Ageism occurs when someone is discriminated against or treated less favourably on grounds of age. As with all other forms of discrimination it provides no benefit to an employer and can create some very expensive difficulties. While it is commonly referred to in relation to older workers it affects younger workers too.

The main difficulty with tackling ageism is that people generally don’t recognise it. Assumptions and comments based on age are made on a regular basis and it pervades all aspects of life. When something is that ingrained into society in general it can be difficult to identify and avoid. Most people will not recognise when they are being ageist and will subconsciously seek to justify their position as being objective.

Tackling ageism can require a radical change in thinking and learning to identify stereotypical assumptions. Start with considering what the words “young”, “old” and “mature” mean to you. That will help you identify your initial perceptions. Once you are aware of those you can take steps to try and limit their influence.

The common trap employers fall into with ageism is confusing age and experience with skill and ability. Experience is something that can be incorrectly valued. The length of time someone has spent doing work of a particular kind is less valuable than the usefulness of that experience or the skills and abilities that the individuals possess, particularly if you provide in-house training anyway. If experience is important to you when recruiting consider how much is truly needed and at what point it ceases to make any significant difference.

With very few exceptions, such as licensing laws, age is not relevant when it comes to determining what someone can or cannot do at work. Personality is a much stronger driver of behaviour than age, and sense (or the lack of it) is something that cuts across all age ranges.

When recruiting or carrying out appraisals of staff take time to really think about the view you have formed and what this is based on. Companies need to ensure that they take on the best staff and help them maximise their potential and should take steps to ensure that they take on and retain the people who can help the company sustain and develop its business. Treating people as individuals, rather than making assumptions, is the key to avoiding ageism and your business will benefit as a result.

For any further information, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.