According to a CIPHR survey of 2,000 UK adults, 73% of 18 to 24-year-olds and 50% of 25 to 34-year-olds have experienced discriminatory attitudes and behaviors at work or during the recruitment process. Comparatively, only 22% of adults over 45-years-old have faced age-related discrimination.
Although there is clear evidence of workplace discrimination against Gen Z and millennials, when ageism is discussed, we often primarily focus on the older generations.
Ageism refers to stereotyping or discrimination against an individual or group based on their age. In a work environment, reverse ageism may look like a policy that requires an age minimum, viewing younger generations as less productive, ignoring young employees’ input, patronizing young employees, etc.
Gen Z’s barriers in the workplace
Entry-level jobs for students and young adults entering the workforce have high expectations of previous employment and skills. According to a LinkedIn study, 35% of postings for entry-level positions ask for prior relevant work experience and 60.3% of entry-level software and IT services demand prior work.
Consequently, internships during summer breaks become a requirement if students expect post-graduation employment, making internships increasingly competitive. In many cases, previous internships become a requirement for a more prestigious internship, all preceding university graduation.
This demand perpetuates reverse age discrimination, as it is unlikely that a young adult may fit these qualifications. Although this phenomenon may be a result of increased technological advances erasing tedious, manual tasks interns of previous generations worked on, talent acquisition teams should reconsider requirements for entry-level positions so they can attract the audience they are intended for.
Elke Osadnik, director of talent acquisition at Envoy Global, reflected on this issue: “When it comes to a ‘perceived lack of experience,’ one can try to equate age with experience, but that is not the case in every scenario.”
“This perception may lead to challenges for some Gen Z candidates when asking for the same salary as an older candidate if that candidate is deemed as naturally having ‘more experience.’ Because of this, it’s important that Gen Z candidates are also not undervalued financially by employers.”
Additionally, if a company must downsize its employee base, layoff schemes often use a ‘last one in, first one out’ protocol. This tactic disproportionately affects younger workers.
Competition between the generations
In 2020, Gen Z made up an estimated 20% of the total workforce, as more of this generation enters the workforce, this will exponentially increase.
Like many other generations, Gen Z faces countless stereotypes from employers and older co-workers.
“Ageism has always been there, yet, in recent years, it has become acute due to a more radical change in the work world. A sort of competition has been created, in which the two generations no longer find a meeting point.”
One contention point is that Gen Z is known for being the first generation that can’t recall a time before the internet. Subsequently, this generation is faced with the misperception that they can’t handle face-to-face interactions, and are addicted to technology.
Although this generation is used to instant communication online, they place a larger importance on in-person interaction and primarily use technology to remain connected to peers.
According to a Dell study, 77% of Gen Z employees are willing to be technology mentors to others at work. 75% expect to learn from peers on the job, not through online programs. This highlights the importance Gen Z places on a mentor-style work culture that thrives off shared knowledge among multigenerational teams.
Jes Osrow, co-founder and COO of The Rise Journey, highlighted how other generations can benefit from younger workers: “Gen Z is and has navigated a world that changes under their feet – the economy, the job market, technology, health (and healthcare).”
“Bringing the agile skillset not just to the workplace, but to leadership and management is vital for the future success of an organization.”
Stereotypes drive reverse ageism and will continue to disrupt the workplace if proper action is not taken. Additionally, young employees will miss out on career advancement opportunities, thus ageism will ultimately affect the future of work and companies’ future retention success.
Lack of federal protection for young workers
The US implemented The Age Discrimination in Employment Act in 1967 which protects certain applicants and employees 40-years-of-age and older from discrimination based on age in hiring, promotion, discharge, or compensation.
New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting discrimination against young workers, yet the US federal government has yet to recognize reverse ageism, leaving this population vulnerable to such bias.
In 1992, Michael R. Hamilton, individually and on behalf of All Otherpersons Similarly Situated, argued, “There is no evidence in the legislative history that Congress had any concern for the plight of workers arbitrarily denied opportunities and benefits because they are too young.”
“Age discrimination is thus somewhat like handicap discrimination: Congress was concerned that older people were being cast aside on the basis of inaccurate stereotypes about their abilities.”
“The young, like the non-handicapped, cannot argue that they are similarly victimized.”
Contrasting to US law, the UK Equality Act of 2010 ensured the protection of all workers, regardless of whether they are old or young, against age-related discrimination. The forms of discrimination that are unlawful include direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, associative discrimination, perceptive discrimination, victimization, and harassment.
Although these laws are in place, we must question their efficiency, as in London, 66% of students say they have been discriminated against whilst in a job or when applying to one, according to CIPHR’s Workplace Discrimination study.
This does not remain an issue primarily in the US or UK, for example, in 2020 an Australian Post licensee included a job listing that stated: “Unfortunately, the successful applicant will not be an over entitled millennial with an inflated sense of entitlement.”
How can HR leaders make change?
Reverse ageism should be addressed at a policy level through clear equality policies, anti-discrimination training, and promote zero tolerance for discrimination.
Claire Williams, chief people officer at CIPHR, reminded employers, “Be careful of job titles that imply age – use assistant or associate instead of junior, for example.”
“And ensure that your organization’s performance frameworks do all they can to ensure fair treatment based on merit and minimize the risk of discrimination in any form.”
Additionally, according to an American Psychology Association study, 60% of office conflicts linked to intergenerational differences are caused by older workers’ perception of younger workers. This study suggests there is a need to encourage multigenerational bonding to repair misperceptions.
To encourage anti-ageism among co-workers, encourage different age groups to work in a team or project. Working towards a shared goal will likely unite a group and allow them to see the younger generation not only as a peer but as an effective resource.
Kubiak suggested a similar answer, “the solution is to build a fair and inclusive workplace by offering, for example, mentorship programs that can help bridge age-related tensions and encourage cross-generational collaboration.”
Different generations offer distinctive opinions and perspectives, it is important to allow all voices to be heard, as regarding one point of view, will not only hurt your employees but it will damage your company’s product or service without seeing the full picture.
Envoy Global’s Osadnik reflected: “Employers need to remember that each person is unique in their own right. There is no ‘one size fits all.’ We are talking about people. Not numbers. Not resumes.”
“These are human lives and therefore an experience with one candidate of any age group can never be generalized to another person at all.”
“Everyone must be considered on their own, individual merit.”
Sign up to the UNLEASH Newsletter
Get the Editor’s picks of the week delivered straight to your inbox!