Preventing ageism in the workplace UK

The latest Over 50s Lifestyle Study by the ONS contained some interesting statistics. Adults aged 50 to 54 years cited stress or not feeling supported in their job as the main reasons for leaving work. Age discrimination continues to be a major jurisdictional complaint. It appears that many employers are not preventing age discrimination in the workplace.

Much has been made of late of ‘economically inactive adults’ (EIAs). Well, in May to July 2022 there were over 386,000 more EIAs aged 50-64 than in the pre-pandemic period. That’s a great deal of skill and experience going to waste.

How to prevent ageism in the workplace

Age is a protected class. Like sex, marital status, disability and race, discriminating against someone for their age is illegal. Making sure your organisation isn’t acting in a discriminatory fashion is incredibly important to protect you and your business legally.

I’ve often heard the excuse, “they are that much closer to retirement”, but with little evidence for it. Of course people are going to retire – we all hope to (in my case, to a lovely island filled with good books and cocktails with little umbrellas in them…). Being slightly closer to that age isn’t a negative trait.

Preventing ageism in the workplace UK

3 tips for preventing age discrimination in the workplace UK

  1. Communicate. Talk to your employees, create time and places to engage with them one-on-one about this. It could be as simple as asking them in for a chat, or setting up an anonymous survey. Take concerns seriously and communicate how you will address them. Communicating with staff is absolutely vital to solving many instances of discrimination


  1. Check for ageist language in policies. This cuts both ways; you can’t refer to people as ‘young’uns’ and ‘oldies’. Make sure the language you use is inclusive. If you’re not sure about the language to use, Blossom HR can help


  1. Encourage mentoring. There is such a divide between the generations, it can feel like they are speaking two different languages. By introducing a mentoring scheme with a focus on people of different ages and backgrounds working together, you can start the fabulous process of knowledge-sharing. Transferring skills in this way can transform a business. In my experience of mentoring, I’ve found every mentor invaluable. I have always learned something from my mentees

Examples of ageism in the workplace

Throughout the pandemic, it was commonplace to hear the media use the terms “vulnerable” and “old people” together, as if everyone considered old is also vulnerable. COVID is more dangerous to people over 70 and it’s absolutely right to protect those people. But what makes someone old? At what point does middle-age end and you become officially old-aged?

As the world of work has tried to get back to normal (or find a new normal), perhaps it’s been easy to think of older staff members being ‘more of an issue’ than their younger counterparts. Wrongly, employers may have thought that the older the person, the more protection they require. Maybe the thinking was someone of more senior years would struggle to adapt to changes in working practices.

Preventing age discrimination

Anecdotally, I’ve seen examples of this manifest in different ways. From companies furloughing everyone over 50 to others not informing some members of the team about the office reopening – misplaced concerns about the safety of older employees. Many companies are confusing protection for exclusion.

Ageism in the workplace is something that I am particularly interested in fighting. There are so many misunderstandings about older employees that need to be addressed to have a fully diverse, rounded workforce.

The benefits of an older workforce

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, staff aged 50 – 64 stay with their current employers for 10.1 years. This compares to an average of 2.8 years for workers aged 25 – 34. If you want to reduce your recruitment overhead over a long period of time, an older workforce is a better bet than a young one. (Read my blog on How to retain staff.)

Diversity in a workforce is a great benefit. Older staff have a wealth of experience from their previous employers. Perhaps they worked for a competitor in the past, or once ran their own business before seeking employment. They will almost certainly have trained or on-boarded new staff in the past. This makes them a great asset to a training pool. Younger staff can be taught and learn from older staff members, helping them grow and gain new perspectives.

Old and young at work

The retirement age

There are actually several different ‘retirement ages’. These depend on when you were born and your gender. It can be anywhere between 61 and 68. It’s been 10 years since the mandatory retirement age of 65 was abolished, but the attitudes to hiring older staff haven’t changed much in that time.

If you need help to combat ageism or discrimination in your workplace, please get in touch.

More useful free guides;

Attendance management

Guide to flexible working

How to deal with absenteeism in the workplace

How to deal with difficult staff

Guide to suspending and employee