As we age, people make quick judgments about us.
“She’s too old to change.”
“He’s a dinosaur who can’t figure out the computer.”
That’s according to reports from the Reframing Aging Initiative, which works to debunk ageist attitudes that too many people hold about their co-workers.
These implicit biases against older workers can have wide-ranging consequences on these workers’ abilities to get jobs. Recent research, for instance, found that after you turn 48, you’re less likely to get a job in Silicon Valley.
But on an individual scale, there are ways each of us can work to be more inclusive of older workers. For well-meaning employees, here are reminders to check before you open your mouth and unknowingly alienate your older coworker:
Be mindful of phrases that assume older workers are inherently different
Ageist language inherently treats older workers as a different species, even when the language is disguised in a compliment. This assumption of inherent difference between older workers and younger workers is the root of ageist language, a study in The Gerontologist found. “Viewing older people as inherently different lead to a number of different generalities that were thematically identified as separate and distinct phenomena. These themes included uncharacteristic characteristics, old as a negative state, and conversely young as a positive state,” the study stated.
When you tell someone “50 is the new 30,” you’re framing older age as a negative state of being and are privileging youth. When you express surprise that an older coworker can stay up so late and is so technologically savvy, you are really saying that certain actions and behaviors are abnormal for older people to do. When you tell your coworker that they have a “young and free spirit,” you’re communicating that acting “younger” is preferable to acting “older.”
Respect people’s autonomy
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