“Ageism works in both directions. As a teenager in the public eye, people would talk condescendingly to me. When you get older there’s this feeling that you have to start carving up your face and body. Right now, I’m in the middle ground—I think women in their thirties are taken seriously.”

– Alanis Morissette


BACKGROUND: A few weeks ago, I spoke to a customer’s employees about workplace conduct. The presentation had a slide reviewing legal protections in the workplace, and it referenced the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

I asked the group to guess the age that people begin to receive age discrimination protection. One employee spoke up and said age 13. There were some laughs, but it got me thinking: Yes, young people are frequently the target of age discrimination.

From a legal standpoint, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects people age 40 and older. However, as the workforce undergoes further transformations year after year, I keep hearing the phrase “reverse ageism,” which refers to differential treatment toward younger people.

An inclusive workplace must rethink all differential treatment due to age—and view it all as ageism.

BASIC INFORMATION: I often overhear generational stereotypes across various industries. By far, the group I hear the most negative comments about is Millennials, followed by Baby Boomers.

In the United States, our workforce has more employees working longer into their lives. At the same time, this workforce is also trending younger, which creates many opportunities for misunderstandings to occur.

WHAT CAN COMPANIES DO? Here are a few tips for increasing ageism awareness:

  1. Don’t participate in perpetuating stereotypes.
  2. Watch for nonverbal communication to recognize if someone feels uncomfortable or disrespected.
  3. Use objective language. For example, if someone is explaining a process from the past, instead of commenting “that was back in the day,” use neutral language or ask for clarification. Additionally, instead of saying “you look great for 80” simply say “you look great.” Age does not have to be a part of a compliment.

OVERALL: Knowledge and skills are not always determined by age. A younger person may have obtained a lifetime of learning experiences compared to some older people. Similarly, an older person may be more active and adept on social media than some younger people. Finally, be careful not to stereotype people. Instead, get to know each person as an individual and treat others as you would like to be treated.

If your organization is interested in learning more about preventing ageism in the workforce, please review our FEI Training Catalog for topics on creating a more inclusive workplace. Or call your FEI EAP Account Manager for more information.