The concept of Ageism began in 1866 and is currently seen today as a prejudice and stereotyping of adults towards young teens and adults. Most of this somewhat antagonistic behavior of adults can mostly be seen by young teens and adults when inside the workplace. With the rapid decline of companies accepting aged adults and elderly in the work force, they are forced to have limited income, a huge number of bills and expenses and a strained problem of age discrimination especially if they are in the workforce. This paper will discuss a little background of age discrimination and the reasons why there is a need to stop age discrimination using particular instances on where companies and employers favor the younger employees over the old and experienced employees.
Keywords: ageism, workplace, discrimination, age discrimination
Ageism in the Workplace
Age discrimination has long been present in society due to the rapid development happening around us. According to Farney, Aday & Breault (2006), this era of ageism is defined as "discrimination against any age group", but it often is pointed to age discrimination among adults which is slowly causing a negative effect for them in the workplace. In the workplace, adults with more experience and longer history behind them are targets of this ageism belief that companies and employers tend to have . They are shunned and even fired in favor of accepting new and fresh faces for the company they have worked for. Unknown to most companies and employers, this notion of favoring the young and banishing the old can cause them a lot of losses in terms of business, economy and individually if this continues on. For this paper, it is my fervent belief that this concept of age discrimination in the workplace can be stopped if there is a proper decorum on addressing the importance of older employees in the workforce and the discussion of the possible consequences of continuing this age discrimination practice and how revise the current recruitment system so that employees are given equal opportunities and not fire them just because of their ages.
The problem of age discrimination especially in the older generation is not a new issue as it has been around for quite a long time. Segrave (2001) noted that most workers are deemed old if they reach their forties in the early nineteenth century. Employers and companies would already start firing people just because of this particular notion on age. Employees find this idea ludicrous and insulting as they are judged just because of their age and some would file charges on their employers to demand that they should not be fired because of this simple issue. This instance is proven around 1900 when the Labor Statistics Bureau appeared in front of the Industrial Commission and "pleaded for the man ' whose hair is gray but who is physically a strong man and looks to be in the prime of life" and stated that the man is still in a good bill of health to continue his work. But, this problem continued to grow further as more and more employers and companies would try to find ways to get rid of their older employees. This would then cause men and women to lose jobs and add to the growing rate of unemployed citizens that the government must fund to continue living.
Another reason ageism in the workplace must be stopped is because of the number of employees who kill themselves just because they have lost the job they have worked hard for. In Segrave (2001)'s study, he noted that most men and women begging for jobs or submitting themselves to menial jobs just to be employed have suffered from depression, loneliness and belittlement because of the discrimination they have felt in their former jobs. Their old co-workers would tell them slanderous claims and points that they should no longer work and just retire because they are too old for the job. For those who cannot stand any more comments about their age and the fact they can no longer work, they would often take away their lives to escape being discriminated . According to Todd (1977) there were some who tried to help displaced elderly workers and prevent them from killing themselves because of being displaced out of work. One of them was Clement Schwinges (1927) who tried to form a group to prevent more of these suicides of the older generation workers and called it the Cooperative Action Membership Corporation. He also aimed to create a fund of experienced employees for business men to help these displaced workers. But he failed to progress with this group due to the lack of money. Should he have been given funding to continue this advocacy, he would have prevented these tragic suicides and mental incapacities of most of the experienced workers. On one of his interviews, he expressed his disappointment and sorrow for not being able to progress and stated that “It will be forever the saddest memory of my life that I was unable to prevent several suicides, by some of those present at the first meetings, when they were disappointed in their last hope of getting a decent job soon. ” One now can only ask why the current society failed these people who took their lives for feeling so worthless just because of a simple issue on their ages. It could have been prevented if only workers were not displaced because of a simple concept of how old is too old to work.
Another problem caused by ageism in the workplace is the fact that with the numbers of employees who are sacked and got forced to retire early would choose to postpone their retirement due to their economic status and financial concerns, even because of the country's economic stability that would determine how they can live with their retirement benefits. From Rothenberg & Gardner (2011)'s research, the older generation are forced to continue working because of the economic recession and even if they are placed under major scrutiny because of their age, they would have to swallow it to survive. The stress and suffering that older workers experience in worrying for both financial problems and job hunting is very real and is an inescapable fact today. Statistics from the American Association of Retired Persons supported this issue and stated that out of the 767 adults whose age is 45 and over, almost 27% postponed their plans to retire . If these who have returned back from retirement go back to the currently unstable and age discriminating workplace, they may experience stressful experiences that may cause mental health problems. Gee, Pavalko and Long (2007) cited that not only would aged and elderly workers experience mental health problems, they may also be at risk in other complications such as heart attacks, panic attacks and brain damage. These problems can only be resolved if age discrimination would not belittle aged workers and cause them to suffer mental problems .
The last reason why ageism in the workplace is bad and must be stopped is because the laws that should have been protecting the old workers are ineffective with the loopholes companies use to continue declining them with jobs. The federal government stepped in upon the realization that this stereotype of age discrimination would continue to be the reasons for layoffs and enacted the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. In a retelling made by Macnicol (2006) President Johnson spoke to the nation to address this problem of age discrimination in 1967: “Hundreds of thousands, not yet old, not yet voluntarily retired, find themselves jobless because of arbitrary age discrimination. Despite our present low rate of unemployment, there has been a persistent average of 850,000 people age 45 and over who are unemployed. Today more than three-quarters of the billion dollars in unemployment insurance is paid each year to workers who are 45 and over. They comprise 27 percent of all the unemployed, and 40 percent of the long-term unemployed” Again, the nation as a whole was suffering because of the high cost of unemployment insurance and the loss of the experience, knowledge and productivity of older workers in the business sector .
