Age discrimination in the workplace is all in the attitude 76



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Do you think that age discrimination in the workplace is all in the attitude of the workers and how they engage with life work and challenge?  British movie start Michael Caine does, and at 81 years old has come out and said so in an article in the Wall Street Journal, Encore, quoted as saying that “if you want to do something with your life, never listen to anybody else, no matter how clever or expert they may appear. Keep your eyes open and your ears shut and, as the Americans say, go for it.”

It’s a refreshing attitude that places the impetus on the person looking for work to have a keenness to adapt and grow no matter what their age.  But is it really the key to breaking the barrier of older employment?  Could all it take be a change in approach for people to go from the negative perceptions that aging workers can’t adapt, are less productive, or are too feeble to compete to a positive frame of knowing how and where to apply the knowledge and wisdom of older people? Americans seem to think so. In the US, age discrimination is said to be significant.  As referenced by the Wall Street Journal, about two-thirds of workers ages 45 to 74 say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Of those, a remarkable 92% say age discrimination is very or somewhat common.

But should people let it stop them for fighting for their right to be meaningfully employed?  Michael Caine certainly doesn’t think so.

Susan Ryan, the Age Discrimination Commissioner in Australia is taking a firm stance against age related unemployment.

“Age discrimination is widespread in our community. It mainly affects older people and it permeates many aspects of life. Like other forms of illegal discrimination, it damages individuals, it demeans our society, and it violates human rights,” she said.

Ms Ryan makes a lot of sense when she says  that a lot of age discrimination comes from negative stereotypes of ageing. Our society tolerates a range of negative stereotypes about older people, for example all older people are mentally and physically weak, stubborn, out of date, unable to learn, seriously unhealthy, in all, a burden to society. When a society accepts these images, it is not surprising that older people are treated worse just because of their age, in employment, in financial and other important services, in having their views and choices respected.

Gerontologists in recent years have brought attention to the fact that it is perfectly normal for some 80 year olds to be working, driving and active in their community, while others may be restricted in movement and require high levels of care.  The contrast can be significant at this age between healthy and unwell, and sadly those stereotypes of ageing people stop some who are perfectly able to contribute and participate from being able to do so.

Paul Irving, Chairman of the Center for the Future of Aging at the University of Southern California says confidently to the older population: “You have as much to offer employers as your younger counterparts. And if new skills are needed, there are ways to get them. So, don’t fall into the trap popular culture has set for you”.

An impressive way of looking at things if you ask me.  Read his article in the Wall Street Journal here.

The most important thing that needs to be understood by older people in Australia is that if you are well and able to work then you should, and only you can set forth the attitude required to skill yourself with the skills of today and chase the opportunities of tomorrow.


Has age discrimination affected you?

Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. Michale Caine is right, it is society’s attitude to older people that creates ageism. Governments need to start being supportive of older people, they are the leaders. Calling them names like leaners does not help anyone. Older Australia’s were the lifters of this country for many years and do not deserve to be put down now

    6 REPLY
    • I’ve been lifting for 50 years. Now,with a crook back,stuffed shoulder,half deaf and other things… I’m going to lean for a while….!!no guilt…

    • good on you Henry, me too, I am in constant pain, but I resent at my age being called a leaner

    • neither of you are leaning..your simply resting after years of hard work and paying taxes..congratulations you, along with every other Boomer have been the back bone of this country for many many years..take a deserved rest

    • I agree with Henry. Physical work is draining but doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with your brain – for those whose bodies aren’t weary then they should be given every opportunity to keep working in the capacity that they desire – NOT BECAUSE OF AGE

    • Caine is saying it is the worker’s attitude, blaming the older generation. I doubt he faces the same challenges bt I am sure there are some older female actors who would disagree.u

  2. He’s talking from a privileged position, and, as someone who worked until 69 I can confidently say he’s wrong if he is linking it to your own attitude. The bias against older workers where I worked was shameful. It didn’t affect me so much, but when I wanted to help another older worker who I felt was being treated unfairly I was told by a manager that the worker was too old to learn! Smart employers realise that a combination of young, old, and in between works well, but, from my experiences the bias is well and truly there, regardless of the worker’s attitude.

    1 REPLY
    • I couldn’t agree more. I’m 72 and still working, albeit part time. I’ve worked in the same place for nearly 30 years and, although I’m treated no differently from anyone else, they basically don’t even interview anyone much over 40-45. It’s extremely shortsighted. However, the age discrimination works the other way also. We were employing another office assistant and I suggested a junior straight from school – teach her our way etc etc etc – “Oh no, we need someone with experience…” So the kids don’t get a chance either.

