“I’m 61 and facing discrimination against older workers in my workplace. I don’t want to leave my job, but want my colleagues to see the value that I bring to our office. Any advice?” – Ron from Austin, TX
Your problem is certainly not a unique one. Employers and co-workers of older workers sometimes have the false perception that they are less of an asset to the company than younger employees. They may be passed over for training opportunities, tend to be more vulnerable in layoffs, and may face prejudice and even harassment.
The good news is, these perceptions are false and can be corrected with accurate information. The AARP debunks several myths about older workers (PDF) :
- Myth: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Fact: Older workers take a methodical approach to new information, and their experience and attitude make them excellent learners. They are less likely to switch jobs than younger workers, making training cost-effective.
- Myth: Older workers are less productive, flexible, and adaptable. Fact: Productivity can rise with age due to experience. Older workers are very adaptable once they understand the reason for a change.
- Myth: Older workers are not as creative or innovative. Fact: 80 percent of the best new ideas come from employees over 40 years old.
- Myth: Older workers cost more in wages, benefits, and accident costs. Fact: Older workers take fewer sick days than younger workers, and have similar insurance costs due to fewer dependents. They have lower accident rates. Retaining an older worker often costs less than training a new worker.
The first step to fighting discrimination is to know these facts and understand how you are an asset to the company. Your exact approach will probably depend on the kind of discrimination you are facing. If it takes the form of “joking” but hurtful comments from co-workers, humor is probably your best front-line weapon. Use it creatively to educate them on your real worth.
Talking with Your Supervisor about Discrimination
If that fails, or if you feel that discrimination is coming from the “top down” and damaging your chances for advancement, it may be time for a frank conversation with your supervisor. This probably calls for a diplomatic approach.
You should plan to talk privately, at a time when you are both calm, and avoid making accusations of “discrimination.” Focus on specific incidents and describe how you believe they impact the company’s bottom line. (For example, “I think it would have improved productivity for the department if I had been included in the Microsoft Office training.”).
Come armed with information about older workers in general and your own contributions in particular, and don’t be afraid to blow your own horn. Managers can be re-educated about your value, and they have a legal obligation to protect you from a hostile work environment caused by age discrimination.