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How to Address Ageism and Create a Welcoming Company for Employees of All Ages

Corporations have come a long way regarding DEI training, but few leaders are equipped to see the signs of ageism in their workplace. Or have any idea what to do when they witness this form of discrimination firsthand.

Think about it, how many times have you heard millennials being written off as lazy, entitled, or even snowflakes? Or those over fifty being called too old, too slow, or even Karens? Every one of these stereotypes is ageist.

And they’re all too familiar in today’s workplaces––whether we realize it or not.

The thing is, ageism can be subtle. But that doesn’t make it any less harmful. In fact, ageism is often more damaging when it’s not blatant because it can be harder to call out.

And if it goes unchecked, it can create a toxic work environment devoid of trust, respect, and collaboration.

How do you spot ageism in the workplace?

people sitting down near table with assorted laptop computers

Here are a few telltale signs to look out for:

  • Jokes or comments that are demeaning to specific age groups
  • Exclusion from essential projects or meetings because of age
  • Being passed over for promotions in favor of younger employees
  • Being micro-managed or treated like you’re not capable
  • Younger employees not receiving the same level of respect as their older counterparts

All of these are examples of ageism. And they’re unfortunately all too common.

They might not seem like a big deal at first or even worth calling out. But they can fester and create a lot of tension and resentment––both of which can be detrimental to a healthy and profitable workplace.

How do you address ageism in your workplace?

brown game pieces on white surface

Here are a few practical tips:

Lead by example:

As a CEO or leader, it’s essential that you set the tone for the rest of the company.

If ageism is something you’re not willing to tolerate, make that clear from the start. Model the behavior you want to see in your employees. This includes speaking up when you witness ageism and being an advocate for all ages in the workplace.

Encourage open dialogue:

Stereotypes and assumptions often perpetuate ageism.

One way to combat this is by encouraging open dialogue about ageism in the workplace. This can be done through company-wide training or even just casual conversations.

The goal is to get people talking about ageism and how it can impact the workplace––both positively and negatively.

Promote an inclusive environment:

An inclusive environment is where all ages feel welcomed, respected, and valued.

This can be achieved by ensuring that your workplace has a diverse age range. It’s also important to create an environment where people feel comfortable talking about ageism and its impact on the workplace.

These are just a few practical tips for addressing ageism in the workplace. But starting here can make a huge difference.

What to do if you’re an ageist:

a man holds his head while sitting on a sofa

If you realize you’re an ageist, changing your behavior is essential. But many times, change can only occur when we’re willing to have an honest conversation with ourselves and a trusted friend or colleague.

One first step is becoming aware of your ageist thoughts and behaviors. This can be difficult, but it’s essential if you want to change. Once you’re aware of your ageism, you can begin to challenge these thoughts and beliefs.

For example, let’s say you believe all your younger employees are snowflakes. The first step is to recognize that this is ageist. The second step is to question why you think this.

Is it because you had a bad past experience with a younger employee? Or is it because you’ve heard others make these kinds of comments?

Once you question your ageist thoughts, you can begin to change them. And as you change your thinking, your behavior will also change.

What to do if you’re a victim of ageism:

selective focus photography of man wearing blue and white striped collared top

If you’re a victim of ageism, speaking up is essential. This can be difficult, but it’s necessary if you want to create change.

The first step is to identify the ageist behavior. Then, you need to decide how you want to address it.

You might choose to talk to the person directly or take action through your company’s HR department. Regardless of how you handle it, the most important thing is that you don’t stay silent.

How can you prevent ageism in your workplace?

You can do a few key things to prevent ageism in your workplace. First, it’s essential to have an apparent age diversity policy in place. This policy should be communicated to all employees and enforced by management.

Second, ageism training should be mandatory for all employees, regardless of age. This training should cover what ageism is, how it can impact the workplace, and how to avoid perpetuating it.

Finally, it would help if you created an environment where people feel comfortable talking about ageism and its impact on the workplace. This can be done through open dialogue and company-wide initiatives that promote an inclusive environment for all ages.

What are some practical ways to create a more age-inclusive workplace?

woman in black long sleeve shirt holding black ceramic mug

Here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage intergenerational mentorship programs
  • Implement unconscious bias training for all employees
  • Increase the age diversity of your workforce
  • Make flexible work arrangements a norm
  • Host a variety of age-inclusive social events

Creating a more age-inclusive workplace doesn’t have to be complicated. But it does have to be a priority.

Addressing ageism in your workplace doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a concerted effort from everyone in the company––from the CEO to entry-level employees. But it’s worth it.

Creating a genuinely welcoming workplace for employees of all ages creates a space where everyone can thrive. And that benefits everyone––the company, the employees, and the bottom line.

In what ways does ageism manifest in your workplace? How do you address it? Let us know in the comments below!

Do you want to make your workplace more inclusive? Check out these three articles:

Dr. Colleen Batchelder
As a Leadership Strategist, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, Executive Coach, and National Speaker, I help leaders create companies where Millennials and Generation Z want to work. My doctoral background in leadership and global perspectives also gives me an added edge because I approach generational dissonance from all directions, including from an anthropological, theological, sociological, and ethnographic lens.