Ageism 'worse for the young'

Sep 20 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Age discrimination remains rife in Britain’s workplaces, according to new research. But it is the younger generation that is suffering most.

According to law firm Eversheds, the commonly-held idea that the older generation is being pushed aside by thrusting young executives is just that – a myth.

In fact, Evershed’s survey of 2,184 people found that almost six out of ten 16 to 24 year-olds said they had been unfairly treated at work because of their age or lack of experience.

But fewer than half (48 per cent) of people aged over 45 complained of the same sort of treatment.

This figure for older workers mirrors the 47 per cent of firms that admitted to discriminating against older workers during the hiring process in a separate survey carried out by law firm Peninsula earlier this year.

Overall, one in three of those surveyed by Eversheds claimed to have been the victim on some form of age discrimination.

Audrey Williams, a specialist in discrimination legislation at Eversheds, said: "Perhaps it is not surprising that young people are feeling most victimised, as managers tend to understand age discrimination in terms of older workers.

"Our research showed that nearly half of senior mangers think that age discrimination only affects old people.

"Unfortunately, age is the poor relation to other areas of discrimination, such as gender and race."

The findings echo research carried out last year by Cranfield School of Management which found that HR managers tended to perceive younger workers as being inexperienced, more likely to take time off sick, less likely to stay in the job, unskilled and unreliable.

However figures released last week by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that fewer than 70 per cent of over-50s are in work, compared with more than 75 per cent of those under 50, a disparity it described as "significant".

Although legislation outlawing ageism in the workplace is being introduced in October 2006, the Eversheds report is also the latest to highlight the low level of awareness of the changes amongst both employers and employees.

Fewer than half of UK workers are aware of the legislation, the survey found – but four out of ten personnel managers were also unable to state when the new laws would take effect.

The survey also showed that only one in fifth of companies had yet put into place a ban on using age as a factor in recruitment.

But Eversheds pointed out that after 2006, even using phrases such as ‘experienced’, ‘graduate’ or ‘mature’ in recruitment ads could be viewed as discriminatory and breach the legislation.

Audrey Williams said: “It is not considered a taboo to call someone a silly old woman or young and foolish and while this attitude remains unchallenged in the workplace, employers should brace themselves for a significant number of discrimination claims when the laws are in place.”

And she warned: “Currently business is not ready for this legislation and organisations will have a significant hill to climb to ensure that they don’t fall foul of the law.”