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Ageism in the Workplace  

David M. Cadiz, Amy C. Pytlovany, and Donald M. Truxillo

The population is aging in most industrialized nations around the world, and this trend is anticipated to continue well into the future. This demographic shift impacts the workforce in that the average age of workers is increasing, and the workplace is becoming more age diverse, meaning different generations of employees are working side by side now more than ever before. Increasing age diversity can be problematic if misguided age-related attitudes, biases, and behaviors lead to ageism—the stigmatization of, and discrimination against, people based on age. Evidence of the impact of ageism in the workplace is being observed in increasing age-related discrimination claims as well as increased time for older people to find employment. Workplace ageism manifests from cognitive, affective, and behavioral components. Age stereotypes are associated with the cognitive component, age-related prejudice is related to the affective component, and age discrimination is aligned with the behavioral component. There is an abundance of research identifying age-related stereotypes and it is thought that these stereotypes influence how workplace decisions are made. Age-related prejudice research indicates that older workers are generally viewed more negatively than younger workers which can result in lower performance appraisals or older workers’ receiving harsher consequences for lower performance. Finally, age-discrimination research has identified that older workers struggle to find employment, to receive training and development opportunities, and to advance their careers. Although the majority of research on workplace ageism has focused on older individuals, younger workers also face challenges related to their age and this is a line of research that needs further exploration. Nevertheless, the accumulating evidence supports claims that workplace ageism has wide-ranging effects on individuals, groups/teams, organizations, and society.

Article

Counseling Older Adult Victims of Ageism in the Workplace  

Margo A. Jackson

Despite the significant life and work experiences that a growing number of older adults have to contribute to the workforce, pervasive ageism operates in overt and covert ways to discriminate against older workers in hiring and workplace practices. This article provides a current overview of definitions, prevalence, types, and effects of ageism in the U.S. workplace. For social workers counseling older adult victims of workplace ageism, this article discusses theories, foundational knowledge, and ongoing self-awareness and training needed for bias awareness. Counseling strategies and resources are highlighted, including coping and resilience strategies to counteract ageist stereotypes and discrimination, facilitate job-seeking support, and advocate for older workers by promoting awareness and serving as a resource for employers to reduce workplace ageism.

Article

Ageism and Retirement  

Lynn McDonald

Retirement is a modest social institution that appeared in most industrialized nations near the start of the 20th century. The aim of retirement was to solve the societal dilemma of an increasingly aged labor force by moving older workers systematically out of their jobs so as to not cause them financial harm (Atchley, 1980, p. 264). Although retirement has been considered benign since its inception, the history of retirement indicates that it is one of the main progenitors of ageism in society today (Atchley, 1982, 1993; Haber & Gratton, 1994; McDonald, 2013; Walker, 1990). Retirement and its accompanying stereotypes have been used as a tool for the management of the size and composition of the labor force contingent on the dictums of current markets in any given historical era. Ever-changing ideologies about older adults that extend from negative to positive ageism have been utilized by business, government, the public, and the media to support whatever justification is required in a particular era, with little thought to the harm perpetrated on older adults. Unfortunately, society has subscribed to these justifications en masse, including older adults themselves. In this article the ageism embedded in retirement is examined to make what is implicit explicit to social work practitioners and policymakers in the field of aging.

Article

Aging Workforce Issues from a Multilevel Approach  

Lale M. Yaldiz, Franco Fraccaroli, and Donald M. Truxillo

The proportion of older people in the industrialized workforce is increasing owing to the aging of the baby-boom generation, improved health in industrialized countries, changing retirement laws, need for additional income by older workers, and entry of fewer younger people into the workforce in some countries. This “graying” trend of the workforce raises a number of issues such as the needs, motivation, job attitudes, and behaviors of older workers; how to manage age diversity issues at work; late career issues; and preparing the worker and the organization for retirement. Specifically, older worker issues as a research topic includes work-relevant changes taking place within individuals as they age (e.g., physical, cognitive, and personality changes); how older workers are affected by their physical and social environments; the sources of age stereotyping and discrimination and how to combat them; and how these factors affect outcomes such as older workers’ well-being, health, attitudes, motivation, performance, and desire to continue working.

Article

Ageism in the Workplace  

Patricia Brownell

Older workers make important contributions to the workplace, its productivity, and its culture. Work remains important for older adults for financial security, to give meaning to later life, to maintain social networks, and to promote lifelong learning. However, ageist beliefs about the capacity of older adults to remain productive and contributing workers in the workforce can create barriers for older workers. Understanding how older workers experience ageist behavior in the workplace can help employers, policy makers, and social workers learn more about how to address this social problem. Organizations can become more age friendly through enabling workplace programs, supportive management, and proactive human resource managers. Social workers serving older adults in employee assistance programs and in private practice can help them to challenge ageism in the workplace. Finally, legislation such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects the rights of older workers; however, more legislation is needed to address bullying and harassment of older adults in the workplace.

Article

Aging and Organizational Communication  

Robert M. McCann

In the last 20 years or so, the field of intergenerational communication as seen from an intergroup perspective has evolved to encompass a wide range of social, cultural, and relational contexts. Research into communication and age in organizations represents one particularly exciting and rapidly changing area of investigation within the intergenerational communication domain. The workplace, by its very nature, is rich with intergroup dynamics, with age in/out group distinctions being but one of many intergroup characterizations. Stereotypical age expectations—by management and coworkers alike—can serve as powerful harbingers to behavioral outcomes such as ageist communication, considerations of (early) retirement and reduced and/or lost training among older workers, and even reduced intentions among young individuals to take up careers involving older people. Ageist behaviors (including communication) are also at the core of many types of discriminatory practices toward older (and sometimes younger) workers. Age diversity strategies, which include intergenerational contact programs, cross-generational mentoring, age diverse teams, and the use of positive symbols of older age, are becoming more common in organizations.

Article

Age Justice  

Steve Burghardt, Joseph Dibenedetto, and Bobbie Sackman

As baby boomers enter their later years, it has become apparent that ageism is a primary cause of much of the social marginalization and economic inequity experienced by older people. It is thus important to understand that ageism has both structural as well as cultural causes that require collective mobilization to correct. As such, anti-ageism and the fight for age justice fit within the intersectional movements of the 21st century seeking systemic change. This attention to systemic issues of ageism and the call for collective forms of action and organizing have become the foundation for an age justice movement. Therefore, an age justice organizing approach to the problems of older Americans is necessary and its solutions to aging-related problems are similar to solutions in other social justice movements. The historical context of aging and ageism informs present models of age justice organizing and issues addressed in age activism. For example, older workers have experienced workplace discrimination, and in the early COVID-19 pandemic, older people were marginalized. Looking to the future, an age justice framework that consistently addresses ageism as the systemic issue it is can be developed in micro, mezzo, and macro settings for all social workers and the older people with whom they work.