Tips to Combat Subtle Age Discrimination

Maintain Your Professional Relevance and Standing at Any Age

Smiling mature female business owner listening during presentation during meeting in office conference room
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Age discrimination, often a matter of unconscious bias, occurs in many workplaces. People who are in their later years may be unfairly viewed as lacking energy, not adaptable to change, or not employable for the long-term.

Those who are unemployed are at an even greater disadvantage. The person interviewing you may be younger than your child and just as smart. They may be concerned that you are older than all of your potential coworkers. Your interviewer may not be aware that their thoughts are discriminatory, but subtle age discrimination may be coloring their perceptions of your ability to fit within the company's work culture. However, despite this bias, you can maintain relevance in the workplace at any age.

Preventing Age Discrimination

While employers can take steps to guard against age discrimination, much of the onus belongs to you. If you work and you're over age 40, discrimination is a possibility. You can't change the attitudes and beliefs of other coworkers, but you can combat subtle age discrimination by your actions.

How to Maintain Relevancy in the Workplace

To combat age discrimination, do the following:

  1. Stay current on the latest technology, industry-specific information, and other items necessary to stay relevant in the workplace.
  2. Maintain a healthy, professional appearance through proper grooming and dressing in stylish clothing.
  3. Think outside of the box to introduce new ideas and ways to improve processes to increase workplace efficiency.
  4. Utilize strong communication and interpersonal skills.
  5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by getting plenty of rest, managing stress, eating healthy foods, and getting plenty of exercise.

Maintain a Modern Appearance

Dana Anspach, a multi-credentialed retirement planning expert, suggests that a modern appearance can add years to your career and thousands of dollars to your income. Wear stylish clothes and a current hairstyle.

When hiring for multiple positions, the front desk administrative assistant or receptionist always flags the human resources (HR) staff about their first impressions of the candidates who arrive for interviews. Make sure that your appearance is professional, neat, and contemporary.

Properly Accessorize

Look neat and professional by accessorizing with attractive shoes, a handbag, a portfolio, and jewelry. Avoid wearing scuffed, torn, broken, or outdated accessories. Observe how the younger employees accessorize to get style ideas that portray a modern look.

As an example, at an HR conference, an older colleague had a new designer handbag that drew the attention of younger workers. Carrying this relatable accessory made her acceptable by association—and approachable.

Know the Latest Technology

Stay current on new communication tools and technology advances. Technology skills make you appear savvy and contemporary. Social media is here to stay, and to participate, you will need to be fluent. For example, an older company manager learned through Twitter that one of their employees celebrated an eighth anniversary with the company. The manager then congratulated them on the social media site.

Get comfortable messaging and posting on professional sites such as LinkedIn. Also, use other messaging and discussion tools such as Flowdock and Slack.

Embrace Change

Company strategies are always changing and it's important for you to always be prepared to embrace these changes to stay relevant. As a result, you will learn new skills that can advance your career while continuing to help your company meet its goals.

Also, lead the change adoption in your workplace by modeling early adopter behavior for younger employees.

Manage Interpersonal Relationships

Successful relationships are largely in your control, as you've had the most experience in creating them. Join employee debates, swap ideas, and acknowledge that you can also learn from the younger generations at work. In this way, you will earn their respect and generate cooperative, supportive interpersonal relationships.

Age Doesn't Generate Automatic Respect

Your maturity does not earn you automatic respect from younger employees, who relish debating ideas and think that they know a lot. Just because you've worked longer, you know more and have more experience, does not mean that your way is the best—or even that younger employees will acknowledge that you have an edge at all.

Stay Current in Your Industry

Stay current in your field. Read, attend conferences, and converse regularly with thought leaders and colleagues. Be the first to introduce a new work process or a forward-thinking idea.

Also, don't bring a dated portfolio to an interview, such as work on yellowing, aged paper from a job that you had 20 years ago. Also, avoid presenting outdated ideas or a performance appraisal form with a checklist to grade each worker characteristic on a scale of 1 to 5, using such words as organized, reliable, and energetic.

Stay at Your Current Job

Hold on to your current job. These tips are relevant for employees at any age, but they are especially important for older workers. You don't want to hit the pavement job searching when you are over 40—the new old—unless you choose to pursue a new opportunity. As an experienced, older employee, you are in the best possible position to put these ideas and strategies to work as you strive to retain your job.

Capitalize on Key Advantages

You have the experience, deep knowledge, and maturity on which you can capitalize to benefit your employer. You are accountable, responsible, and savvy in ways that younger workers have yet to attain. Take advantage of your strengths and make sure that they are on display for your employer to notice—every day.

Consider Changing Careers

Find and transition to a new career. Review your skills and resume, and consider if your skills and career choice are still relevant. You may decide that a transition to a new field of work is in order. A career change could lead you to an exciting and long, work-life. Even if you have maintained your relevance in the workplace, you can still redesign your career if that is your goal.

Bottom Line

Like other forms of bias, age discrimination is relevant, prevalent, illegal, subtle, and preventable. By embracing continuous change and keeping your skills, appearance, and attitude current, you can combat this common bias to ensure you continue to enjoy a long work life.