This transcript was created using an automated transcription service and may contain errors.
Develop and grow your people to understand the value and the gifts of every generation in the workplace and to set the standard and accountability of what is appropriate and tolerated on your team.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, and with me is my dear friend and co-host Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice.
Our topic today is ageism. This topic was the winner of our most recent listener choice survey. Thanks to all of you who voted on what you wanted this to talk about. When we use the term “ageism,” we mean discrimination, poor treatment, or disrespect against older people because of negative stereotypes about being older. Erica Pandey published an article on Axios on September 2, 2023, where she cited some relevant statistics. Susan, why don’t you start us off?
Sure. And I will just mention to our listeners that I am recovering from laryngitis, so I apologize for the squeaky voice. So first of all, one in four of America’s workers today are age 55 or older.
Workers over the age of 50 are unemployed for three times as long as younger workers, per AARP.
More than 40% of workers over the age of 40 say they’re – they have experienced age discrimination at work within the last three years.
Wow, these are big numbers. And a Zip Recruiter survey found 47% of employers worry about older workers’ technical skills, and amazingly, 25% said they would select a 30 year old over a 60 year old if both candidates were equally qualified. I have to tell you, I think they’re they’re missing out on some other skills, right? 30 year olds bring some things and 60 year olds bring some things to their workspace.
Job postings with desired qualifications such as “digital native” or “tech savvy,” “high energy” or “hungry” could be codes for wanting younger candidates, and they may signal older people need not apply. For older workers who are in the workplace, they may be subjected to microaggressions that unconsciously are being made by colleagues who would be embarrassed if they realized the impact their words and actions might be having on others. The American Psychological Association published an article on March 1, 2023, by Kirsten Weir entitled, “Ageism is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices. Psychologists are working to change that.” Why is it that wisecracking old-age birthday cards, black balloons when you hit older milestones, and teasing about losing things or forgetting something when done by older workers is seen as because of their age and seems hilarious? You know, I do think the black balloon thing is interesting. When I – when I saw that, you know, now that so many people are not working in the office on a regular basis, I don’t see so much of that or hear so much of that anymore, and actually thought about that for a while. This article notes that ageism can negatively affect people’s physical and mental well-being. Weir encouraged us to reframe our attitudes toward aging and help our organizations to do the same. Although some cognitive skills such as reaction times do tend to slow over time, there are certainly many aging stereotypical beliefs that this article said are not true. Susan, why don’t you start us out again?
You don’t become less creative as you age. In fact, creativity is likely to grow.
Older workers are better than middle-aged adults at orienting their attention and ignoring distractions.
As people age, they tend to become more agreeable and conscientious. The older you are, the better you are at regulating emotions and getting along with others.
Older people pay better attention to health and put themselves into fewer risky situations. That’s an interesting one, I think, because that’s a clear one where I think many people assume that the older you are, the higher your health claims might be. Right? But, yeah.
Gregory Hinrichsen, PhD, at the Icahn School of Medicine says, “People highly overestimate the problems of later life and underestimate the resilience of later life.”
That – I think that’s a power statement right there.
To help us explore this topic further, we have invited Whitney Bandemer back to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast. Whitney is founder and principal of WB Consulting. She partners with organizations to identify, plan, and overcome organizational challenges. She holds a Doctor of Law, she has taught at the university level, and she holds a number of certifications. So Whitney, have you personally witnessed what you feel was ageism in the workplace?
I have seen it in its more subtle forms, as opposed to outright and direct and obvious ageism. But I find in workplaces you hear comments like, “Well, I want to hire a young person so they really understand the technology,” or “Really, it’d be better if everybody was under 40.” And then there’s the cultural ageism which is an undercurrent in some workplaces, where you’ll hear often jokes about people’s age or their status or beliefs based on their age, so “Oh, he or she’s a snowflake,” “Okay, Boomer.” Those all have age undertones to them, and while they’re… they’re funny, they’re really not appropriate for the workplace, because they can set up kind of the beginning of what could be a hostile work environment or harassment or discrimination. And also, there’s an ounce of truth in all jokes. So… So those are the ways that I have seen. I fortunately have not seen overt ageism.
I would say the same thing for me. And definitely, since I’ve started my own practice, you know, I would say early on, we had a lot of clients who would ask to say, you know, “We’re looking for someone young,” or “someone who could work here for a long time.” I do think people have gotten past that a bit. I mean, the statistics about it taking longer for older employees to find roles are real, so I know it’s still happening. But we certainly don’t get those overt requests like we used to where people would just outright saying, “I want some young people,” and make the assumption they’re all strong technology-wise, as well, too.
