Has Ageism Become Acceptable in the Workplace? I’ recently clicked on an infographic posted on LinkedIn claiming to explain the differences between generations.
That’s not what it did. It stereotyped people by the year they were born. It claimed Gen Xers were independent, Millennials selfish, and Boomers were hard-headed. Like a daily horoscope; it was general enough to fit many people. I’m certain I could find Millennials who are hard-headed, Boomers who are selfish, and Gen Xers who aren’t independent.
Categorizing people by age is misleading and dangerous. Unfortunately, it’s also acceptable. Almost daily I hear generations, whether Boomer, Gen X, or Millennial referred to stereotypically. All Millennials are like this, Boomers are that, or Gen Xers all think alike. Consider this; if someone said all Latin Americans do this, African Americans do that, all Asians are whatever, and all women think this way, what would we call those statements? Would we call it prejudice?
Why is it acceptable to post an ageist infographic on LinkedIn and share it at the office? How about racists or sexists infographics in the workplace, would that be okay?
There are Differences
Yes, there are generational differences, but it’s not so much age as experience. For example, the technology each generation has grown up with affects communication. I’m a Boomer; I saw my first computer when I was an adult, my eldest is a Gen Xer she didn’t have a cell phone as a teenager, is it any surprise that my youngest, a millennial, texts more than her sister and I?
Life stages, environment, and culture account for more differences between human beings than birth year. For example, a married 25-year-old with two small children might have more in common with a married 40-year-old who also has two small children, than with a 25-year-old unmarried, childless co-worker.
Background and Identity
Experience, sexual orientation, upbringing, and education might all have more to do with how people relate to each other than what generation they belong to. As Robby Slaughter outlines in his book, the How-to Guide for Generations at Work, individual personality, professional experience, perceived relationships, current conditions, culture, and identity contribute to who we are. As Robby says, “Everyone may work in the same organization, on the same projects, but each has their own point of view.” And that point of view isn’t exclusively defined by age.
The ADEA (Age Discrimination Employment Act) prohibits employment discrimination against persons 40 years of age or older. Human Resource professionals understand the significance of this legislation, but too often corporate leadership does not. They should because the streets are littered with six-figure lawsuits awarded to employees based on ageist remarks.
How to Avoid Age Discrimination
It begins with setting down policies. Letting workers know that any discrimination, including age, will not be tolerated. One way to do this is to institute sensitivity training. Why Your Company Should Focus on Sensitivity Training. However, policies alone aren’t enough. The policies have to be shared, trained, and enforced. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through continuous leadership training of front line managers combined by a Human Resources department that supports the initiatives.
Is Ageism the New Workplace Bigotry?
When I was researching this post, I found several instances of Millennials being called out by their bosses for being young. One asked for help and advice. Her boss friended her on Facebook. The employee felt she couldn’t say no. Her boss frequently published disparaging remarks about Millennials. I don’t know if the worker has grounds for a lawsuit, I’m not an attorney, but I’d be surprised if her heart was in the job or that she was giving her all. More likely she’s looking for a new position. The next time you begin to say all Millennials are this, and Gen Xer’s all do that, or those Boomers, well you know, stop and consider the consequences.
Photo Credit: Image Author:klimkinID:bb4b3fc09d284e425eProvider:Pixabay