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October 29, 2015

3 practical steps to avoid workplace age discrimination

The word “discrimination” has what seems like conflicting definitions.  It can mean the unjust or prejudicial treatment of people on grounds such as their age.  But it can also mean having the ability to exercise good judgment and taste. If one considers that engaging in discrimination based on older age reflects both prejudicial treatment and bad judgment, then the definitions can be easily reconciled.

Here are three practical tips on showing good judgment by preventing age discrimination in the workplace. More suggestions will be addressed in a later blog. More detailed discussions regarding legislative and regulatory requirements are left for another time (though the tips will help to meet such obligations).

The aim is to enhance everyone’s experience in the workplace.

The increase in the average age of the overall workforce makes age discrimination a critical issue for most organizations. Since aging is inevitable, younger employees also have a stake in the matter. Young workers may also have parents or other people in their life who are dealing with getting older while still working.  (The issue of discrimination based on youth, while possibly less of a problem in the workplace, is something that may be considered in a future article).

1. Define it, develop a policy and get it out there

A company needs to create a formal policy against age discrimination that is brief and clear. It should be based on an analysis and appraisal of the company’s existing culture, demographics, and processes. At this time, company leaders should engage in a personal assessment of their own blind spots regarding age discrimination. Make sure everyone is informed of the policy, including during the orientation of new employees. Stress the main point: treating people unfairly because of their age is unacceptable behaviour that will not be tolerated. But also make it understood that an employee’s age can be taken into account to positively accommodate aging-related concerns, including those involving health.

2. Emphasize your policy’s importance – have senior leaders facilitate training sessions

Senior leaders should facilitate very brief and engaging training sessions with all staff. The facilitator should simply highlight the policy’s main elements. The importance of the matter will be obvious by its content and who is presenting it. Most importantly, facilitators should accentuate the positive benefit of the policy to all employees now and in the future.

The least effective way of delivering the message is to force employees into a lengthy and dense training event which drains too much of their time and energy. Detailed resource materials and contact persons can be made available separately for employees who need more information or guidance (definitions, reporting procedures, disciplinary consequences. grievance processes, and remedies).

While all forms of discrimination may be packaged together into one diversity training session, greater effect may be achieved by a short and pointed session addressing one form of discrimination like age. Arguably, age discrimination is one of the more “subtle” forms of discrimination that is not taken seriously enough but still has a negative impact on individuals and the company they work for.

3. Nurture a culture of non-discrimination, support and mutual respect

If a company has openly recognized the knowledge and contributions of older employees by giving them a defined role in supporting and developing younger employees, then age discrimination is more likely to be avoided (e.g. pair younger and older employees together on projects so they can learn from each other and grow to respect one another). It follows that older workers whose value to the company has been acknowledged will be less fearful of discrimination. They are more likely to take on a mentoring role and to be generous in sharing their experience with younger workers.

It should be a simple matter for employees to file a complaint when they feel that they have experienced age discrimination. Managers should be prepared to handle these complaints. The first step might be to attempt an informal resolution of the problem through discussion and reconciliation. Age discrimination may sometimes be based on a misunderstanding or lack of sufficient sensitivity. A formal disciplinary process should be the last resort, depending of course on the exact situation and the severity of the alleged discrimination. Lengthy historical grievances that have not been addressed early on may be less amenable to informal resolution.

While individual responsibility is the primary goal, a company might reinforce positive behaviour between colleagues through peer pressure. But it must tread carefully when inviting employees to speak up about any harassment that they directly observe as witnesses.

There are more tips to come: (4) institute fair hiring and promotion practices; (5) adopt age-sensitive termination procedures; and (6) follow up to obtain staff feedback and gauge effectiveness.

About the Author

This blog originally appeared on Verity International’s blog. Verity International is one of SCNetwork’s annual sponsors. Verity has been in operation for more than 30 years and is a leading Canadian human resources consulting firm focused on the people side of business, including career management & transition, executive career services, coaching practice and talent management.
Posted with permission.


Filed under: age, culture, discrimination, diversity, responsibility, sponsor blog Tagged: age, culture, discrimination, diversity, responsibility, sponsor blog
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