The Insidiousness of Hidden Ageism Can Destroy Careers and Lives

There was a time when the companies believed in “last hired, first fired.” The reasoning was that these new hires were usually younger, so it was easier for them to find new employment, and had less training, so the company would retain the experienced heart of their workforce.

Those days are no more. Now my generation, the baby boomers, are the first to go when companies seek to cut costs. According to this article by Elizabeth Olson in the New York Times’ DealB%K, older workers cost the company more money so they’re the first to go regardless of the fact that it is increasingly hard for them to find new jobs—a fact confirmed by AARP. Ironically, companies who indulge in ageism also find that they no longer have competent, experienced employees as a foundation of good operating practices.

I wrote about this at length in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, where I shared the case of William, who was systematically forced out of his job after restructuring to save costs. Ageism is a particularly insidious form of discrimination that makes little sense: we will all be old one day—if we’re lucky.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

Beware of Lies About Misconduct When Negotiating Severance

Too frequently businesses that lay off an employee allege misconduct to avoid paying a large severance package—and sometimes any severance at all. It’s a tactic that’s very difficult for employees to fight, especially in the United States. Employment attorney Daniel Lublin discusses the tactic in “The dangers of alleging and exaggerating employee misconduct”in the Globe and Mail.

I urge everyone who feels that they are falling into this trap to keep a record of objectives met and all discussions with superiors. Some of these discussions should be initiated by the employee, reviewing performance goals, asking for clarification where there is subjectivity or ambiguity. However, in the case of the 60-year-old employee mentioned in this article, this appears to have been a case of ageism. Special vigilance may be called for if you feel you are being targeted due to age, race, gender, disability or sexual orientation. 


Why Are Men Missing From the Job Market?

Many of those who have given up on employment are struggling with pain and disabilities according to a new working paper by a Princeton economist. What this does not show is the reasons men are missing. I assert that in large part it is because of ageism which starts at around 45—and the difficulty in finding alternative employment when they are let go because of their age. Can we really afford to overlook a significant portion of our skilled and experienced senior employees? I recommend this interesting article from the New York TimesMillions of Men are Missing From the Job Market.

Credit: Rachel Levit/The New York Times

The Plague of Ageism


Ageism in the workplace is something I’ve written about extensively. I wanted to highlight a letter to the editor of the New York Times on a recent piece they published on the subject. I completely agree with this letter’s characterization of ageism in the workplace as a “plague.” In the piece this letter responds to, I was startled to learn that data shows age 32 is when women start experiencing ageism in the workplace. This is a widespread, systemic problem that’s only going to get worse if we don’t address it head-on. Any stereotypes about “older workers” don’t really hold up when you look at the data – so why do so many employers scorn the prospect of hiring older employees? You can read that letter to the editor here.

Main Image: Ping Zhu via NYT


Overcoming Ageism in the Workplace

As I’ve written about before, oftentimes, workplace bullying can disproportionately affect certain groups like older employees. Businesses seeking to cut costs by not paying older employees will sometimes put them in a position where their only option is to quit. I touch on this briefly in this AARP article, where I and a few other workplace culture specialists discuss strategies to stand up to workplace bullying. Shamefully, ageism is widespread, and quite often, it’s difficult to find help in courts. Check out the piece at

The Effect of Temporary Workers on the Job Market

Photo: Sam Hodgson for NYT

Photo: Sam Hodgson for NYT

The idea that the main growth of the American job market is composed of “gig” jobs – contractors and temporary workers – is troubling in and of itself. However, the added lens of ageism makes this notion more disturbing. By employing short-term workers, businesses are encouraging a culture that cuts out support for employees – especially workers over 45 with more than 10 years of service for their companies, who are exactly the people contracted employees are most likely to replace. This reminds me of a story from January about Disney employees who were laid off for contract employees that they were then asked to train for the jobs they were vacating. While that particular case may not be explicitly related to ageism, I would not be surprised if most layoffs in favor of contracted or temporary employees hurt older workers. Read the full story at The New York Times.

Over Forty Five? You May Be Targeted.

Julianne Taafe, left, and Kathryn Moon, who are filing an age discrimination complaint against Ohio State University

Julianne Taafe, left, and Kathryn Moon, who are filing an age discrimination complaint against Ohio State University

Since the financial meltdown of 2008, ageism in the workplace has become an increasingly large issue. Organizations have systematically targeted employees who are perceived as “older” or “out of touch,” not because they cannot learn new skills, but because of age and tenure, which can be considered liabilities regardless of performance. Older workers can easily be replaced by younger workers who will work for less. Lower benefits and pension costs also factor into the equation. For many businesses, a policy of ageism is at least in part motivated by cutting costs. I assert that everyone knows someone who has been affected by ageism in some way, shape or form. This instance at Ohio State University is, unfortunately, evocative of a systemic problem. You can read more at The New York Times.

Photo Credit: Ty Wright for The New York Times