Hello Workwell

Myth Busting: Ageism in the Workplace

LearnAlyssa Davis
Photo by Rawpixel on Unsplash

Photo by Rawpixel on Unsplash

"Retirement is an ongoing, relentless effort in creativity. You can try yoga, like to cook, bought some plants, took classes in Mandarin. Believe me, I've tried everything. I just know there's a hole in my life and I need to fill it... soon.” – Robert De Niro, The Intern 2015

Bridging the Gap

Ageism. It’s in everything from the way we hire (subconsciously to keep it legal) to the way we treat the Baby Boomers in the office (ever seen The Intern?) to the way we talk about Millennials being “so entitled” (aren’t we tired of this narrative yet?). Research from AARP found that 64% of workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the office. This swings both ways – young and not so young.

To begin, we’ll try myth busting some common Millennial stereotypes.

Myth #1: They’re all tech-savvy.

Sure. Millennials grew up with the technology industry growing at a rapid pace. However, I didn’t learn how to correctly type on a keyboard until I was 15 and didn’t send my first text message until a year later. Many Millennials are intuitive in terms of basic tech, but the problem with thinking all Millennials immediately understand new systems and programs is that thorough training on new technology often gets overlooked. Research shows that it’s the Boomers who are using more tech regularly, using nearly five forms of technology a week compared to Millennials who use an average of 4.67.

Myth #2: Millennials are job hoppers.

This may seem pretty accurate if you look at post-graduates these days and their job patterns. However, research from PEW shows that Millennials’ job tenure is no shorter than that of the previous generation’s at their age. In fact, among those that are college-educated, Millennials stay with their employers longer than Gen X workers did in their twenties and early thirties.

Myth #3: They have entitlement issues.

Veruca Salt gave us a terrible reputation with that whining stint back in Willy Wonka’s factory, and I entirely blame her for our parents’ view on our generation as a whole. Somewhere along the way, Millennials got the rep as the “Me Generation”. Let’s do a super fun exercise. Go to Google. Type in “the me generation”. What pops up? Thank you *mic drop*. Every generation is the me generation. We’re self-serving as a species. Why do you think our planet is dying? Also, I don’t know a single Millennial who isn’t absolutely petrified of asking for a raise – even though we have more debt than any other generation. A study from Jenner Deal of the Centre for Creative Leadership and Alex Levenson of the University of Southern California polled 5,000 workers and found that 41% of Millennials agree that “employees should do what their managers tell them, even when they can’t see a reason for it.” Compare this with the 30% of Baby Boomers and 30% of Gen Xs that feel the same way.

Myth #4: They’re lazy.

On top of their proposed entitlement issues, there’s this idea that Millennials believe they deserve what they want without ever lifting a finger. According to a poll of 90,000 American employees from consulting firm CEB, 59% of Millennials said that competition is what gets them up in the morning, which is 9% more than their Baby Boomer counterparts. I’ve never met a lazy person that cites competition as what gets them up in the morning. I also don’t know many Millennials that work less than 50 hours a week, and the research backs this up. According to Manpower Millennial Report, 73% of Millennials report working over 40 hours.

Now, this isn’t just about Millennials because ageism spans across every age. Baby Boomers, it’s your turn. (We’ll get to Gen X’ers next time.)

Myth #1: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

This is false for both people and pups (newsflash: old dogs can learn too). In fact, according to an AARP Work and Career Study survey, more than 8 in 10 employees ages 45 to 64 believe that having the opportunity to learn new skills is part of their ideal work environment. Training older workers to grow their skill set is imperative to the retention of your older workforce.

Myth #2: Older workers are not innovative enough.

A study from AARP found that 80% of workers over the age of 40 are the ones coming up with the most “workable and worthwhile” production ideas in the office. How’s that for innovation?

Myth #3: They use more sick days.

Baby Boomers are healthier than previous generations, with the average 65-year-old today having the same risk of mortality or contracting a serious illness as that of someone in their mid-50s a generation ago. Studies show that workers over the age of 45 use an average of 3.5 sick days per year, while workers in the 17-44 bracket use 3.8 sick days per year.

Myth #4: Older workers don’t stick around.

Wrong again. As the age of retirement rises, older workers are sticking around in new jobs for longer. According to a survey from Gallup, the age at which most working Americans project they’ll retire is 66. This figure is up by 26% from just 15 years ago and is only expected to grow. So if you’re hiring someone at age 50 and they like your company, you’ll likely get at least 15 years out of them. That’s more than you’ll get out of some of your youngest workers.

Fighting Stereotypes

We’re not going to sugarcoat it. Ageism is alive and well. Every time you’ve been told you’re “overqualified” for a job you’re a perfect fit for. Every time a recruiter asks for 5 years of experience for an entry-level job. Every time you’re looked over for a new learning opportunity or incentive for continuing your education. These subtle (and not so subtle) indicators may be signs that you’re a victim of age discrimination. So what’s the game plan?

Invest in yourself. If you’re not being offered the same opportunities to learn and grow, take matters into your own hands. Hire a career coach (hello, is it us you’re looking for?) or find a mentor to improve your skills and help you grow in your current position as well as prepare you for your next.

Suggest inclusive team activities. Most people can agree that team building activities are dreadful, but they can be even worse when you feel like you don’t belong. Harvard Business Review found that workers that feel included are 3.5 times more likely to be productive in the office and perform to their highest potential. Activities like rock climbing or a bar outing may not be for everyone. Consider your crowd and plan accordingly. Some of our favorites include Escape the Room courses, paint nights, and cooking classes. Think of events that both your grandparents and college-aged kids would enjoy. There’s your answer.

Ask for regular feedback. This is a great way to gauge if ageism is at play. If it is, you may notice a sudden change in your review. Senior attorney for the AARP Foundation, Laurie McCann tells Glassdoor, “You need to know if there are concerns about your performance so that you have the opportunity to address them. Sudden changes in performance appraisals are often viewed with suspicion and may support a claim of discrimination.”

Put your dukes up. If you’re trying to fight the stereotype, don’t feed into it. In other words, don’t highlight your age as being a reason you are or aren’t getting certain privileges in your job. Your thinking shapes your world.

Different generations grew up in different versions of our world, and having that diversity lends itself to new ideas and unique observations. Don’t let ageist stereotypes deprive you of a more productive and engaging company culture.