of younger people admit to discriminatory thoughts or negative behaviour towards people who are older. There was no number available to the reverse; older people discriminating against youth.
“Ageism is now thought to be the most common form of prejudice, and the issue is, we don’t even recognize how prevalent it is and how impactful it is,” said Donna Wilson, a professor with the Faculty of Nursing at U of A, who researches ageing.
“A lot of societies are really youth-oriented now and don’t really respect or care about older people.”
Wilson co-authored the study with fellow nursing professor Gail Low, also from U of A. Together, the two reviewed questionnaires by different researchers around the world that measured the prevalence of ageism.
In reviewing all existing studies on the topic, the U of A researchers found that up to 91 percent of all older people surveyed experienced ageism, and up to 98 percent of all younger people admitted to having discriminatory thoughts or behaviours toward older people.
The U of A researchers believe existing studies focus too much on attitudes, instead of the implications of ageism on the victims.
“There’s a big personal impact. Children see older people being disrespected and grow up thinking they’re useless. We don’t expect or encourage healthy aging; everybody who hits 65 thinks it’s all downhill from here,” Wilson said.
“If they think they’re useless and boring, how negative is that for them and their family? They don’t exercise, they don’t volunteer, they don’t keep working if they want to, because they feel this discrimination. They don’t go out and find a new mate if their spouse dies because they think ‘I’m next.’ There’s both a societal and personal impact to internalized ageism.”
Wilson and Low believe it is important to continue to study the topic as Canada’s population continues to age. The 65 and over demographic will rise to 26 per cent of the population in 2030.
Dispelling some of the myths about aging and seniors will go a long way to changing attitudes.
Old people are not unproductive members of society who are putting a strain on our social services and finances. More than any other age group, for example, seniors are more likely to volunteer. And one in five Canadians aged 65 or over are still in the workforce.