10 False Assumptions Affecting Age Discrimination In The Workplace

Kayla Naab

Age discrimination has always been a thing at work – a bias for candidates and employees to fight against, and for hiring bodies to ward off. Ageism can affect a person of any age at work – as we make assumptions about young, middle-aged, and old employees in turn. All of these assumptions are hurtful at best, and legally discriminatory at worst.

As an office manager, you may not be able to rewire the conscious and unconscious biases that inform hiring decisions and hold people back, but you can join the fight against them.

Here are 10 false assumptions to look out for that can cause age discrimination in your workplace: 

1. “People under 30 don’t have enough experience to manage teams”

This is purely false. While some of your under-thirty employees are going to be insecure in a leadership role, this is both untrue for all younger employees and possibly true for older employees. Experience isn’t the only metric of value when determining whether a member of your staff is leadership-ready. 

The Fix: As an office manager, you’ll be able to facilitate more confident leadership in your younger managers by ensuring that their meeting spaces and supportive technologies are in place, and helping them regulate and manage vendor relationships. However, be aware: your older managers may appreciate this support, too!

2. “If we hire someone over 60, they won’t understand the technology we use”

This isn’t universal, either. Of course, there are older employees who haven’t kept up with every technology you might be using. The same is true for younger employees. 

The Fix:  In this case, an office manager can help by providing training, assistance, and access to support techs. Younger employees might need a refresher on new technologies, too! The best way to stay away from assumptions while still being helpful for those who need it is to offer tech and vendor support broadly and letting younger AND more seasoned employees come to you.  

3. “Young people aren’t as reliable or responsible as their older counterparts”

We’re all different and we all have blind spots. Most of your employees will be as reliable as the systems and policies in place expect them to be. Some will overachieve, others will fall short. None of this is dictated by age. 

The Fix: By taking meeting notes, managing the whole-facility schedule, and circulating memos, you can help all of your team members be more responsible. If you’re responsible for mediating conflict or supporting collaboration in your workplace, try to model accountability and forgiveness in equal measure and be as preventative as possible. That said, constantly trusting more seasoned employees with important responsibilities will only keep younger or newer hires from learning the ropes. Spread the wealth!  

4. “Women between 25 and 45 will be focused on children, not work”

This is false, irrelevant, and discriminatory. Let’s unpack that. First, it’s discriminatory to both men and women to assume that women are the default parent. Second, it’s inaccurate to ascribe parenthood or family responsibility to any given age. 

The Fix: Offering a parental leave package that includes both mothers and fathers helps to diffuse this outdated and erroneous stereotype. From there, it’s unwise to assume that your employees with children – of any age – are less dedicated to their work simply because their children come first. We all have family and family should come first. It’s more important to operate with a combination of accountability and flexibility that keeps work at the top of the priority list, and leaves space for family and health to slide into first position as needed. And for any employee, this can and will be necessary at some point.

A final note on this: You will have employees under 25 and over 45 who have babies, adopt children or need to take care of another family member or situation from time to time. You will have employees who never have children or familial obligations and they won’t necessarily be more dedicated to work. Lead with compassion when things come up.

5. “Gen Z employees are the social media generation. They’ll always be on their phones at work.”

This assumption undercuts the value of hiring adult Gen Z employees for their multitudes of other skills. It also makes false assumptions about who ISN’T on their phone at work, given that 91% of those 65 and over have a cellphone, too, and those percentages increase for middle-aged generations.

The Fix: The best way to set phone policies at your company is to set them broadly and enforce them for employees of all ages. Remember, however, that we all use our phones in different ways. One person’s work-appropriate use of a mobile phone might be vastly different than someone scoring game day tickets or swiping on Tinder at work.

6. “Don’t hire Baby Boomers. They won’t stick around long before retirement.”

No way! Baby Boomers are those born between 1944 and 1964. This makes them between mid-fifties and mid-seventies. There are Boomers who are no longer working and those who are just re-entering the workforce after an empty nest or change of life. Some are taking on part-time work to supplement other income streams they built earlier in life while others are just starting businesses and taking on immense new challenges.