Well, and I think the workplace today is especially interesting, because we have… we have five generations in the workplace. And so to a certain extent, I do think people have seen that many mature workers who’ve been in the workforce a long time are willing to be reverse mentored by younger workers. They’re welcoming that and that creates a much healthier workplace and decreases the chances of ageism or employers viewing older workers as not as capable. And the hope is, for me, that they would see those workers as very wise and gifted and experienced and they’d be fortunate to have them for whatever amount of time they’re willing to give to their organization.
100%. In thinking about this topic, it did take me back to… probably it’s been 15 or more years ago, where I remember working with a guy who retired. And so we were all teasing him about retirement and getting older, which of course, is not appropriate. And I did it. But I remember that it never dawned on me that it wasn’t going to be a happy experience for him. Like, he was struggling with retirement, even though he made the choice to do so. I think he was nervous about filling his time and what he would do all day. And so although we were all laughing and teasing him some, I could tell he really was struggling with that a bit, as well.
I think that’s a really valid point. And I think many people don’t think about planning their retirement. And so it is stressful, because, okay, I’m going to stop working, but what – have I really thought about strategically what I’m going to do when I’m not working anymore, and really creating a post professional career plan? And I don’t think a lot of people do that. And those of us who are in the workforce and are going to stay in the workforce for a lot longer, it’s very easy for us to be like, “Oh, congratulations, you’re free.”
Right! That’s exactly what it was.
And that freedom comes with a price.
Yes, it does. Well, Whitney, could you give us some highlights of the top federal laws that business leaders and HR professionals should really be aware of as it relates to ageism?
Well, ageism is protected at the federal level. And this is my – almost my favorite part of the conversation, because I get to put my old lawyer hat back on, which I… I don’t wear all that often anymore. But the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the ADEA, is a federal law that protects people who are 40 and older. And it protects them from discrimination in any aspects of work. And that’s from the recruitment process, promotions, layoffs, trainings, job assignments, certainly salary and the conditions of their employment. So really, any part of the employment process is covered under the ADEA. People over 40 are also protected from harassment associated with their age. And that’s really the key law on the federal level that protects individuals who are over 40 years old. And by the way, even as a lawyer, I was surprised – 40?
Am I old?
Am I old?
I know, it does seem like such a young age. I think what – 60 is the new 30 now, right? So you’d think that..
I hope so. I really hope so.
I’ll tell you next year when I turn 60 if it is or not.
So Whitney, how about some state laws? Are there any state laws you’re aware of on this front?
There are lots of localities, states and local municipalities, cities that will have laws that may be stricter than the federal law. When you have a state or local law that’s similar with a federal law, you have to consider, is it conflicting or is it more strict? And if it conflicts, obviously, you follow the federal law. But if it’s more strict, then you follow the more strict of the two. And in Indiana for instance, as an example – I know your listeners come from across the nation – but in Indiana, the age discrimination law covers employers that have very small numbers of employees. So as a solopreneur, I would be required to not discriminate based on age if I hired even one or two more employees. And it also covers individuals between the ages of 40 and 75. So it’s a fairly unique law that it has a cut off at the end. So that’s an example of a state law that is in addition to the federal restrictions.
What happens when you’re 76? Do you lose that protection?
You run for president.
Oh, good one.
I think it’d be interesting to see that particular statute challenged.
Right. Well, it is actually interesting as it… it has created a lot of conversation about older people in the workforce. And you know, some that we do generally consider someone who’s 76 – right? – as being not typical, but yet at the same time, people are working longer and longer, and I suspect we’ll see much more of that.
You know, as an example, my father-in-law is 79 and continues to work, to love it, and has no immediate plans to retire.
Good for him.
Yes, good for him and good for the company for recognizing his value or his worth to them, as well, too. Where do you most see employers making mistakes with older job candidates or employees or even their retirees?
JoDee, I think it’s two main places where employers are at risk of making mistakes or do make mistakes. It’s in the hiring process, not preparing hiring managers and search teams to vet candidates properly without considering their age, not taking into account potential biases, I think is a real risk area for employers. And then also accountability, not setting the culture in a way that employees will hold themselves and each other accountable for inappropriate comments or jokes toward folks who may be very young or very old. Right? We don’t want any of that in the workplace, whether it be ageism or mockery for young people’s beliefs, behavior, traits, characteristics.
I have to believe, too, that some people at some organizations are probably making assumptions. I mean, I… I see or talk to people all the time that make assumptions about, “well, she’s pregnant, so they might not want to take on this next opportunity,” or, “they have young kids, so they might not want to travel.” And I wonder if there is that also around older employees, thinking, “Oh, they’ve had their leadership time, maybe they want to sit back and…and not go to new trainings or new learnings,” right?
Absolutely. And I have… I have seen that type of thinking come up in in various settings, and I do think it comes up in regards to employees who are older and heading toward the end of their career. Oh, they won’t want to take on that assignment, or they won’t want to lead that project because they’re close to the end of their working career. And I would respond to those individuals the same way I have responded to people who’ve commented about, “Oh, she’s got three kids, she won’t want to do this,” and that response is, let her be in charge of her opportunities, and if he or she doesn’t want to do that, they can tell you no, but it’s not our place to make decisions for employees, regardless of their situation or circumstances.
