Are You Demonstrating Age Prejudice?

Unconscious bias has come into our consciousness in the last few years and it’s good that we’re encouraged to think about how we might be sub-consciously drawn to particular people because of the connections we can make with them. It’s important in recruitment particularly, that we don’t give a more favourable response to a candidate who supports the same sports team as us for instance or went to the same school as we did. I think most people are quite good at being savvy about that stuff but age seems to be a difficult one to combat in terms of pre-conceived ideas. Which of us, over a certain age hasn’t said verbally or in our minds, “what can he/she know, they’re only 12?!”. I’ve certainly thought and said that over the years as professional people such as Lawyers, Doctors and Police Officers look ever younger. And while that view can be part of the ageing process, we need to be very careful about how we let that kind of belief influence our decision making. Might you be ageist without knowing it?


Baby Boomer, X, Y or Z?

As a general guide, the following bandings are used to describe age demographics:

  • Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1965
  • Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980
  • Millennials or Generation Y were born between 1981 and 2000
  • Generation Z were born from 2000 onwards.

Maybe we’ll call the next generation the AA’s! You can read many an article about how we have and should teach each generation, what their strengths and weaknesses are – very few for older people apparently and absolutely loads for the younger folk it seems, and how we should market services to them but surely the main factor here is, it’s just different. Not wrong, just different. As we age and gain more life experience it can be very tempting to look at younger people and to see their lack of experience as a weakness. Because we were never young of course! We’ve all got our own life journey and a bit like tolerating learner drivers on the road (be nice please people!) then we should respect younger people as our peers, particularly in the workplace. Talking to a colleague, as you would your own child is ageism in my book, pure and simple. Let me tell you a story…


They’re Your Colleagues, Not Your Children

Two years ago, a colleague of mine who was in charge of supporting a number of Apprentices in her organisation told me of some of the difficulties the young people were experiencing. These days apprenticeships can be undertaken at any age, albeit they are often still associated with career progression for younger people only. The Apprentices had reported that they weren’t being treated very well in the business areas they worked in and their older colleagues, particularly the women I’m afraid were talking to them, they felt as if they were their own children. It’s not right is it? It shows a lack of respect and for me, a lack of flexibility for those older people in adapting their approach to their work environment. We’ve all had to learn about new working environments and practices, and we’ve all done that haven’t we? We were once that young person stood in the middle of a workplace thinking “I’m not really sure what I should be doing now” and hopefully someone older and more experienced came along to guide us on our way. We often remember those people with a smile, as the people who invested in us and helped us when we were stuck. Would you be that person to your younger colleagues today?


Being Helpful Has Benefits

Instead of treating our younger colleagues like children we could offer support and assistance but we don’t seem to have much time for that any more. Being helpful seems to be less of a focus and thinking about how little someone can offer is more prevalent. But if we think like that, we’re just wasting everybody’s time; our own, our colleague’s and the organisation’s. Offering support to colleagues and treating them as our peers, regardless of their age is an effective thing to do. It’s effective for our colleagues, our organisation and for us too, as helping and supporting other people can help to build our self-esteem. Do you remember how hard it was to progress in your own career? Things might look different now, and we might hear stories of millennials expecting to shoot up the career ladder without gaining as much experience as we did but I’m sure it’s still difficult. It just looks different.


Reflect On Your Own Behaviours

It must be hugely intimidating to work as a Line Manager to a team with much older staff members. That Line Manager may well anticipate that their older staff members won’t love to be managed and held to account by a younger person but if we can all be respectful of each other then there’s no problem is there? Sometimes an older staff member’s issue with a younger Line Manager is about their own self-esteem and nothing to do with their younger colleague. It’s just an easy way to lash out because it forces them to acknowledge that times are changing. And while the good old days weren’t always that great, they are what we know and so there was a comfort around that. Funny (not really) that our sub-conscious will keep us in negative and harmful relationships or environments because that’s what we know and feel more comfortable with.

Have a think about the language you use, personally and in your work environments and think about whether there is an ageist element to it. A (no longer) friend once said to me “he’s only been working for ten years, what can he know about managing staff?” and I called her out on that statement and told her it was ageist. She can think what she likes ultimately I guess but unconscious bias can work two ways, in making more favourable judgements or assuming someone doesn’t know very much because of their age. Her beliefs showed themselves very clearly, to me and I’m sure, other people that she spoke to. That’s the thing about unconscious bias, it simmers in our belief system and can come out of our mouths before we’ve put the professionally appropriate, ‘consider my audience’ filter on.


It’s Not Wrong, It’s Just Different

Please don’t get into the age trap where you think a younger person has nothing to offer. They might have way more energy than you, have up to date knowledge which you struggle to tap into and have a different style of doing things. But who’s to say that you’re right and they’re wrong? It’s just different and they are a colleague, or a younger person in your network of family and friends. Unless they’re your child please don’t talk to them as if they are and respect the fact that we all have something to offer. Being an old fart can be fun but balance it out with a little bit of help and support to other people as well please. Otherwise how will these idiots learn?? I am joking obviously.


Take good care, be considerate and respectful please and have a great day.


Best wishes, Karen