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How to cope with ageism within the workplace

By Fi Darby

The population in Australia is aging and this trend is predicted to continue. In June 2017 half of all Australians were over 37.3 years old but the prediction for 2066 is 43.0 years old. Although some employers appreciate the skills and experience of an older workforce, too many Australians are still experiencing ageism in the workplace. 

According to the 2018 Employing Older Workers report, a significant number of Australian organisations (over 30%) have a preferred upper age for recruitment. The most common classification of an older worker is currently 61 years old. Finding a job over a certain age can be tricky and workplace ageism can be unpleasant once you are employed. Skillstalk take a look at ageism laws and give some top tips on overcoming ageism in the workplace.

Ageism in the workplace questions

  1. How do I know I am experiencing workplace ageism?
  2. What are the advantages of an older workforce?
  3. What do ageism laws have to say about the workplace?
  4. How can I overcome workplace ageism?
  5. What can my manager do to help me overcome ageism?

1. How do I know I am experiencing workplace ageism?

It can sometimes be tricky to separate workplace ageism from other employer and colleague behaviours. However if you are unhappy at work and suspect your age is influencing decisions, it might pay to ask yourself the following questions:
  • Am I being offered the same training opportunities as younger employees?
  • Do people of my age get put forward for promotion or wage increases?
  • Am I allowed the same flexible work patterns as people with young families?
  • Do my managers give me work assignments that are fulfilling and challenging?
  • Does my organisation have a culture of jokes and negative comments about age?
You will need to be honest here. If the answer to some or all of these questions is ‘Yes’, then it might be time to get advice or have an honest chat with your line manager.

2. What are the advantages of an older workforce?

african american older man smiling driving forklift

Overcoming ageism in the workplace isn’t easy, particularly if you have had to start a new career due to redundancy. It can help to remember that there are some great things about being the age that you are and having life experience. These include:
  • Your ability to overcome difficulties
  • Your dedication to your job
  • Your self-confidence
  • Your problem-solving abilities
  • Your experience in dealing with different workplace personalities
  • Your well-developed communication skills
Understanding and being able to communicate the advantages of an older workforce could be your first step towards overcoming ageism in your workplace and even further afield.

3. What do ageism laws have to say about the workplace?

The law in Australia is clear. According to the Age Discrimination Act 2004, it is illegal to discriminate against a person on the grounds of age in several areas of public life, including employment. This covers recruitment, end of contract, employment conditions, promotion and training.

This means that both direct and indirect discrimination is against ageism laws. Direct discrimination refers to treating people of different ages differently. Indirect discrimination is more complicated and includes:
  • Imposing conditions or requirements on people related to their age
  • Imposing unreasonable requirements that might have a negative impact on people of a certain age
Ageism laws are there to protect you but the most effective way to encourage change is to communicate and work with your employers.

4. How can I overcome workplace ageism?

young team leader correcting older woman employee

Although workplace ageism can be frustrating and sometimes upsetting, there are steps you can take to overcome it.

First of all, put yourself in an advantageous position by making sure you understand your own strengths and weaknesses. Next you need to look carefully at your situation and talk to those around you. Workplace ageism is often down to company culture but there are a few things you can do to help: Comments or jokes that have an ageist flavour can be a form of workplace bullying. If you feel that you are being bullied in this way, make sure you keep a record of incidents, refer to your workplace bullying policy and ask for support.

Sometimes colleagues don’t understand that comments can be hurtful. If you think this is the case, it might help to have a quiet chat with them about their behaviour.

5. What can my manager do to help me overcome ageism?

Managers are often the first people to appreciate the experience that comes with an older workforce. The departure of older employees often leaves skills and knowledge gaps and can have a significant impact on a company. 

Despite this, very few (8%) of Australian managers are given training on how to look after and work with different generations. Influencing management and policy might seem beyond you but just talking to organisation leaders can make a big difference.

As well as sharing your experiences, explain some things that might help you and your older colleagues. These are often beneficial to the whole workforce and include:
  • The introduction and encouragement of flexible working practices
  • An increase in strategies to support the transition to retirement
  • Accessibility to flexible training programs for employees of all ages
  • The development of promotion policies that remove age bias
  • The encouragement of intergenerational knowledge sharing
  • Career and job market advice for all age groups

Working together and overcoming ageism

As our workforce in Australia ages, there is hope that the ageism experienced by some will start to disappear. By working together and communicating, we can all make a difference and build a workforce that appreciates differences and values learning from the experiences of others.

How can I improve my employability to combat workplace ageism?

Undertaking an online program of learning can give you more than qualifications. It can raise your self-confidence, build your communication skills and demonstrate your internal strengths.

Upskilled is one of Australia’s most popular Registered Training Organisations (RTO) and offers online courses across a number of industry sectors. 

Most Upskilled courses only take 12 months to complete and all of them allow you to study in a flexible way that suits you. Just 12-months of flexible learning can bring you the qualifications and experience you might need to combat ageism and show the world exactly what you have to offer.

Talk to one of Upskilled’s education consultants today and find out more about how online study can benefit you and your career.
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