Work – Ageism at work

On one hand we’re living longer and as a result may be able to and/or need to work for longer. On the other hand, the reality of actually doing this isn’t always easy. While there are some companies that are recognising the value of employing older staff this is not widespread right now.

I’m going to explore some of the challenges that may be faced by older workers from, dare I say it, an ageism perspective. Firstly, by those in the workplace, secondly, in terms of job retention, and thirdly, in terms of recruitment for new jobs. I’ll look at some strategies to try and counteract these challenges.

Before anything though, I’m going to describe some legislation that should help older workers (as well as other minority groups), the UK’s Equality Act 2010.


Equality legislation

The Equality Act 2010 includes provisions that ban age discrimination against adults in the provision of services and public functions. Since coming into effect in 2012, it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age unless specifically covered by an exception. ACAS summarises this really nicely.

This was a big step in the right direction, but as we’ll see, in practice there are still a number of challenges.


In the workplace

As workers get older, they may be overlooked for development opportunities, or involvement in different and potentially more interesting work. There may be an assumption that they wouldn’t be interested or willing to adapt and learn new or different tasks.

The world of work and business is continually evolving. Many jobs performed 30-50 years ago just don’t exist today and many of the tasks done today would probably seem alien to those of other generations. If you have evolved with the requirements of the job, then you’re probably OK for now, but unless you stay ahead of the curve, you may find yourself unable to cope with future changes and requirements.

Depending on the work environment itself, there may be a crowd of younger people that flock together, possibly excluding older staff from social interactions. This may become more obvious as former colleagues retire, leave or get made redundant.

Workplaces may not be ready for employing older people and some of the differences that their employment requires, such as allowances for part time work, time off for medical appointments and so on.


Job retention

Many companies seem to be continuously ‘restructuring’ or ‘rightsizing’, or in other words reducing their staff numbers. This is partly for genuine economic reasons, but also to keep lean, innovative and to stay competitive. Periodic job losses are sadly inevitable.

Redundancy usually happens when there is no longer a need for someone to perform a particular role. Dealing with redundancy can be stressful, especially if you’ve had the same job for a while or had wanted to stay with the company.  There is typically a redundancy payment associated with such a departure, depending on the length of the employment, as well as employment terms and conditions.

While some companies offer voluntary redundancies, many prefer to have a say in who they want to retain for the future. Where there are people in similar roles, they should all have chance to apply for roles in the revised organisational structure. Those with limited relevant capabilities, or low appetite for change, are ultimately less likely to be retained if there is competition to stay.

There may also be an assumption, rightly or wrongly, that those nearing retirement age may be assisted by receiving a financial pay-off. While this could appeal to some people, we’ve seen in a previous work article that money isn’t always the main motivation for working. Depending on the payment amounts, and personal circumstances, a lump sum may not be enough to allow you to not work in the future, so you may still need to look for another job.

Following the ACAS guidelines, if someone feels they have been discriminated against, they may be able to make a claim through an employment tribunal. However, it’s best to talk to the employer first to try to sort out the matter informally, in order to minimise the negative effects on all parties involved.



Looking for new work opportunities can be difficult at any time, but can become more challenging as you get older, even as early as your late forties and fifties. This could include some of the following reasons:

–        Perception of being too experienced or overqualified

–        Too expensive – cheaper to recruit someone younger and train then up

–        May lack some of the critical skills for today or tomorrow’s workplace

–        Employers maybe looking for longer term solutions and succession planning

–        Considered too old by potential employers, although there are restrictions around wording in job adverts and interview questions from the Equality Act

–        Lacking energy compared to some younger candidates

–        Stuck in old ways – closed mindset

–        Although a ‘job for life’ is rare these days, there are cases where people have worked at the same place for years. It may be hard for them working somewhere else. This will be exacerbated if their skillset is becoming obsolete.


Strategies for individuals

If you know you want to, or need to, carry on working, there are some strategies you may want to consider to prolong your working life:

Career change

I know many people that have changed careers at various stages of their lives. Age should not be a barrier. This could be to an alternative career or related to something you’ve always been interested in.

  • I love some of the scenarios depicted in the book The 100 year life
  • Career coaching could also be beneficial in this area

You may also considering adopting a portfolio career i.e. a patchwork of jobs, tasks or interim work, versus full-time employment.

Change gear

This could be an opportunity to either step things up or down a gear e.g. working part time vs full time. Or sticking to your contractual hours vs. working a 60-hour week.

As well as the time aspect, there could also be an opportunity to change to a more laid-back work environment or type of job.


“It’s not what you do, it’s who you know.” The reality is that many jobs are found through direct and indirect connections. Increase your own chances by attending networking events, joining online forums, having a presence on social media e.g. LinkedIn etc.

If you can’t beat them, join them! Workplaces offer opportunities for intergenerational relationships that may be inconceivable elsewhere. Workplace relationships can actually be a lifeline for some older people, so working to maintain or strengthen these, can bring a multitude of benefits.

You could even exchange some skills with others: mentoring in exchange for support on new technology and other qualities.

Play to your strengths

Know where your strengths lie and keep your skills up to date. Look for ways to continuously develop yourself over time.

Use your experience or unique skills to your advantage, either by mentoring others, or acting as an advisor or consultant.

You could also use a recruitment website that values experienced workers e.g. Skilled People.

Keep one step ahead

As technology continues to develop at a fast pace and over time many of the tasks performed by people get replaced by computers or artificial intelligence, we need to stay ahead of the game to ensure our skills stay relevant and won’t be amongst the next tasks to become extinct or taken over by computers, robots or other artificial intelligence.

Online tools

In addition, there is some age relevant content on line.

The charity Age UK  and SAGA both offer help for older candidates looking for work.

Even mainstream recruitment sites are getting involved.


Actions for employers

It’s not just workers that need support. Employers also need to make some adjustments.

One million more older people need to be in work by 2022. The CIPD supports the call for UK employers to hire one million extra over 50s, and encourages employers in the UK and beyond to adopt more inclusive recruitment practices to address the challenges of an ageing workforce.

ACAS has prepared an advice leaflet  for employers to help them manage recruitment and management of older staff.



Hopefully, over time, corporations and other organisations will do more to recognise the value of older workers in the workplace. In the meantime, if you want to or need to continue working, maybe consider making a plan to either strengthen your current skillset or to try and future proof it. Or maybe try an alternative type of work altogether.