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Is your company ageist? Survey suggests age discrimination is common at work

Experts say adopting more flexible working arrangements can help attract a diverse workforce, with one in three over 50s being rejected for a job because they are older.

Originally published by People Management on 18 January 2024. By Mahalia Mayne.

The most common form of age discrimination occurs at work, according to research from the Centre for Ageing Better.

The study found 37 per cent of respondents in their 50s and 60s who encountered age discrimination in the previous 12 months said it occurred most frequently in the workplace.

The charity also found that more than half of adults over 50 in England have experienced age discrimination in the last year, while one in five employers think age discrimination occurs in their organisation.

Claire McCartney, senior inclusion adviser at the CIPD, told People Management: “Genuine inclusion with equality of opportunity boosts workforce diversity, helps address skill and labour shortages and benefits an organisation’s reputation and brand.

“Given our ageing population, the proportion of 50-plus workers in the workforce is expected to increase, especially if the retirement age rises further in the future. Therefore, it is crucial that employers establish the people management policies and practices needed to harness the skills of an age-diverse workforce.”

She added: “Older workers looking to enter or re-enter the workforce find it generally harder than other age groups to find new employment, often as a result of discrimination or bias on the part of employers and recruiters.

“Age discrimination negatively impacts not only individual workers but also their families and the broader economy.”

A lack of flexible working can also make it harder for workers over 50 to remain in employment, particularly if they have caring responsibilities, McCartney explained, stressing the need for firms to offer inclusive and flexible working arrangements to attract a diverse workforce.

“Organisations should begin by acknowledging the elephant in the room – invisible ageism – and the unconscious biases that often go unchecked in the workplace,” said Lyndsey Simpson, CEO of 55/Redefined.

Simpson also suggested various strategies to reduce age discrimination. She recommended businesses incorporate flexibility into contracts, such as flexible working arrangements and progressive retirement options.

She also said employers should actively plan for a multi-generational workforce, which includes forming and growing teams with various complementary skills as well as changing job-seeking policies by encouraging recruitment firms to find more creative ways to hire those over 50.

In separate research conducted by the Centre for Ageing Better in 2021 one in three adults over the age of 50 reported being turned down for a job because of their age.

The charity said older applicants were “less likely to be hired and, once employed, less likely to receive training”.

It said ageism has a “detrimental” influence on the workforce, as 460,000 people aged 50 to 64 were now unemployed, yet wanted to work.

Carole Easton, chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “Ageism is the prejudice that’s hidden in plain sight. We see and hear casual ageism every day – it’s embedded in our society and even accepted as normal by many of us who are older.

“Ageism scars lives. It is often dismissed as being harmless, but if you look at the research, or speak to people whose lives have been affected by ageism, you will soon realise ageist ideas or beliefs can be incredibly damaging for us as individuals and for wider society.”

Read the CIPD's guide to age discrimination and creating age-inclusive workplaces

“Organisations should begin by acknowledging the elephant in the room – invisible ageism – and the unconscious biases that often go unchecked in the workplace."

Lyndsey Simpson, Founder and CEO of 55/Redefined