Right. Any other advice you have, Whitney, for our listeners, if they want to steer clear of ageism?
Develop and grow your people to understand the value and the gifts of every generation in the workplace and to set the standard and accountability of what is appropriate and tolerated on your team. And then include that development and those training opportunities in orientation and regular team development so that everybody is hearing it on a regular basis.
Good answer. I like that, too. I think there’s so many things in the workplace we can be doing to better hold people accountable. Right? Whether it’s in regards to ageism or not, it’s a skill set that many people need developed at work.
What do you hope will bring you joy as you continue to age in the workplace?
Two things. I hope that impacting individuals as I continue my work as a consultant will continue to bring me joy, because it certainly does now, and also developing relationships, both with colleagues and friends within this consulting/HR/leadership world. That’s brought so much joy to me in the last two and a half years I’ve been doing this work, that I really hope for more of that in the future. So.
I love it. If any of our listeners would like to reach out to you, what’s your contact information?
Absolutely, they can find me on LinkedIn, that’s Whitney Bandemer – B-A-N-D-E-M-E-R – or on my website, wbconsulting llc.com, or at leadboldlylearning.com.
Oh, that’s great. And we’ll put all that in our show notes. Thank you so much, Whitney.
Thanks for having me.
Well, wasn’t that interesting? Lots to learn there and lot to be aware of around ageism. You know, Susan, we also did a podcast about five years ago, back in January 2018, that was entitled “Aging in the Workplace,” and people who are particularly interested in this topic, you might take a listen to that one as well.
A listener had a great question today when they asked, “I am a Millennial-Zoomer cusp team lead. I have a Boomer who was put on my team due to their lack of productivity on their last team they served. How do I deal with a coworker who is not motivated to work hard on our team and just wants to have an easy, cushy job until they retire?” Well, that can certainly be a difficult situation, but I’m wondering if there are some assumptions being made, right? There could be some… several different scenarios happening. Maybe they’ll thrive on your team, for our listener. Maybe they struggled with a relationship with their team leader in their last role, maybe the position wasn’t using their strengths, could be several different things that created some of those issues. I think it’s also important that we think about people’s motivations, right? We all are motivated by different things, especially in the workforce. For some people it’s pay, for some people it’s recognition, for some people it’s, you know, having great relationships with your coworkers and wanting to be held accountable for teamwork. So asking this challenging employee really what motivates them or what might the team leader do to help create an environment of not only accountability, right, which is important, but understanding if there’s some other things that motivate this particular employee, too. But you know, in the end, it might just be time for some discipline on the matter, too. Maybe they are just not motivated to work hard, and maybe they aren’t particularly engaged in this particular role, and there might need to be some progressive correction action around this, but we certainly hope they partner with you to change their ways and become a more engaged and productive employee. It’s time now for in the news. In the HR Magazine, Summer 2023 included a reference to a 2023 Eagle Consulting burnout survey with over 1,000 responses. It cited that 39% of US workers haven’t taken a vacation in the past 12 months. Yikes.
Yes. The reasons for not taking a vacay there’s – and there’s several different reasons. Number one, 45% said the expense of a vacation is too much. Well, my opinion on that is that might be the case, but you can still take time off and…
…and do something inexpensive, right?
33% said they feel pressured to stay on top of their work and don’t want to go away.
Right. 29% cited their heavy workload wouldn’t allow for a vacation absence.
And another 29% said there was no one to cover their work if they did leave it.
Yeah. Sometimes it is worse to take off and come back and just be double work when you get back. Right? And then 23% – 23%, if I can say that again – say they had no time off and they couldn’t afford to miss a paycheck.
That’s a really sad one. Well, I’m an advocate, of course, of the United States at the federal level finally legislating paid time off. It is crazy that we are one of the only highly developed nations that still doesn’t have any paid time off required by federal law. What I realize now is if it ever does become law, we will need employers to insist all staff members really do break away for at least a few days every year to recharge their battery, as many Americans may not feel their workload will allow for it. Well, thanks for joining us today, and please tune in next time, and make it a JoyPowered® day.
Thank you. If you would like SHRM recertification credit for listening to this podcast, please visit getjoypowered.com/shrm. You’ll find an evaluation of the podcast and once you complete the evaluation, you will see the SHRM recertification credit code and a link to a proof of participation certificate. Again, that’s getjoypowered.com/shrm Thank you for listening, and thanks for your dedication to the HR profession.
If you liked the show, please tell a few friends about us and let us know what you thought by leaving us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts. You can find more information on our podcast, our books, our blogs, and more at getjoypowered.com. We’re @JoyPowered on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook and you can send us an email at gmail.com Make it a JoyPowered® day.