Age discrimination in the workplace has been illegal in the UK since 2006. Unfortunately, even with these laws in place, many mature workers still experience ageism at work. These stereotypes can significantly impact older workers, affecting their ability to get hired and calling their competency into question.
As the average age of the UK workforce increases steadily, it’s more important than ever to talk about these unfair assumptions. Plus, with the state pension age rising too, more and more workers will be in the workforce well into their 60s and 70s.
This article looks at the dangers of age discrimination at work and debunks common stereotypes mature workers come up against.
6 Completely False Stereotypes Mature Workers Face
The best way to tackle unfair age assumptions at work is to talk about them openly. That way, your business can identify age discrimination and correct it immediately. To help you, we have debunked 6 common age-related stereotypes.
1. Mature Workers Can’t Learn New Skills
Let’s start by saying that the old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is absolutely not true. It’s a common misconception that older workers can’t (or won’t) learn new things. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support this.
In fact, mature workers tend to have a vast arsenal of transferable skills that are readily adaptable to a wide range of roles. It’s a harmful stereotype that all older workers are “set in their ways”. On the contrary, many older workers, especially career changers, are even more engaged and eager to take on a new challenge. It’s not a coincidence that most entrepreneurs are in their mid-forties. Mature workers have just as much (if not more) drive to learn new skills and develop professionally.
How can you debunk this myth as an employer?
Start by acknowledging that adaptability to change is a competency that is not related to age. Provide all employees with adequate training to build their resilience and help them embrace change. It’s important to be flexible and patient with employees, some personalities adapt easier than others. As your organisation learns that this is not related to age, it will eventually stop subscribing to this harmful stereotype.
2. Older Workers Don’t Work as Hard
Another damaging and utterly false stereotype is that mature workers don’t perform as well as their younger counterparts. There are several layers to this assumption. Some may believe that older workers don’t work as hard because they are winding down for retirement. Others may assume that as they age they lose physical or cognitive abilities.
The truth is very different. Seasoned workers perform just as well as younger staff. Thanks to years of experience, mature workers tend to have stronger competencies. This, in turn, puts them at an advantage when it comes to a range of workplace tasks. In particular, interpersonal skills, decision-making, negotiation, and leadership.
What can you do to dispel this myth?
As an employer, the best way to eliminate ageism at work is to be transparent. Start by publicly recognising high performers to ensure that nobody’s hard work is overlooked. This, combined with plenty of personal development opportunities and cross-training, will show your workforce that age has no effect on performance. Plus, it will create a fairer landscape for internal promotions.
3. The Older the Worker, the More Sick Days They Will Need
Another common stereotype is that mature workers take more sick days. The truth is very different. While older workers are more likely to take an extended period of time off due to long-term illness, they also take fewer short-term sick days. Businesses suffer when employees take a lot of sick days with no notice, even if it’s just one or two days each time. As such, older workers are actually more reliable in this context than their younger counterparts.
At the end of the day, employees of all ages can be struck down with unexpected health issues. This is an unfortunate fact of life and not one that a business can control or foresee. However, when it comes to taking a lot of sick days for minor ailments, older workers are less likely to call in.
Can businesses eliminate this age assumption when hiring staff?
There are several ways to remove this stereotype from your business. First off, remind HR teams and everyone involved in the recruitment process that this is an unfair metric to use. Regular training will help teams to spot this unconscious bias in their team and work to remove it.
Secondly, your business can cut down on absences by prioritising employee health. This could include flexible working options, remote working, and employee wellness initiatives. By investing in your workers’ health, you will experience less absenteeism (at all ages). Stress and burnout can have an extremely negative impact on employees’ health, so fostering a supportive work culture will also help. Establishing a diverse and inclusive working environment is a great place to start.
4. Mature Workers Can’t Keep Up with Technology
While it’s true that some mature employees may not be as tech-savvy as their younger peers, this certainly isn’t always the case. There are plenty of workers of all ages who struggle to learn new corporate tools and technology. This is often down to personalities rather than age. It’s also important to note that soft skills are just as important as technical skills for most businesses. In fact, the LinkedIn Global Talent Trends Report revealed that 92% of talent professionals valued soft skills just as much or more than hard skills.
This tells us that even if some (not all) older employees are less tech-savvy, they more than make up for it in terms of soft skills. Indeed, since soft skills are hard to train (they come from experience), most employers value this higher than technical skills.
What’s the solution?
The fairest way to address this stereotype is to provide regular technology training and support for all workers regardless of their age. Providing regular refresher training will allow all employees to build their skills and confidence.
5. There’s No Point in Employing Older Workers, They Will Retire Soon Anyway
It’s a common misconception that recruiting seasoned workers, such as Baby Boomers is a waste of time and resources. Some employers still believe that this age group will work for a few years and retire, leaving the business to spend money hiring a replacement. This, however, is not always true.
