Ageism: Is HR doing enough?

More than half of Australian workers are unsure where to turn to for help

Ageism: Is HR doing enough?

Nearly one in three workers in Australia (31%) have faced workplace discrimination in one form or the other, but the most pervasive remains absent from most conversations on inclusion.

Ageism in the workplace is prejudice against employees under the pretence that their age makes them less capable than others in handling specific tasks. The trend is often seen in the education, finance, health, hospitality and IT sectors.

In Australia, 11% of the working population has reportedly encountered age discrimination. The figure is only slightly lower than the 12% average across the Asia Pacific, data from ADP revealed.

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“While the issue certainly isn’t unique to Australia, I am sure many will be surprised at just how common an experience it is. One in ten workers say they’ve faced age discrimination in their current position,” said Eddie Megas, managing director at ADP.

It’s an issue affecting younger and older employees alike. On one end of the spectrum, 38.5% of workers between 18 and 24 have been stereotyped and discriminated against for their age. On the other end, 21% of workers 55+ have experienced the same.

“Our data shows that the incidence of age discrimination is high, and that the processes and protocols to address it are lacking,” Megas said. 

Overall, 56% of Australian workers are uncertain about who to approach for help if they encounter discrimination. Meanwhile, only a third are open to speaking up or filing a complaint.

Respondents (14%) also feel their organisation does not adhere to “good HR practices” when it comes to preventing discrimination. Add to that the fact that some employees (18%) belong to companies that lack a formal HR department, ADP found.

Read more: Could COVID help bring an end to ageism?

“Discrimination prevention and resolution is often the domain of HR departments. Businesses who do not have this dedicated function are likely to be the least prepared to effectively prevent and respond to discrimination in the workplace,” Megas said.

But while age discrimination is the most common form of prejudice at work, it’s closely followed by gender discrimination (8%) and prejudice against a person’s appearance (5%) or nationality (5%).

“As a minimum, business owners and managers need to educate themselves on anti-discrimination laws. Not only is discrimination illegal, but employers have a duty of care to protect their teams from harassment or unfair treatment at work,” Megas said.

“Every workplace should have established procedures relating to discrimination and harassment, which all staff are bound by. A clear framework to live by and processes to report instances of discrimination is the best way to protect both your business and your workers.”

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