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Fighting Ageism in the Workplace – Why All Generations Have Valuable Skills to Contribute

Ageism is a problem in the workplace. The good news is, it can be fixed – but UK plc has a long way to go.

Ninety-six percent of workers in the UK have experienced ageism at some point in the workplace, according to a new survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development – with 19 per cent reporting that it has been a significant barrier to career progression.

The survey was conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which represents human resource professionals across the UK. It covered 1,000 working adults between 25 and 55 years old.

The Equality Act 2010 says that you’re discriminated against if you are treated unfairly by an employer, or a potential employer, because of something called a ‘protected characteristic’. These include things like:

  • being female
  • having left school at 16
  • having no qualifications
  • having a disability

And yes – being older counts too! Ageism can happen when someone treats you differently because they think you’re too old to do your job well. They might assume that your skills are out of date and need updating. Or perhaps they think that it would be more expensive for them to employ someone over 40 years old because it’s harder for older people to get around (for example on public transport).

In addition to revealing widespread negative attitudes toward older workers among employers and employees alike, this research also found that over half (53%) feel they are not being hired because they are too old; nearly four fifths (79%) believe that their age has affected their career opportunities; three quarters (74%) say they would consider taking legal action if they were discriminated against on grounds of their age; while almost two thirds (65%) say they have seen or experienced overt signs or examples of age discrimination within organisations themselves.

Ageism is a form of discrimination that occurs when employers hire, fire, promote or demote people because of their age. According to the EEOC, this type of behavior is illegal and can have a negative impact on employees’ ability to succeed in their careers.

It’s important to remember that ageism may not be overt; it can also be more subtle and harder to detect. For example:

  • An employer might take away opportunities from older workers by failing to give them training opportunities that are given freely to younger workers;
  • An employer may decide someone is too young to be considered for a promotion, despite being well qualified
  • An employer might assume that someone over a certain age doesn’t have as much energy as someone under that age; or

The survey heard more than half (54%) of respondents felt they had been overlooked for training opportunities based on their age and more than a quarter felt they had been passed over for promotion (29%) or ignored for a project that could lead to promotion (26%) based on their age.

However, it’s not only promotion and pay, one in four workers told researchers they felt excluded from discussions based on their age.

If we look beyond the workplace and into society at large, ageism manifests in different ways. The older generation is not immune to discrimination—it can happen between generations as well. Younger workers may feel that they are not given enough opportunities because of their age or experience level. Similarly, older workers may feel like they are not respected as much due to their seniority and status within an organization.

One in seven said they felt they were discriminated against by someone at work because of their age.


Discrimination occurs at both ends of the work spectrum.

We now have a multi-generational workforce and while older workers often feel excluded, It is important to recognise that ageism is not just about older workers.

Age discrimination can affect employees of all ages, and it is important for managers to be aware of the ways in which age-based discrimination manifests itself. For example, younger workers are more likely to be disciplined or demoted than their older colleagues. They may also receive less-positive evaluations from supervisors and managers than their older colleagues who aced similar tasks. This can have implications on pay raises and opportunities for promotion as well as career advancement within an organization if management believes it’s easier (or more cost-effective) to hire someone fresh out of college than someone with experience in their field who might make more demands on management resources due to their seniority at work.

Younger adults feel the effects of ageism if they don’t fit the ‘millenial’ stereotype

The survey found that younger adults are just as likely to feel the effects of ageism if they don’t fit the stereotype of what millennials look like or act like. For example, workers under 30 are more likely than any other age group to report being bullied at work (24 percent), while people over 50 report being bullied less often than those in any other age group. Younger workers also have a harder time getting promoted—and when they do get promoted, it’s more likely to be because of their personality rather than because of their experience or skills.

Younger employees are also more likely to be disciplined for violating company policies, such as arriving late or leaving early without permission; skipping meetings; having relationships with coworkers; posting negative comments about their employer online; and using social media too much during working hours. Finally, younger workers often don’t receive enough training opportunities—in fact, only thirty-one percent say they’ve received enough training since starting the job!

Almost half of all young workers reported being spoken to in an offensive way based on their age

In a 2018 Workplace Discrimination Survey, Angus Reid found that almost half of all young workers had been spoken to in an offensive way based on their age, more than older workers. The survey also found that younger employees were less likely than older ones to report cases of ageism at work.

The findings show how important it is for companies to take steps to create an inclusive workplace culture where everyone feels comfortable bringing up issues around discrimination and harassment — including ageism — with their managers or HR departments. This means making sure that your company has strong policies around workplace equality and reporting processes, as well as training programs designed to help employees understand their rights under the law (including protections against discrimination based on age).

Younger workers were also more likely to be disciplined (41%) or demoted (38%) than older ones.

The study also found that younger workers were more likely to be disciplined or demoted than older ones. The authors suspect this may be due to the discretionary power of managers, who can choose which employees are “most deserving” of discipline or other penalties. Younger workers are also less likely to have a union representation or collective bargaining agreement than their older peers, and therefore lack the negotiating tools necessary to assure better treatment in the workplace.

Ageism affects everyone – older and younger workers – and it is important to recognize how it does so and what can be done about it.

In addition to being a form of discrimination, ageism can also be based on other factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation and religion. In the workplace it can manifest itself as:

  • Overt (intentional) age discrimination is when an individual or organization treats people differently because of their age.
  • Covert (unintentional) age discrimination occurs when an organization has policies or practices that appear neutral but have the effect of treating older workers less favorably than younger workers. This type of discrimination may include denying access to training opportunities; refusing to create older worker-specific job categories; limiting retirement options like phased out benefits or early retirement packages; promoting younger employees at faster rates than older ones; lowering performance expectations for older workers such as expecting them not to meet deadlines on time; singling out older employees for criticism while ignoring similar behavior among younger employees – all these behaviors have a substantial negative impact on employee morale which compounds over time with each negative incident contributing further erosion in the workplace culture until eventually everyone loses hope!


Ageism exists in every workplace, but it can be prevented if we all work together to address it. We need to recognize our own biases and confront them by having open conversations about what ageism looks like and why it’s harmful. By doing so, we can create an environment where everyone feels comfortable working together regardless of their age or experience level