Workplace ageism occurs when older workers aged 50 onwards are not considered for promotions, salary increment and are often not included in company lunches or events. Often, older workers are given subtle messages that they are inefficient and take a lot time to get the work done. When a company downsize, management would rather keep a younger employee as they are not as highly paid as older, experienced employees and company view older employees as slow and inefficient over time.
It is an important social issue as it faces with discrimination towards older employees or members of the company. It affects every aspect of social science – anthropology, psychology, economics, sociology and political science and even though it isn’t receiving more backlashes as compared to other –ism such as racism and sexism, it is becoming an increasing trend.
Social equality will never be achieved if some type of discrimination is illegal while others are not addressed and are acted as a norm in society. Some examples of workplace ageism are when companies do not hire due to age and include statements in job hiring ads like ‘young’ and ‘fresh’, or when companies usually need to downsize the business, they would choose to lay off an older employee. Another example of ageism is when companies force older employees for early retirement and give incentives if they agree to leave quietly. Some older employees even face being harassed or humiliated due to their age.
A recent age discrimination case (Nickel v. Staples, 2016) was filed by an employee, Bobby Dean Nickel who was persuaded into resigning by his managers, and then being called names in staff meetings, and was being falsely accused and harassed. The 66-year-old man was awarded $26 million because the jury felt he was harassed and discriminated for his age. His lawyer, Carney Shegerian, said, “This verdict and the justice served will hopefully put employers on notice that they cannot discriminate against employees based on age.”
Many countries have laws regarding age discrimination. For example, in Singapore (Ministry of Manpower, 2016), “It is an offence for employers to dismiss employees who are below 62 years old on grounds of age. Employers must also offer re-employment to eligible employees who turn 62, until the age of 67. If they are unable to, they must provide an Employment Assistance Payment (EAP) to help the employee tide over the period of time while searching for another job. Employers who do not do so face a fine of up to $5,000 and/or jail term of up to six months.”
This age discrimination laws were aimed to protect older employees, boost civil rights and improve quality of life for older citizens; however, due to these age discrimination laws, it is harder for older adults to look for a new job after a layoff as companies are reluctant with hiring older employees to avoid future age discrimination lawsuits.
Possible reasons of the pervasiveness of ageism at a workplace are because physically, people associate old age with death and illness, and culturally, it is accepted everywhere and deemed as “normal”. Ethnocentrism is this belief that one’s society’s is better than others and is often used to justify discrimination. Since people are not born with culture, people learned culture through socialization at the workplace and sometimes without realizing, workplace ageism becomes a social norm.
Older adults are seen as “weak” and “slow”, not being able to contribute to a company efficiently due to the fast-paced environment of the company and because of this deep-seated thinking in society since the 1st century A.D. where philosopher Seneca said, “Senectus morbidus est” which means “Old age is a disease”. See (Achenbaum, W.A., 2015).
Younger adult men and women often see older adult men and women as not being physically independent and mental capacity of a person often starts showing its decline when the person is 50 years old even when it begins declining as early as 30 years old. A lot of cultural belief against older adults begins with myths which becomes stereotypes that is integrated into society- making it a social norm.
Social structure is categorized into class, status, and power and is distributed unequally, so it forms a stratified society and occurs in societies worldwide. Symbolic Interactionism explains social behaviour on how people interact with each other. For example, certain colours might mean differently in different societies, like the colour red which means prosperity in Chinese culture while Americans use red to signify danger.
Through socialization, stereotypes of older people are often firmly implanted into a child’s view of the world making ageism a learned behaviour. Western societies placed importance on youth especially in cosmetics, a lot of products targets on making a person look younger like anti-aging cream and anti-wrinkling cream. Eastern society like Japan, see older adults as wiser and full of experience, see (Lumen Learning, n.d.).