How can HR address the issue of ageism in the workplace?

Older workers are 50% more likely to take over a year to secure a new position

How can HR address the issue of ageism in the workplace?

Earlier this month, Lisa LaFlamme was dropped as an anchor on CTV National News. The move to end LaFlamme’s contract after 35 years was met with shock from Canadians and the wider general public alike. And while those in power have denied that the incident had anything to do with LaFlamme’s age or sex, it inevitably led to questions around bias.

“Research indicates that ageism is an issue, particularly for those aged 55 and over trying to find new jobs,” added Dr Melanie Peacock, associate professor of HR at Mount Royal. “Older workers share that they’re often overlooked for promotions, bypassed for development opportunities, have their ideas discarded. They’re also viewed as unable to learn new competencies, such as how to effectively use technology.”

It's important to note that Mirko Bibic, president and CEO of BCE Inc. & Bell Canada, insisted that the decision had nothing to do with LaFlamme’s age, gender, or grey hair.

“The narrative has been that Lisa’s age, gender or grey hair played into the decision,” he said. “I am satisfied that this is not the case and wanted to make sure you heard it from me. The days when viewers wait until 11 p.m. to get their news are gone. While some may resist change, it is necessary and we need to confront this ... Bell Media needs to provide our journalists with the resources they need on all platforms where news is consumed.”

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Setting aside this one singular incident, the debacle does beg that all-important HR question – how should organizations handle sensitive hirings and firings? Well, as Dr Peacock told HRD, it should be a mix of compassion, sensitivity, and data-backed analysis.

“Strategic HR and management practices state that an employee should never be surprised when their employment ends,” she explained. “If it’s a performance issue, then there should have been previous communication and attempts to fix the problems, in order to bring the employee's performance up to par.”

A report from Jobsite found that 47% of jobseekers aged between 55-64 are unemployed, which is 13% more than younger candidates. What’s more, older workers are 50% more likely to take over a year to secure a new position. And it’s not just a case of business decisions taking precedent – ageism in the workplace is an incredibly costly affair. Employers facing age discrimination suits before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have given over a total of US$810.4m to settle charges filed from 2010 to 2018. In the face of such data, isn’t it time HR leaders step up and insist on some much-needed changes?

“HR professionals need to examine data,” advised Dr Peacock. “How do the age demographics of people hired, promoted, or trained in your company compare to industry standards? How does that compare to organizations of your size? Or to overall demographics of the region you draw employees from? Policies clearly articulating that ageism will not be tolerated should be developed and implemented. Unconscious bias training could also help to eliminate ageism as a form of discrimination. Above all, candid conversations need to occur so that employees, at all levels throughout your company, know that this is an issue that will not be accepted or tolerated.”

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