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Ageism in the workplace

Updated: December 29, 2023
By: Dr. Steven Rydin
Dr. Steven Rydin
Director of Product
As the former director of product, Steven oversaw Retirement Living’s product and marketing efforts for four years. His digital marketing expertise helped launch senior-focused buyer’s guides and a wide range of products surrounding finance, insurance, healthcare, and lifestyle. Steven holds a Doctor of Business Administration degree from George Fox University.
Director of Product
Edited by: Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith
Sr. Content Manager
As Retirement Living’s senior content manager, Jeff oversees the product and publishing of all retirement, investing, and consumer wellness content on the site. His extensive expertise in brand messaging and creating data-driven stories helps position Retirement Living as a top authority for senior content and community resources.
Sr. Content Manager

The benefits of working late in your career are well established. Adults working beyond the traditional retirement age of 65 are more financially secure, more physically and mentally active, and give much needed perspective to the workforce. Nevertheless, the search for the right role in an ever-changing workforce has left some seniors feeling left out. Ageism, it seems, is all too common.

Ageism defined

Ageism is age-related discrimination. The term generally references older adults, but can happen to anyone. It was first coined when The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was passed into law. The act protects workers 40 and older, making it illegal for employers to discriminate based on age instead of ability. Regrettably, in it’s 50th anniversary year, adults still face regular discrimination.

According to an AARP study, two out of three people between the age of 45 and 74 have experienced this kind of discrimination. Statistics reveal even higher incident rates among workers in technology and entertainment industries. If you’ve been treated poorly or passed over for a position because of your age, you’ve been a victim too.

Age-Related workplace myths

A recent study by Harvard Business Review debunked common age-related workplace myths. One myth is that older workers can’t adapt to changes in technology as well as younger workers. The study revealed Baby Boomers are in fact more likely to respond well to changes in work demands, and are consistently investing in developing new skills.

Are you feeling energetic? You’re not alone. Another myth is that seniors don’t have the energy to drive tasks to completion. The HBR study found people 60 and older are less tired than those under 45.

Signs of Ageism

Age-related discrimination can be tough to identify, and even more difficult to confront. Here are some of the classic signs of ageism in the workplace:

  • Hiring only younger workers

    If you see a pattern in a company where it only hires younger workers, this is a red flag. Some companies do this to keep their expenses low, hiring inexperienced workers instead of the best person for the job.

  • Job reassignment

    You may find yourself completing new unpleasant duties, this may be a way of getting you to quit.

  • Age remarks

    If your boss makes fun of you because of your age or asks when you’re going to retire, make sure you have a witness or document the conversation via email. Make it known that you have no plans to retire. Documenting can help in the long-run if this is a reoccurring issue.

What to do if you’re facing Ageism

If you do feel victimized at work because of your age there are several actions you can take.

  1. File a complaint with the Federal Equal Opportunity Commission

    Under The Age Discrimination in Employment Act you are protected. If you have clear documented evidence you’re being discriminatedm, this will help the investigation. Make sure you document all instances, times, and comments made. It is recommended you file within 180 days of the action. Some states have different timelines but make sure to check the EEOC website.

  2. Find an attorney

    This can be a new process to you and getting legal counsel is always recommended before filing in order to solidify your case. After the EEOC has finished the investigation you will be given a “right to sue” letter. In these cases, you can file a lawsuit 60 days after filing the complaint with the EEOC and a letter is not required.

In Summary

Many older adults are deciding to continue working longer, or return to work after retirement. This can be a scary situation for some who fear age discrimination. However, don’t feel discouraged at all; just make sure you continue to invest in your professional development, and speak up if you’re facing age discrimination.