Ageism in the Workplace Is Rampant: Here’s How To Fight Back Against Unfair Treatment

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With retirement costing more than ever before, many Americans are choosing to stay in the workforce for longer — and unfortunately, many of these older workers will experience age-related discrimination. A new survey conducted by LiveCareer shed some light on just how common ageism is in the workplace, with 84% of workers saying that they have witnessed age discrimination in the workplace and/or experienced it firsthand.

Here’s a closer look at how age discrimination can manifest in the workplace, and what older workers can do to fight back against unfair treatment.

Older Workers Believe Their Age Counts Against Them During the Hiring Process

According to the survey, 77% of workers ages 50 and older believe they haven’t been hired because of their age. In addition, 86% feel that most job postings are addressed to people younger than them, and 76% feel that finding a job is easier for young people than for older people.

One way to counteract any potential biases during the hiring process is to be strategic during the interview phase.

“[Older workers] should focus primarily on their strengths,” said Agata Szczepanek, career advice contributor at LiveCareer. “As sad as it’s true, a lack of confidence often ruins one’s chances of landing a job. Fear of failure combined with treating age as a stigma may lead to stress and negatively impact their overall performance as a candidate.”

In addition to focusing on strengths and exuding confidence, “it is crucial to show a willingness to learn, a growth-oriented attitude and adaptability to changing circumstances,” Szczepanek said. “All these [traits] are always in demand and highly valued by potential employers across industries and at every stage in one’s career.”

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It’s also vital to ensure that your resume is up-to-date, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve been on the job hunt. And Szczepanek recommends always looking for opportunities to add new skills to your resume.

“Get new qualifications, learn a language or attend courses,” she said. “It’s a good way to stand out in a candidate pool while job hunting. The broader and more diverse skill set you have to offer, the better your employment opportunities.”

Nearly Three-Quarters of Older Workers Believe They Have Been Fired Because of Their Age

When asked if they believe they had been fired because of their age, a startling 74% of workers ages 50 and older said they had. If this ever happens to you, know that it’s your legal right to fight back.

“Let your voice be heard,” Szczepanek said. “Suffering in silence leads nowhere and it certainly won’t change anything. I know that it may be tempting to leave the traumatic workplace experience behind and never look back. Still, it doesn’t seem right. Speak up for yourself and for others. Where there’s a crime, there should be a punishment.”

As Szczepanek notes, workplace ageism is illegal.

“Take legal steps to fight against it,” she said. “Winning age discrimination cases in court may be hard, but it’s not impossible. Be sure to collect as much evidence as possible. Keep careful notes and make copies of relevant materials (e.g. screenshots, mail, text messages). Remember that you are not alone. Contact professionals to seek help — a lawyer, your local EEOC office or the company’s HR department.

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“If you feel that pursuing legal action is beyond your reach for some reason, be sure to ‘spread the word’ about your former employer at least,” Szczepanek continued. “There is a wide range of ways you can do this — using social media, contacting journalists and more. Keep in mind that you might not be the only one fired because of your age. Your actions can encourage others to open up about their experiences. Together, you are even more impactful.”

Even If No Direct Action Is Taken Against Them, Older Workers Often Deal With Bias

Getting fired or not being hired due to your age are severe manifestations of ageism in the workplace, but many older workers will face more implicit biases against them on a day-to-day basis. The survey found that 72% of all workers agree that older workers are a target for workplace bullying and 37% feel that younger people make better employees than older people.

In addition, there are many common negative perceptions about older workers: 67% believe they work more slowly than younger workers, 66% believe they learn more slowly than younger workers, 65% believe they are less motivated, 65% believe they are less productive, 63% believe they are less creative, 62% believe they are less sociable, 69% believe they have worse tech skills and 69% believe they are more resistant to change.

In order to stay relevant and appreciated in your workplace, Szczepanek offers the following advice: “Focus on your skill set, knowledge, talents and valuable experience — not on how old you are. Stay curious, be open and act boldly. Learn new things. Youth can be a state of mind and — cliché but true — you are as young as you feel in the workplace and beyond.”

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On the positive side, 78% of workers believe older workers make better leaders than younger people and 78% believe they are wiser than younger people. To succeed in the workplace, lean into these positive stereotypes.

“You can inspire others to grow,” Szczepanek said. “Everyone has something to teach and something to learn.”

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