The Fix: You never know which employees will stay for the long-haul and which will leave. The best way to ensure a new hire (at any age) isn’t going to bail in 6 months is to have conversations with him or her at the outset about their goals and frequently check in to gauge satisfaction along the way.

7. “Older employees can’t or won’t learn new skills.”

This unfair assumption has been the source of much ageism in hiring over the years. The erroneous assumption that older hires will be “set in their ways” or else uninterested in expanding their skillset is broadly and acutely false. Similarly, it’s wrong to assume that any new hire is automatically voracious about learning and expanding his own growth. We’re all different in this way. 

The Fix: Over time, you’ll find which employees just hate it when things change around the office or when they have to learn a new system, and which ones don’t. This won’t be based on age at all, just personalities. Maintaining the org chart and operational flexibility will help place the right workers and skillsets in the right place as they change and grow. 

8. “Millennial employees all want to be working from home so they can watch Netflix all day.”

This assumption is false, both about Millennials and remote workers. Today, 70% of workers globally work from home at least once per week. For many, remote work is a full-time way of life. To assume that all – or even a large portion – of these employees are unreliable, lazy, or distracted would be unwise. In fact, studies on productivity show that remote work is a viable way to encourage better productivity in certain types of employees and that the option for flexibility appeals to nearly all new hires. To further ascribe that laziness or lack of initiative to Millennials is doubly false. Millennials (those between 24 and 39) were the generation that pioneered a massive uptick in remote flexibility however they’re no more or less diligent at work than any other generation.

The Fix: Decide your policies on remote work and in-office work and stick to those. The more flexible these policies are, the better they will work to include all lifestyles and work styles. The clearer they are, the easier it will be to attract workers for whom your expectations are compatible. 

9. “The older an employee is, the more days he or she will take off due to illness or weakness.”

That’s untrue and is also an unlawful metric upon which to hire or not hire a prospective candidate. Older employees can and do take care of their bodies, keep up (or surpass) the physical capabilities of their younger counterparts, and have underestimated vitality. Younger employees can also encounter unexpected health issues or come with chronic illnesses or issues that are none of your business. 

The Fix: By offering a more flexible approach to remote work, flexible PTO, and control over scheduling, you can help to cut down on absences. By working toward a more inclusive and supportive environment in your facility, you can employ those who do have physical limitations or disabilities without worrying about their impact on work. Ultimately, though, someone’s health and body aren’t your concern and if any employee does run into health issues, your chief focus should always be on their wellbeing, first and foremost.  

10. “Young people won’t arrive early and stay late, like their older counterparts do.”

This behavior has no particular tie to age and it’s not necessarily a good behavior to praise in the workplace. Likewise, there are many explanations for those who stay and those who leave, those are punctual and those who are not. Making space for your employees to prioritize their life outside of work will help mitigate the constant monitoring of ins and outs. 

The Fix: First, examine why you would expect any employee to arrive before their contracted start time or leave later than their contracted end time. If this is common in your organization, consider first how you can improve efficiency to take long, long days off the table for your employees. Taking the fast-track toward burnout won’t be good for employee satisfaction, health, and wellbeing, or output. Next, consider that an employee who does stay long every day might not be as great at time management or that one who leaves right on schedule does so for valid and personal reasons. Ultimately, it’s wise to set clear policies in place for when you want your employees to be at work, enforce those, and let the rest be handled on an individual basis.

Eliminating Age Discrimination From Your Workplace

As the world changes, we’re forced to challenge our long-held beliefs and adapt, or allow ourselves to be left in the past. While judgments and assumptions about people might appear to be an easy way to weed out candidates or hold your teams accountable, they’re often problematic, false, and unnecessary.

To successfully manage your office and the people in it, know them personally and adapt to each of their unique needs and tendencies rather than making blatant assumptions about groups of them. You’ll get better feedback, more reliable and honest insight, and the results at work you hope to see.  

Looking for a way to manage your workplace more efficiently? Check out what Eden’s Workplace Management Platform can do for your office. 

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