Ageism in the workplace is going to become more of an issue for employers as their workforce naturally ages. Recent studies show that a quarter of UK employees will be over the age of 55 by 2025. This number will only increase as more of us live and work for longer.
This blog looks at some of the challenges of ageism in the workplace and what employers can do to prevent discrimination.
Age is one of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. It can come in the form of direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation.
It is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their age throughout the hiring process and for the duration of their employment. Therefore a job applicant does not need to be your employee to benefit from the protections of the Equality Act. Plus, an employee does not require a certain amount of service to bring a discrimination claim.
Let’s take a look at the kinds of discrimination that older people in the workforce can experience. It’s also worth remembering that age discrimination can happen at any age. Your younger employees have the right to expect the same treatment and opportunities as older staff members.
There are occasions when it’s reasonable to take age into account when considering employability. These are known as “occupational requirements”.
According to ACAS, in order for the exception to apply, the “occupational requirements” must be all of the following:
- crucial to the post
- not just one of several important factors
- relate to the nature of the job
- be ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.
“If there is any reasonable and less discriminatory way of achieving the same aim, it is unlikely the employer could claim an occupational requirement.”
For example, you cannot have someone under 18 years of age independently serve alcohol.
This is a delicate area, so we recommend you take advice before you restrict a role due to occupational requirements. Taking advice will help you avoid any potential complaints or grievances.
Ageism in the hiring process
You should not be taking age into account during the hiring process. Hiring should be based on the skills and suitability for the role. You can help take ageism out of the hiring process by using blind application practices.
This means you assess the application without giveaway personal details such as name, date of birth or when they went to school. This also helps reduce other unconscious biases in the hiring process.
As the population ages, you can look at more ways to reduce the risk of age discrimination at work. With age comes experience and a deeper understanding of a job and the marketplace. Yet, there is still a prevalent assumption that younger people will bring innovation and energy to a role. Interestingly, this assumption is not based on any empirical evidence.
We do know that one in three older workers face age discrimination. They may be overlooked for promotion, side-lined for more responsibility or their experience and knowledge questioned.
Research by Deloitte finds that: “if you are older, you are likely to be considered less capable, less able to adapt, or less willing to roll up your sleeves and do something new than your younger peers.
While the length of service should not be a deciding factor in promotions, older members of staff should not be side-lined as a result.
We also know it becomes harder to get a new job as you age. How long a potential staff member has before retirement age should never be a consideration but often is, whether knowingly or through unconscious bias. The downside for employers is that no job is for life these days and you can often miss out on the experience and expertise of an older employee.
Career development and ageing well
Work gives people meaning. We are brought up with the idea that when we reach the age of 65, we are to hang up our uniforms and turn on the tv. When in fact, those who are working beyond retirement age are more likely to have active and fulfilling lives.
There is compelling evidence that people over the age of 45 have more experience to innovate. The average age of a successful start-up founder is 45 and there is no age limit to our curiosity and ability to learn new skills.
The idea that employees somehow take a downturn during middle age is an unfortunate stereotype. As an employer, if you are experiencing resistance and a lack of enthusiasm from older members of staff, it may be time to look at how you can bring in learning and development to reinvigorate team members.
It’s also worth noting that if someone has been in a job for some time, they likely know it better than anyone else. Losing talent is costly. Hiring and training take time and investment. So look at how you can maintain employee enthusiasm. This is crucial for your retention strategy.
As the female workforce ages, employers need to be more aware of the impact of menopause. Allowing women to adapt how they work to alleviate symptoms is a good starting place. Women who experience direct or indirect discrimination around menopausal symptoms can fall under both age and sex discrimination.
Redundancy and Retirement
Finally, remember that you should not use age (or any other protected characteristic) when looking at redundancies in your workplace. You may wish to open an offer of redundancy or early retirement across the workforce but this needs to be inclusive.
Equally, selecting younger people for redundancy on the basis that their payout will be less than a long-serving member of staff can also be grounds for discrimination. You should never have a last-in, first-out policy. Instead, base redundancy solely on the skills and people needed to meet business requirements.
A quick note on retirement – there is no legal obligation for someone to retire at 65 years of age if they do not want to. You should avoid changing contracts for those at pension age or trying to force someone into retirement.
Value your staff
Your staff have the knowledge and experience which helps your company operate. By investing in a culture that encourages the best out of them throughout their career, your business will be rewarded with loyalty.
Ageism can occur at any age and at any point in a career. If you need support and training for your staff or HR teams, get in touch to see how we can help.