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Australian Human Rights Commission Report on ‘Ageism’: How does employment play a part?

As everyone ought to be aware, age discrimination is illegal. However, what many people may not be aware of is the existence of ageism and how it creates a negative environment. Do not fret if you do not know what ageism is and how it impacts on employment. Karen Ansen Consulting is here to unpack an Australian Human Rights Commission report on age discrimination and ageism in the context of the workplace.

Ageism 101

Ageism is the altitudinal assumptions and stereotypes we make about people as they navigate through life. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), nearly 3 quarters of young Australians believe they have been the most stereotyped in relation to age, followed by nearly 60% of middle-aged Australians and approximately 50% of older Australians.

Examples of stereotypes for young adults include not having a great ethic and having troubles with money. On the other extreme, older people are classified as weak and needing assistance. As a result, younger people are more likely to be condescended or ignored, especially in the workplace. Whereas for older people a common example of ageism would be receiving help without requesting it.

In relation to ageism, research has shown that failing to hire people over 55 years old can result in a $33 billion loss to the economy. Ageism is also perpetuated by organisations not implementing policies to prevent age bias, which can result in a negative environment, not limited to poor morale and productivity outcomes. It has been noted that implementing policies to mitigate ageism can result in having a diverse range of skills from Australians in which skill development plays a major role.

Ageism & Young Adults

Contrary to the assumption that ageism only affects older Australians, there has been evidence to suggest that ageism impacts young adults. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, nearly a third of young people have been ignored or talked in a demeaning manner in the workplace as well as being denied a job. Also, the media has not made it any better, with a belief that the media is not addressing positive workplace or leadership stories featuring young adults.

Also, the gig economy employs more young adults, with those aged between 25-34 being the highest proportion of gig workers. This is reinforced by a presumption made by older people that young adults are in less stable work. Finally, there is an assumption that young adults are inexperienced, hence finding it difficult to further their career.

Ageism and middle-aged Adults

In general, middle aged Australians had more positive stereotypes than other age groups in that they have the most meaningful roles and are contributing the most to society. This is due to them being perceived to have a strong work ethic and being willing to further their career whilst balancing their personal life. Despite these positive assumptions, the report found there was a tendency for middle aged persons to have too much power in society.

Ageism and older adults

The media perpetuates ageism against older Australians by mitigating their impact to society by noting they do not have important roles of importance. This is reinforced by a HR survey in 2021 noting that nearly 50% of businesses are reluctant to employ older Australians, in which they are predominately divided in identifying older Australians as those between 61-65 (28%) and those aged 51-54 (17%).

It has been documented that nearly a third of older Australians have experienced discrimination, with employment related factors being one of the key areas of discriminatory conduct. The research has noted that the top reasoning for such discriminatory conduct among older Australians is that they were:

  • Too old;

  • Too experienced, or;

  • Blankly refused employment.

In relation to employment there are a myriad of factors that contribute to ageism, not limited to the belief that older workers are inflexible and resistant to change and less competent than younger workers.

As a result of such behaviours, it has been noted that older workers:

  • feel left out of the recruitment process;

  • receive more limited opportunities for professional development;

  • believe they are unfairly targeted for redundancies when the organisation they work for is going through restructuring, and;

  • spend an average of 1.25 years looking for work

Ageism is well and truly alive in Australian society. It is up to HR managers and other employees to challenge the assumptions facing cohorts of different ages.

Karen Ansen Consulting can help your organisation by building framework, delivering training and working with employees to move towards a more inclusive workplace. Email for more information.

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