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Ageism in the Workforce

By: Dr. Brittany Castonguay 11 January 2024 #Management

Older employees are retiring at a rate faster than younger workers can replace them. That lack of replacement is not just a body in an organization but also the years of experience, expertise, and leadership that go with them. This type of knowledge is not easily replaceable. I think of my father as a prime example of an older employee in the workforce whose knowledge will be missed. My father is a commercial generator mechanic in his 70s. Not only does he defy the physical aspects of the job, but his knowledge cannot be replaced. His employer continues to be amazed by his resourcefulness to complete austere jobs. They know that when he finally retires, he will take a skillset with him that cannot be replicated. The reason is that my father was a mechanic before he began working on generators. A mechanic during a time when machines were machines and not computers. Trade schools no longer teach that type of expertise. Instead, younger workers are taught the computer aspect of how to repair generators. Machines today are full of advanced technology, so the mechanical element of machines is an aging skill that few employees possess. Therefore, where there is a mechanical failure and not a technological failure of the generator, few workers in this organization have the capability to identify and fix the error. This is where my father is brought in to assist.

work, older employees, management
41% of employees expect to work to 65

Organizations recognize a need to retain older employees to help transition their knowledge and expertise to younger generations. Organizations must cater to older workers to retain them and defer retirement to accomplish this. Lucky for companies, people are looking to work longer, with 41% of employees expecting to work to 65. This is a stark uptick from 30 years ago when only 12% of employees expected to work that long. It is time for employers to get creative to retain older talent by enticing them with appealing benefits.

Older employees are less focused on compensation and more focused on meaningful work. It gives them motivation and a desire to stay employed. Meaningful work appeals to employees. It intrigues and fulfills us and provides internal drivers to keep employees satisfied. Work should drive a sense of worth. Meaningful work is only one aspect that appeals to older employees. Don’t discount the benefits of training. Opportunities to learn new skills contribute to meaningful work. Training allows for advancing duties and provides flexibility to learn and grow. Aging employees need support to stay on top of evolving innovations and workplace challenges. On-the-job training appeals to employees of all ages and abilities and is an excellent recruitment and retention tool.

Employers should consider targeted benefits besides providing meaningful work and training opportunities. Targeted benefits appeal to employees at all levels. From entry-level to C-Suite, employees have different needs that employers can cater to entice recruitment, retention, and employee satisfaction. Older employees are specifically interested in access to quality health insurance, retirement savings, PTO, and caregiver leave. As people age, priorities shift, and caring for themselves and their families takes on a different meaning. Employers can support this shift by offering wellness programs that appeal to older employees.

Retaining older employees to fill significant gaps in leadership roles or skillsets also means protecting them. Age discrimination is a real experience for older workers, with 78% of them reporting being discriminated against in the workplace as of 2020. 78% is a large number of workers who experience discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, older employers are not often given the support they need in the workplace, which can contribute to ageism. The year is 2024, and ¼ of the workforce is represented by employees 55 and older. There needs to be a shift in how employers approach workforce norms. Instead of viewing workers by age, view them for the contributions they can bring to an organization. Whether 22 or 62, employees are entering the workforce with various skill sets that set themselves apart from their peers. These skills are valuable and make them highly desirable candidates. A hiring manager or boss who fails to see their value due to age will lose them to a competitor.

For these reasons, many organizations have already taken steps to reduce demographics that may highlight a candidate or employee's age, race, or gender. Whether hiring externally or internally, blocking key demographics allows an employer to look directly at the individual and what they bring to the team. It also protects the organization from complaints of discrimination and promotes diversity and inclusion actions. Organizations involved in these tactics are experiencing better retention and job satisfaction rates because they hire and retain quality talent that best fits the team based on facts and not biased actions.


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