I’m Not Done: Addressing Workplace Ageism

Workplace Ageism

Age discrimination is real, it’s widespread, it’s insidious – and up until now, it’s been largely hidden, due to a low rate of reporting. But today, as the largest demographic America has ever seen – the Baby Boomers – begin experiencing the effects of ageism for themselves, we can expect that rate to grow. It is, in fact time to talk about ageism, and that’s why, joining us today is Patti Temple Rocks, Founder of Temple Rocks Consulting and author of I'm Not Done, It's Time to Talk About Ageism in the Workplace. Here, she explains:

  • What workplace ageism looks like today;
  • The impacts of ageism on individuals and on companies;
  • The value of a diverse, multi-generational workforce; and
  • How training can help combat ageism.

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The Reality Of Workplace Ageism

  • Ageism is a phenomenon that is prevalent all over the modern workplace, but often goes unnoticed. It’s a subtle and subversive force at play in many workplaces which discriminates against working people of a certain age. 
    • It can be a “thoughtless” phenomenon - oftentimes not intentional.
  • There is a universally accepted narrative that people must reinvent themselves for the “second act” of their career. 
    • Ms. Rocks noticed that most literature on workplace ageism was focused on what to do when you decide it is time for your second act, rather than what usually happens, which is when someone else decides it’s time.

This realization is what inspired Ms. Rocks to write her book, I'm Not Done: It's Time to Talk About Ageism in the Workplace.


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What Does Workplace Ageism Look Like Today?

  • Workplace ageism today can be subtle.
    • The marginalization of people of a certain age in the workplace is never met with bold and brash statements of “You’re too old.” Instead it is met with things like “promotions” that allow for less relevance, control, or influence within a workplace or statements like “he/she is not tech savvy/digital.”
  • It can become a vicious cycle where those older employees will begin to even doubt themselves without realizing it.
  • In the rare case, there can be blatant workplace ageism with statements like “Ok, Boomer”, but more often it’s nuanced - things like less money and resources being spent on training older workers or less representation of older workers in company media.

Impacts Of Workplace Ageism On The Employee

  • At the worst level, workplace ageism can put someone out of a job - and at an age when it may be difficult to find another comparable position elsewhere. 
  • Self-confidence can drop actively or passively and employees will not be able to learn and grow as much as they should.
  • Workplace ageism seemingly works to gradually shut older employees “out of the loop” and allow for them to have less and less influence and relevance within the company’s workplace and output over time - sometimes eventually leading to giving up their position.

Legal Protections

  • Workplace ageism and discrimination against older employees is governed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and has been around for close to 50 years.
  • This commission protects workers of all ages, but the protected age class is workers over the age of 40.
    • This may seem younger than expected, but research shows that people will begin to feel the effect of workplace ageism as early as 40.
  • Age discrimination can also happen at the younger level.
    • Younger employees can be discriminated against in terms of responsibility and/or pay simply because they are younger and “less proven” than an older employee even though that younger worker may be just as or even more qualified and talented than some of their peers in similar roles. 
    • The EEOC also has protections that focus on workplace ageism on the younger end of the spectrum.

Age Discrimination Claims

  • Although workplace ageism might seem like a lesser issue than some other workplace issues that are brought to HR, it can still leave a lot at stake for a company.
    • There have been settlements based on age discrimination in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, so companies stand to lose significantly if workplace ageism is not handled correctly. 
  • The average ageism claim costs a company about $200,000.
  • While there are legal and monetary stakes, companies also risk their company culture being affected. 
    • Even if a worker is in their 30s and has not felt any effects of workplace ageism, if they see it happen to a fellow employee who is in their 50s, their confidence in their employer and their future with that company will be affected negatively. 
    • It can affect trust with an employer and can also serve as a distraction.
  • Retention of long-term and knowledgeable employees will be much more difficult when workplace ageism occurs.

Importance Of Getting On The “Right Side” Of Workplace Ageism

  • The stakes are higher than they have ever been for companies when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
  • Consumers today show their support and confidence in a company with their checkbooks, and today there are still far too many companies that are all in on DEI, yet do not even reference age as one of the categories they seek to protect.
  • There are more eyes and minds on company ethics and culture than ever before, so it is extremely important for companies to get ahead of workplace ageism or any other DEI issues.

The Value Of A Diverse & Multi-Generational Workforce

  • Ms. Rocks states that there are hundreds of benefits to having a diverse and inclusive workforce.
    • In her experience in advertising, she’s found that people win more pitches when a diverse group of people, including a diversity of ages, are involved in their development.
    • Bringing a variety of perspectives - from older workers with a host of experiences to younger workers with fresh ideas - can create the perfect harmony for success. 

Identifying & Preventing Workplace Ageism

  • One of the simplest methods to identify possible workplace ageism is to do an audit of your company based on age. 
  • Reviewing your website, values, imagery, conducting exit interviews, checking in with current employees of all ages are all great ways to ensure that workplace ageism does not take place in your workplace.
  • One of the best ways to prevent workplace ageism is to have consistency in practices and language about career paths with workers. 
    • When asking employees “What is your five-year horizon?,” begin asking that at age 30 as opposed to age 50, and don’t stop having that conversation at any point.
  • Another strategy is to frequently mention the value of age, the comfortability of the workplace for all age groups, and make it known that your company values and is better off with diverse age groups.
  • Make sure that company policy mentions age and shows that the company values older employees.

Encouraging Inclusivity When It Comes To Age

  • Encouraging age inclusivity truly comes down to being more deliberate about placing emphasis on the issue.
  • One of the companies Ms. Rocks previously worked with actually created an employee interest group that was completely dedicated to age inclusivity.
    • The group’s focus was to ensure that the experience given to workers matches the commitment of the company to be a great employer.
  • Age inclusivity should also always be included in orientation settings. 
    • All DEI topics should be mentioned and covered, but being specific about age is important and can go a long way in preventing workplace ageism.

The Role Of Training

  • Active training on age discrimination awareness is most important when people assume people management and leadership responsibilities within the company. 
    • Having conversations about DEI issues is usually difficult, but proper training on the common and uncommon issues that can occur will go a long way in developing trust between employees and leadership knowing that either party can lean on one another for help if they feel there is an issue.

Measuring Improvements In Workplace Ageism Minimization Efforts

  • Most companies who aspire to be a great place to work will do things like surveys to measure improvements.
    • These surveys or even interviews will often not address ageism, so it really goes back to being deliberate about weeding out workplace ageism and placing an emphasis on age inclusivity.
  • Employee’s specific views based on their age and position will help to paint a picture of the current culture when it comes to age discrimination and other DEI topics.

Advice For Older Workers

  • Ms. Rocks suggests employees of all ages remember that regardless of age, they must always provide value to their employer.
    • Just because an employee has been with a company for 20 years does not mean that they just then deserve to continue to be there - they must continue to be productive and valued members of the team.
  • To ensure they do not become complacent, older workers should maintain a commitment to growth, learning, and contribution. 
  • Older workers should also focus on managing energy. 
    • Working takes a lot of energy and it is important for workers of all ages to maintain a good energy level in all facets of life - creating a good work/life balance. 

Temple Rocks Consulting

  • Temple Rocks Consulting is run by Ms. Rocks and she helps companies combat  workplace ageism. 
  • Most often she finds very little malicious intent behind companies who enlist her help and are showing signs of workplace ageism, which is why her consulting services can be so valuable - to identify those issues even if they are currently unknown.
  • Ms. Rocks also does speaking events in which she elevates the conversation about workplace ageism.

Patti Temple Rocks Background


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