The ADEA is also filled with loopholes as companies would find other reasons and excuses not to hire someone because of their age and not be traced as a case of age discrimination. Michael C. Harper, a professor at Boston University School of Law agrees that ‘the smoking guns’ needed to prove deliberate age discrimination is generally hard to find” . Socialists Rothenberg and Gardner (2011) believe that the ADEA of 1967 has been ineffective in protecting older workers from age discrimination. “The Act is intended ‘to outlaw only unreasonable or arbitrary discrimination; federal courts have tended to take the view that age discrimination in employment is justified if there is any rational basis for it,’” In recent time, they state that “between June 2008 and June 2009, the unemployment rate for adults 55 and over increased by 106% compared to a 70% increase for the population at large. From a labor perspective, discrimination based on age…only serves to weaken the ongoing campaign to advance social and economic justice. ”
Despite the extensive age discrimination campaigns in the late nineteenth century up to the present time, there are still employers and companies who value their workers no matter what age they are. Segrave (2001) noted that one businessman realized the importance of old employees in his business. He saw how enthusiastic his employees are, giving them regular wages and even advertise job openings for workers age 45 and older. He said, “I never had a better office force in my life as compared to what I have now, things went smoothly. There was no breaking in of green men; no carelessness; no idleness; no unruliness.” The older workers are better in some fields as well due to the experience that they have managed to hone throughout the years thus making them the preferred choice for a particular work.
Age also does not mean that they cannot do anything worth noticing and mind-breaking. Segrave (2001) noted Doctor William Osler’s infamous quote on his concept of age “Take the sum of human achievement in action, in science, in art, in literature; subtract the work of men above 40, and while we should miss great treasures, even priceless treasures, we would practically be where we are today. ” But if that is the case, how did Dante, who wrote Divine Comedy and Milton, who wrote Paradise Lost, both who were beyond the age of 50, managed to make their masterpieces with their ages? Thomas Edison was 46 when he invented the incandescent light bulb and 83 when he obtained his last patent. Without these great works of art and development, life will not be the same. Therefore, it is important that we should not underestimate adults and elders just because of their ages as they can contribute to life just like any other person. Should we still retain the same ideas on age, the future would remain to be stunted.
With all these arguments raised and proven by their specific supporting claims, one can still see that there is an imbalance so there is a need to discuss the problem and resolve it. I have come up and located particular recommendations that would help in resolving the problem of age discrimination in the workplace.
The first recommendation in resolving this problem is by educating the youth through classes and special courses that would discuss what age discrimination is and what it can do. These courses would also change the initial perceptions of the younger generation regarding the adults and the elderly community. According to Farney, Aday & Breault (2006)'s analysis, there have been recent studies showing that "college students had less interest in a recorded passage when it was read by an elderly adult as opposed to a young adult." The study also discovered that some college students included in the survey state that the older the adult is, the more negative the sentiment they feel towards them. The young ones also prefer going to specialists who are near their ages as they have slight reservations when it comes to seeking old and more experienced specialists.
This type of belief must be removed from the minds of students and the younger generation and educate them in terms of treating their elders with respect. They must also be aware of laws enacted to protect those discriminated by their fellow workers just because of their age and treat them equally as well. The study also noted that through education, it would enable students to have an increased positive outlook towards the elderly . Re-education would also be needed as this would make employers, companies and managers reassess their current policies on employees and change the behavior in the workforce to prevent possible legal suits and strikes which may lose some important stocks, deals and earnings for the company.
Dennis and Thomas (2007) recommended that to rid the problem of age discrimination, there is a systematic process to enable change to happen in the workplace. The steps are as follows: 1.) Encourage age as a significant component in all diversity training. 2.) Develop a training guide on ageism for employers across the country to use to educate their management and staff on ageism that goes beyond knowledge of the law. 3.) Increase the budget of the EEOC to improve the workflow and expedite cases. 4.) Conduct research on those cases submitted to the EEEOC that are dismissed because of “no reasonable cause,” and 5.) Conduct intergenerational training, communication, and team building. These steps would open up both age groups and possibly eliminate age discrimination all together .
The last possible recommendation that can be done to reduce and eliminate the issue on age discrimination is by recognizing and celebrating the contributions done by the older generation in society and in the workplace as well. This can be done through charity work, concerts and awarding to give the older generation the respect and acclaim they sorely needed. This will also help in recognizing the value of each age group and dismiss all myths and stereotypes present. Without the older generation, the younger generation cannot learn and understand the mistakes done by the older generation and then create the ways to prevent it from happening. The older generation must be noticed as without them, the society cannot stand on its own with all the trial and errors the younger generation would have to solve. Plus, the younger generation would also feel this stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice once they step in the age where they can be classified as part of the older generation.
The problem of age discrimination is a long cycle of stressful problems and concerns that all members of society would face in some point of their lives. Now that everyone is taking good interest of worker rights, they would realize that this old notion of age discrimination is still happening and they would stop at nothing to get rid of the problem before they experience it themselves. We lack the drive to try and make some steps to remove this problem but as we understand the cause and effects of the issue, we slowly find that drive to fight against the ageism practice. Once this problem is resolved and eliminated, not only would the older generation benefit from it but also the society in general. Everyone must be given a chance to work on their professions even in their golden years, as long as they are happy and stress free because of the lack of discrimination on their age, we should let them be.
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