How Employers Can Prevent Ageism in the Workplace: A Guide

  • Employee wellbeing
How Employers Can Prevent Ageism in the Workplace: A Guide
Kiran Virk

Kiran Virk, Head of Talent Acquisition

(Last updated )

One in three Canadians admit that they have treated someone differently due to their age and 63% of seniors aged over 66 say they have been treated unfairly or differently due to their age, according to a report.

Ageism, defined as stereotyping and discriminating against an individual or group based on their age, is the most socially accepted, normalized, and tolerated form of discrimination today. When experiencing ageism within the workplace, older workers are less likely to be hired and experience more discrimination than their younger employees.

Employers should note that human rights legislation across Canada prohibits discrimination based on certain protected grounds, including age. Employers cannot refuse to hire, train or promote individuals because of their age. Ageism in the workplace could expose your business to discrimination claims.

Despite the negative impacts of ageism and its prevalence in society, employers who build their workplace culture around certain best practices will be able to keep ageism out of their work environment. Here are some tips on how to create a more age-inclusive environment.

Establish protective policies

Just as a workplace must have a policy on harassment and workplace bullying, employers should ensure they have policies in place to prevent age-based discrimination. This policy should define what acts or behaviour would be considered age discrimination and what would not. It should also set down a protocol for reporting and addressing any grievances related to age-based discrimination. Once the policy is introduced, all employees, whether new or existing, should be provided with this policy.

Re-evaluate interview processes

Employers who want to combat ageism in the workplace should ensure that they take a comprehensive approach to the issue, starting with the interview process. Questions like asking an applicant how old they are, when they finished school, or if they will likely be retiring soon should be avoided due to their ageist implications. Asking discriminatory questions could expose you to discriminatory claims. You may want to conduct structured interviews to eliminate bias while hiring.

Read our blog here for advice on how to reduce bias during recruitment.

Review policies and procedures

Age discrimination isn’t always blatant in the workplace, it can also be indirect. Employers should ensure that they review other avenues where ageism might exist, including recruitment practices, sick leave policies, or training guides. We recommend that you set an objective criterion when promoting or temporarily laying off and recalling staff (seniority, performance etc.) to avoid discrimination claims.

Make teams intergenerational

Part of reducing ageism in the workplace is getting to the cause of the issue, one of them being excluding older colleagues. Encouraging staff to be paired with those of different ages can contribute to enhanced acceptance and reduced ageism. By learning from one another and their different life experiences, a sense of community can be built, regardless of age. To foster this engagement, managers can intentionally set up intergenerational teams or mentoring processes

Being mindful of menopause

As part of eliminating discrimination against older employees, workplaces should be conscious of best practices for employees going through menopause. Typically occurring between ages 45 and 55, women who are going through menopause can experience symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and cognitive impairment.

Menopause usually won’t have a large impact on an employee’s ability to do their job, however, for others, there may be effects on one’s health, performance, and attendance. To ensure that women in leadership roles experience a menopause-friendly workplace,   specific guidance on menopause taken by employers can ensure they support employees during this time.

Firstly, employers and employees should work together to address concerns around menopause respectfully, by educating and training everyone to speak openly about menopause without its stigma. They should also work to understand how menopause affects the individual’s physical and mental health, and how to address it sensitively and fairly.

Employers should consider menopause when developing policies on absences, sick leave, or flexible work. They can also promote a flexible work schedule, to allow time off to attend medical appointments and some control over the temperature and ventilation of the work area, to help alleviate physical symptoms.

Promoting the positive attributes of older workers

Another key part of promoting a workplace free of ageism is about reframing the negative stereotypes that often are associated with older employees and replacing them with positive attributes. Older workers often have large client networks, high skill levels, more maturity and experience to face conflicts in the workplace, and a low turnover rate.

More experienced workers can bring a level of experience, critical thinking, and knowledge that can’t be taught. In some industries, especially those in more technical careers, it can take a decade or longer for workers to gain the skills necessary to become competent in their profession. Older staff often know the right questions to ask and are less likely to make mistakes because they’ve often made them before.

Do you need help updating your HR policies?

Protect your business by having well-drafted anti-discrimination policies in place. Our HR advisors can help you create, update, and review company policies, as well as provide any advice you may need on HR, health and safety, or employee management.

To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today at 1 (833) 247-3652

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