Are our workplaces ageist?

Patrick Thomson from the Centre for Ageing Better talks about what needs to be done to counter ageism at work.

age bias, ageism at a workplace


Do our workplaces perpetuate age discrimination? Too often, the answer is yes.

It’s nearly a decade since the Equality Act and then the removal of the Default Retirement Age, which made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their age.

But 10 years later, ageism and age-discrimination remain all too common – especially in the recruitment process. Recently, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s National Barometer of Prejudice and Discrimination shows that more people say that they experience ageism than any other form of discrimination.

And last year, we surveyed people over the age of 50 about their experiences of ageism in the workplace. We found that fears about ageism remain pervasive:

  • A quarter have been put off applying for jobs as they sound like they’re aimed at younger candidates.
  • A third believe they have been turned down for a job because of their age.
  • One in five think people at work see them as less capable as they get older.

This has a material impact on the how older workers and older applicants experience the job market.

There are huge numbers of people over the age of 50 who would like to work, but can’t secure a role. Many jobseekers experience poor outcomes in the employment support system over the age of 50. Many of us have heard friends, family or former colleagues tell us about the job they missed out on because they had ‘too much’ experience or are passed over for training or progression opportunities in favour of younger colleagues.

We need to tackle age discrimination in workplaces

This can’t be right. Over-50s want the same things from jobs as anyone else: meaningful and fulfilling roles with the chance to progress; the opportunity to contribute skills, ideas and experience; and a strong network of social connections and support structures.

Last year, we published ‘Becoming an age-friendly employer’, a report urging employers to take five essential steps to better support an ageing workforce and get the most out of their older workers:

  • Be flexible about flexible working: Offer more flexibility, manage it well and help people know their options
  • Hire age-positively: Actively target candidates of all ages, and minimise age bias in recruitment processes
  • Ensure everyone has the health support they need: Enable early and open conversations, and early and sustained access to support for workers with health conditions
  • Encourage career development at all ages: Provide opportunities for people to develop their careers and plan for the future at mid-life and beyond
  • Create an age-positive culture: Equip HR professionals and managers to promote an age-positive culture, and support interaction and networking among staff of all ages

We are currently doing more research and working with employers on how to make workplaces more age inclusive. There’s a gap in the sector’s knowledge in terms of the recruitment process, as well as where and how ageism impacts particular groups.

But it doesn’t take expert-level knowledge of recruitment to see there’s a problem – and it’s in all our interests to fix it.

*Patrick Thomson is Senior Programme Manager (fulfilling Work) at the Centre for Ageing Better.

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