In 2011, the UK removed the default retirement age. This means that employees in most sectors can work well into their 70s. Therefore, an experienced candidate in their early 60s could easily stay in your business for 5 or 6 years. Plus, since fewer employers consider hiring candidates at this age, they are less likely to job-hop.
Let’s compare that to employing a recent graduate in their early 20s. This employee is actually more likely to switch to a new company after a couple of years, especially considering a job switch often leads to a salary bump. The bottom line is that employers face the same retention issues whether they go for a young worker or a mature worker. In the end, it comes down to the character, skill set, and how the employee will fit the role.
What’s the best way to overcome this age assumption?
The answer is simple, inclusive hiring. At the end of the day, recruitment specialists can’t predict the future. Any candidate could decide to leave the organisation, regardless of their age. All employers can do is employ based on the information they have at this time. Therefore, HR teams and recruitment specialists should stop making hiring decisions based on how long they think a candidate will stay in the business, whether that’s retirement or a job switch.
The only way to know is to speak to the candidate directly before employing them and ask what their long-term goals are. Regular employee check-ins and pulse checks will allow you to gauge engagement rates and ensure employees are satisfied in their roles.
At Refreshing a Career, we are dedicated to supporting employers as they build more diverse and inclusive workplaces. We offer job advert inclusivity screening to guide employers on their journey towards a more inclusive hiring process. During the screening process, we will screen your job ads to assess how inclusive the language is and offer you actionable advice on how to improve. After all, inclusive workforces begin with an inclusive hiring process.
6. Experienced Workers Are Overqualified
We’ve all heard of top talent being rejected from a job for being “too qualified” for the role. This boils down to the stereotype that a seasoned worker will get bored or frustrated with the role, or perhaps not take direction from a younger manager. Of course, these are baseless assumptions. Hiring an experienced worker with a rich skill set can only benefit your business.
Rather than making assumptions about why an experienced worker would apply for a job that they seem overqualified for, why not ask? For instance, perhaps they want a new challenge or maybe they are looking for a low-stress role with less responsibility. Only they can tell you why they are applying for a role that is less specialised than their previous ones.
How can you fix the issue?
As we mentioned in point 5, you can’t predict the future. There is a myriad of reasons why a seasoned employee may apply for a role that is lower than their experience level. However, rejecting employees based on your own assumptions that they are overqualified and will leave the business or lack flexibility is unfair.
Instead, look at the benefits of having a highly qualified employee in that role. Your business can benefit hugely from an age-diverse workplace, so don’t overlook great candidates based on an outdated stereotype.
Removing Age Discrimination From Your Workplace
We all have unconscious biases, it’s a sad fact of life. However, that doesn’t mean we should just accept this and do nothing. As an employer, you have a duty to your employees and future staff to remove age discrimination from the workplace.
The first step in this process is to spread awareness. As the name suggests, many people aren’t aware of their unconscious biases. This allows it to seep into every element of work life, from the hiring process to decision-making. With adequate training, employees at all levels can begin to understand and identify their own biases, including ageism.
Once your organisation reaches this stage, it can take further action in the form of policies and procedures to ensure the workplace is free of discrimination. At this stage, the business must hold employees accountable for any actions that can be deemed ageist or discriminatory. A great way to ensure your workplace is free from ageism is to hire more mature workers. In doing so, you will be able to break stereotypes and build a more diverse and inclusive work environment.
Inclusivity in the workplace isn’t just good for employees’ mental well-being, it’s also good for business. Studies show that inclusive companies are 60% more likely to outperform their competitors when it comes to decision-making. They also see 20% more productivity. The bottom line is that inclusive companies perform better.
The benefits of employing older workers are huge. Their experience level, dedication, and skill set are huge assets for employers. However, many mature workers still face age discrimination at work. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to address these unfair age assumptions and create an inclusive environment for employees of all ages.
Despite age discrimination laws, older workers are still more likely to experience ageism during job interviews. As a result, businesses should start by adopting a more inclusive recruitment process. This will encourage a more diverse workforce and create a comfortable space for mature workers. Adequate training on how to tackle unconscious bias at work will also help to remove unfair age-related stereotypes in the workplace. With the right resources, you can make your business a safe space for workers of all ages and backgrounds.
At Refreshing a Career, we understand the challenges age discrimination can pose for employers. That’s why we have created a wealth of resources for employers to help foster an inclusive work environment. From remote working advice to job advert inclusivity screening, our goal is to empower your business to build a great work culture.
Be sure to also check out what employer services we can provide your company, including advertising your roles on our unique career change jobs board.