In a straw poll, nearly a third of UK workers over the age of 50 claim to have experienced age-related discrimination while employed or searching for work in the last twelve months. The Women and Equalities Committee estimated in 2018 that over a million workers over the age of 50 have been locked out of employment entirely on account of their age. The most common type of perceived discrimination against older workers is negative assumptions about their learning capabilities or cognitive functions. Many older workers report that they are frequently passed over for promotions and are not offered the same training opportunities as their younger co-workers.
Older employees often face deeply patronising attitudes by both employers and younger co-workers where they face assumptions that they would be unable to learn new technologies or employment systems because of their age. Data suggest that age related discrimination crosses all industries. However, industries with the most negative attitudes to older workers include construction, administrative services, professional services, technology and manufacturing.
For women, being discriminated against because of age can start as young as 40 and many potential interviewees reported that they felt it necessary to hide their age or maintain a youthful appearance. Some older job seekers reported being candidly rejected through recruitment processes on that the basis of age alone with interviewers discussing their ability to do a job based on how old they were.
Many recruitment agencies do not put older jobseekers forward for interview even when the applicant fulfils requirements laid out by the hiring company in the job spec. While less educated older workers and women were more likely to be discriminated against in job markets, education and a complete and successful job history were often not enough for potential employers to disqualify a candidate based on age.
Some of the negative attitudes surrounding older workers stem from a belief from some managers that older workers have difficulty taking instruction from someone younger than them. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest there is an assumption that all older workers are incapable of learning new work methodology and technology and are reluctanct to adopt change. This is a very simplistic approach that treat the over 50s as a homogenous group, instead of individuals with different capabilities and attitudes – the same as any other demographic.
Negative experiences at work or dissatisfaction with organisational changes are often cause cited by older people for the reason for accepting early retirement and many older people felt pushed out to make way for younger co-workers.
While we live in an time when discrimination on grounds of race or gender is no longer tolerated, there is a remarkable level of acceptance to discriminate against people based on their age – despite age being one of the characteristics that is protected under the Equality and Human Rights Commission.