Over the past century, the average age of the workforce has continually increased as medical science continues to enhance longevity and vitality. The fastest-growing segment of the workforce is individuals over the age of 55. Recent medical research is exploring techniques that could extend human life to 100 years or more. In addition, the combination of laws prohibiting age discrimination and elimination of defined-benefit pension plans means that many individuals continue to work well past the traditional age of retirement.
Unfortunately, older workers face a variety of discriminatory attitudes in the workplace. Researchers scanned over 100 publications on age discrimination to determine what types of age stereotypes were most prevalent across studies. They found that stereotypes suggested job performance declined with age, counter to empirical evidence presented earlier in this chapter that relationships between age and core task performance are essentially nil. Stereotypes also suggest that older workers are less adaptable, less flexible, and incapable of learning new concepts. Research, on the other hand, suggests they are capable of learning and adapting to new situations when these are framed appropriately.
Organizations can take steps to limit age discrimination and ensure that employees are treated fairly regardless of age. Many of the techniques to limit age discrimination come down to fundamentally sound management practices relevant for all employees: set clear expectations for performance, deal with problems directly, communicate with workers frequently, and follow clear policies and procedures consistently. In particular, management professionals note that clarity and consistency can help ensure all employees are treated equally regardless of age.
Do you think increasing age diversity will create new challenges for managers? What types of challenges do you expect will be most profound? How do you think age descrimination is experienced by those older workers looking for work in today’s job market?