Discrimination of all kinds, including age discrimination, is part of the unethical behavior that occurs in the workplace. Unethical and discriminatory behavior negatively affects the work atmosphere and interpersonal relations. Companies, in pursuit of making a profit, must not forget to observe moral norms. The principles of professional ethics are a very important factor in the formation of organizational culture. Any deviation from these principles should be immediately corrected and eliminated. Age discrimination mainly concerns older people, who, according to popularly held stereotypes, are perceived as more sluggish, less intelligent and efficient. Unfortunately, such views are often very hurtful and unfair, since older workers have one major advantage – work experience.

Age discrimination – table of contents:

  1. Age discrimination and its types
  2. Signs of discrimination
  3. Preventing ageism
  4. Summary

Age discrimination and its types

Age discrimination, also known as ageism, involves the mistreatment or inferior treatment of employees who are in a certain age. This discrimination affects both young and older people. However, people over 50 are most often subjected to negative comments. Ageism manifests itself in irrational behaviors, views and superstitions relating to people of a certain age.

Co-workers and superiors adopt stereotypical assumptions about the physical or mental predispositions of older workers. Unethical behavior toward people who are discriminated against induces lower self-esteem, causing them to give up their professional development and their rights.

What influences such behavior? These can be various phenomena, opinions and views. Among them, the cult of youth in the media, negative stereotypes about old people, and the increase in unemployment enhancing competition in the labor market.

A very common view is that older people get sick more often, are less productive, have certain habits, are inflexible, are afraid of change, don’t want to train, don’t know foreign languages and can’t keep up with new technologies. And the main purpose of their work is to wait until retirement.

Age discrimination can be direct or indirect. We speak of direct discrimination when an employee is treated worse in many aspects than their colleagues because of their age. Indirect discrimination, on the other hand, refers to the situation when, using an apparently neutral criterion, there is a disparity with respect to one person or group. For example, a reduction in the hourly rate due to the reduced working hours of a particular team in which older people predominate.

Signs of age discrimination

Signs of ageism can be visible at all stages of employment: recruitment, onboarding, employment relationship and termination. In job ads, we often come across a phrase: “join a young and energetic team”, which suggests an upper age limit straight away. What is more, salaries offered to older employees are often lower, and their career path is limited. When job cuts are necessary, it is usually the oldest employees who are laid off first. Among the most common manifestations of age discrimination are:

  • placing direct or veiled information about age in the job ad, putting age as a recruitment criterion
  • unfair opinions and unpleasant comments about the skills and professional capabilities of older workers
  • refusal to hire on the basis of age rather than skills, qualifications and knowledge
  • lack of opportunities for professional development and promotion
  • paying lower salaries despite having the same scope of duties and responsibilities
  • forcing older employees to retire
age discrimination

Preventing ageism

Many employers forget that older employees usually have extensive work experience, are skilled, loyal and committed to the company. Recognizing this potential can bring many benefits to both parties. Even during the recruitment process, it is worthwhile to open up to mature candidates, as they can bring additional value to the company in the form of knowledge and a different outlook backed by experience.

In order to bring older employees to the company successfully, it is important to build the right organizational culture, based on diversity. In fact, in times of globalization, it is increasingly common to encounter diverse teams full of people of different skin color, origin, religion and age. That is why it is crucial to eliminate prejudices related to diversity.

Once you hire a mature employee, it is worth taking care of proper onboarding that allows assimilation into the group. The next essential element is to care for their professional development, access to training and equal opportunities on the way to promotion. It is also important to talk to them frankly, provide feedback and build a good work relationship. This will help you recognize the employee’s potential and learn their expectations.

Managers play an important role here as the leaders usually set the example. It is worth organizing team building meetings in order to tame diversity. What is more, in case of noticing any age discrimination, the manager should react quickly and take corrective action. Such an approach will have a huge influence on the quality and effectiveness of further cooperation between employees of different ages.

This will ensure that they do not experience injustice and unequal treatment in the workplace. An individual approach will help you understand the different needs and capabilities of each of them. Keep in mind that the characteristics commonly attributed to a particular generation are not always adequate and apply to each representative from a given group.


Understanding the essence of equal treatment of all employees regardless of age is a guarantee of success in building an open and friendly team where only common purpose, knowledge and skills matter. The more actions focused on accepting diversity and difference an organization will take, the less likely unethical behavior will appear.

Remember that any age discrimination in the workplace is a cause of chronic stress for employees, stemmimg from the fear of losing their jobs before being eligible for retirement and the difficulty of finding new employement. Also, stress is associated with serious health, psychological and social consequences that negatively affect the work atmosphere and interpersonal relations.

Read also: 2 talent management models.

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Author: Nicole Mankin

HR manager with an excellent ability to build a positive atmosphere and create a valuable environment for employees. She loves to see the potential of talented people and mobilize them to develop.