Age is a touchy subject in the workplace. Young or old, we all face stereotypes and biases from time to time. Although, in many countries, it’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of their age, it’s still prevalent in some workplaces. Some business leaders may have certain preconceptions about older or younger employees that aren’t necessarily accurate. In this article, we will delve into some of the most common stereotypes surrounding age and debunk them one by one.
“Older workers are less adaptable and resistant to change.”
The assumption that older employees aren’t flexible or innovative is entirely untrue. In fact, it’s the opposite! Older workers have a wealth of experience, life skills, and problem-solving capabilities. They have seen it before and can adapt and solve problems creatively. Age cannot be tied to adaptability.
“Older employees are less competent with technology.”
Really? Who do you think invented the technology? The idea that older people don’t know how to use computers or other new tech is crazy. More senior employees tend to have developed a more profound understanding of technology and learn how to put it to practice better than most. While some older workers may need to brush up on their tech skills, it’s far from a blanket statement. Older workers have been in the workforce since before computers were commonplace and have had to learn new technologies as they arose. In fact, older workers may be more patient and methodical in their approach to technology, leading to fewer errors.
“Younger workers don’t add value due to having less experience and expertise.”
That’s simply not true. Younger workers bring fresh approaches, new thinking, and innovative ideas. They’re not burdened by tradition or habit. They are active and eager to learn, providing a mindset of openness and willingness to understand and do things differently. As quick learners, they have a sense of what is happening and bring fresh ideas that can benefit the company’s prospective growth.
“Older workers are more reliable, loyal, and have a stronger work ethic.”
Age is not the determining factor in reliability, loyalty, or work ethic. These traits are individual, and both older and younger workers can possess them in equal measure. Every person, regardless of age, has unique strengths and weaknesses.
“Younger workers are seen as more innovative and tech-savvy.”
While younger workers generally have had greater exposure to technology throughout their lives, it’s not always the case they are more innovative. Regardless of age, an eagerness to learn, curiosity, and a desire to succeed are integral ingredients for innovation. Just because you grow up surrounded by tech doesn’t mean you have to be interested in it. Ask any middle manager who’s had to show a graduate how to write a SUM formula in Excel!
“Older workers just want to retire.”
While some of them do look forward to retirement, more often, they would instead remain active, be productive, work flexibly, and spend time supporting colleagues. Many prefer working longer and staying mentally and emotionally engaged rather than idling. This typecast portrays older workers as wanting to retire, hence not being invested in their work. Yet, many more senior employees continue to work past retirement age as they find work enjoyable and fulfilling and can mentor younger colleagues.
“Younger workers won’t stay with the business.”
It’s often assumed that younger workers won’t stay with a business for long periods. However, studies have shown that younger employees value job stability and want to work for companies that offer opportunities for career growth. By investing in younger employees and offering development opportunities, businesses can help retain their top talent. See also the final point in this article about low salaries. If you pay young people low wages, they aren’t going to stay with you very long. Your company will just be a stepping stone to something better.
“Younger workers have more drive and energy.”
That statement makes the assumption that older people are worn out with life! It fails to acknowledge the drive and passion that older workers also have for their work and strive to do the best they can. More senior employees may have paid off their mortgages and have less debt (and worries), which allows them to focus more on their work. They also tend to be more patient and strategic, taking the long view when developing and pursuing career goals. On the flip side, younger workers have external pressures like getting on the property ladder, financing student loans, and starting a family. All of those factors can sap your energy if you’re not careful.
“Younger workers should be grateful for a job and accept a low salary.”
Lastly, many companies believe that younger employees should accept lower salaries because they have less experience, and their employers are doing them a favour by hiring them. In reality, this idea can be seen as exploitation. Companies need to offer reasonable salaries if they want to attract and keep the best talent. Fair salaries are a central tenet of attracting, recruiting, and retaining the right talent.
Age is just a number. It doesn’t define someone’s skillset, reputation, or applicability in a particular field. Age should be celebrated in the workplace, not stigmatised. As such, business leaders should recognise the value that every employee brings to the table, regardless of their age. Stereotypes and biases can lead to a toxic work environment and harm a business’s bottom line.
So, by challenging these stereotypes and creating a culture of inclusion, businesses can harness their employees’ unique strengths and build stronger, more successful teams. Ultimately, the best companies have a blend of age groups who, with the right leadership, can learn and inspire each other.