Ageism in the workplace

Hana Skreta, Principal, Zurich


Businesses are producing extensive D&I policies in a bid to reduce the amount of discrimination within the workplace, but is there enough, if any, focus on age? Ageism is a huge contributor towards discrimination in the workplace and is largely based upon stereotypes and ‘group thinking’ towards a person and their ability to perform based on their age. Discrimination comes two-fold; there are stereotypes that assume those who are newly out of university don’t have enough experience or wisdom to succeed in a senior-level position. Secondly, there are assumptions that those from an older generation are not capable of adapting to new technologies, are less passionate, and less effective in their roles. This form of discrimination has a snowball effect on businesses and the economy as a whole; with fewer people in employment combined with the decrease in fertility rates, this has resulted in an increasing state pension age which is affecting people across the globe.

In a bid to combat ageism, the World’s Health Organisation (WHO) has created ‘The Global Report on Ageism’ which produces evidence summarising the scale and impacts of ageism and recommendations for action to “create a world for all ages.” The report goes on to say that “for individuals, ageism contributes to poverty and financial insecurity in older age, and one recent estimate shows that ageism costs society billions of dollars.”


How is ageism affecting businesses and the economy across the globe?

State pension ages are on the rise across the globe and there is a number of factors contributing to each government’s decision. Life expectancy following retirement has seen great improvement over the last 60 years which is having a huge impact on welfare spending. According to the World Bank, the world’s average life expectancy rate was 51 years in 1960 vs 72 years as of 2020. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility for the UK, “The state pension is the largest single item of welfare spending, forecast to make up 42% of the total in 2022-23.”  Fertility rates are also falling therefore the ratio of workers vs. dependents has fallen. All these factors combined are forcing the government’s hand to make changes.

Considering the rise in state pension age and the factors contributing to these decisions, the total number of workers within the 55 – 64-year-old bracket is significantly low in some countries: according to OECD Data, in Italy, it’s 55%, 64.7% in the UK and 63.7% in the US. In comparison, the highest rate is 78.5% in Japan. Although you cannot correlate reasons for these low representations within the 55 – 64-year age bracket, it could pose the question of whether ageism in the workplace is a contributing factor. How will ageism in the workplace affect the older generation, particularly those from a lower income, when the state pension age is getting higher, but the ability to work once you reach a certain age is not improving?


The future of ageism in the workplace

The Global Report by WHO suggests the following 3 strategies to combat ageism based on evidence that has been shown to work:

  • Policies and laws can be used to reduce ageism towards any age group.
  • Educational interventions to reduce ageism should be included across all levels and types of education, from primary school to university, and in formal and non-formal educational contexts.
  • Investments should also be made in intergenerational contact interventions, which aim to foster interaction between people of different generations.

Businesses looking to combat ageism should consider how to incorporate these suggestions in the workplace. Businesses can continue to benefit from the wisdom and experience of their older-generation employees.




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