      1 REPLY
      • Rosemary you say you are treated no differently yo anyone else, I would like to see you make a Work Cover claim at your age, you are treated VERY differently

  3. You’re ad old as you feel and act ! Youre not defined by numbers you’re defined by you’re actions and the way you interact with others ! Caring sharing and giving of youre self ! Dont let your self be bullied to believe you cant just talk the talk

  4. Those of you who read this regularly have seen what I think of this topic. I am 62. I have mild Chronic Bronchitis, which restricts me in doing things I didn’t do for a living in the first place, so shouldn’t be a problem right? It wasn’t where I worked for ten years and I kept up with my job and learned new aspects and got a degree recently. So I was not expecting the age discrimination thing to pop up. How wrong I was. I am a very positive person and believe in giving everyone a chance, regardless of whether they are young or old. I don’t believe in phone interviews being able to tell whether a person is going to be right for a position or not. Although I have applied for many things that I have not had “recent” experience in because I was in one position for ten years, I have had experience in most of what I have applied for and did my degree to gain new insight and qualifications. BUT, even in the field I was in for ten years, at two different places I was told, by assessors in an age range from 24 to 30 that they believed I would not be able to learn new systems at this time, that my answers were, even though no right or wrong answers, a little long and I just wouldn’t fit in to that particular work place. I those situations, my references or qualifications were not checked at all, one place I went to had fifty people on the floor and the only one over forty was the security guard. In one instance I was the only one with experience and the only one still not in my teens. I started to believe that I was doing something wrong so I went to a business professional I had known for some time and asked the question. She was appalled and even suggested I wrote to the CEO of one very prominent company. I did, but he didn’t reply. I know that a lot of times I didn’t get through the first stage and some never contacted me back, but those who did, had mainly age related excuses, although they would tell you that the reasons were not age related. Living in Tasmania with the highest rate of unemployment in the country, it is hard enough, but I have had experience with those who don’t want to work and only do it to supplement the Centrelink payments, I have worked with people who have stated they couldn’t possibly work 38 hours a week, that was way too hard. There are companies out there I guess, but there are so many to choose from these days. I don’t lose a chance because I am tardy, or dressed appallingly or have no experience or am not polite or do not research the job beforehand. I am always positive and have a great attitude, so please don’t tell me it is not an age discrimination workplace these days.

    4 REPLY
    • I agree, they say there is no age barrier, but there is unless they are desperate. Who knows if we were the employers maybe we would go for the person who was forty and not the sixty year old. Just one of those things we have to accept. Don’t employment agents and employees get a bonus for getting a senior employed?

    • Fran, I think this is a sign of the times, there just isn’t enough jobs out there. It is a very competitive world no matter your age.

    • That’s true, but don’t make it an age thing, make it who’s best for the job, regardless of age. We don’t have use by dates on everything we can do.

    • Employees do get a bonus for employing older people who have been out of work for a certain time. I have seen this in action and although some of these people were not right for the job in the first place, they were given it. Then after a certain time, the company tried to manage them out of the job.

  5. You might feel good and all that, but too bad about the mirror and we are a lot slower when we are older that’s a fact.

    1 REPLY
    • Yes we are slower in some things Heather, but the bulk of us make up for that in life experience and we are not slower in others and our brain doesn’t just stop working. As for what you look like in the mirror??? How old you LOOK should not be a factor – it should be performance…..

  6. I have just finished an administration contract with a government department only to be told at the end that it wouldn’t be extended as we “want people with resilience”. Another word for too old?? I am 64 and have been for numerous interviews over the years and have had top notch jobs and they love my resume because of the responsible positions that I have held but you can see as soon as I walk in the door – don’t even have to open my mouth – I can tell by the look on their face that I am too old for this. I had it proven at one interview because they employed me in a lesser position as ” the company wanted me because of my experience” but the girl who got the position was 25 with legs up to her armpits and long hair to her waist???? Need I say more. I don’t think there is a thing anyone can do about it as a 40 year old male interviewing for admin staff usually wants eye candy too.

    1 REPLY
    • That’s about it in an overwhelming amount of cases Julie, young and cutsie. It’s alright for those of you who have not experienced this to comment, but after nearly 80 job applications, I see it more and more and I am shocked that it is happening.

  7. Attitude is a big factor..
    I have seen old 50 year olds and young 70 s …
    Keep involved with the young in the family and life itself…

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