Age is still an issue

Oct 24 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Age discrimination and stereotyping remain widespread in UK organisations while many workers continue to harbour unrealistic expectations about their own career prospects in later life.

Research by the Chartered Management Institute and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found almost a quarter of the 2,682 managers surveyed (22 per cent) admitted that age has had some impact on their own recruitment decisions.

This is despite that fact that six out of 10 also claim to have been "personally disadvantaged" at work because of their age.

Almost half of those surveyed had suffered age discrimination through job applications while four out of 10 believe their chances of promotion have been hindered by age discrimination.

This claim is backed up by individual perceptions of age, with more than six out of 10 respondents believing that workers between the ages of 30-39 years old had the best promotion prospects, with only two per cent citing 50 year-olds or above.

But while a quarter of managers said their job applications had suffered discrimination because they were too old, a similar proportion Ė 23 per cent - said they thought it was because they were too young.

The survey also revealed that many of us still harbour unrealistic expectations about our retirements.

Eight out of 10 of those surveyed are still hanging on to the expectation that they will retire by the age of 65, despite believing that the age of retirement for the average person in 10 years' time will be 66 or older.

However, one in three organisations already have no mandatory retirement age. This suggests that both individuals and organisations need to consider a step-change in how they perceive age and careers so that changes in demographics are met with a more flexible approach to career planning.

Dianah Worman, CIPD diversity adviser, said: "Our research shows that most managers expect everyone to be retiring later within 10 years - except themselves.

"There is a growing acceptance that the average worker is going to stay at work beyond 65. But no-one seems to think it applies to them."

Individual perceptions explored in the research suggest that employees are not in touch with reality about the future of their careers and hold stereotypical views about age.

While six out of 10 of those surveyed reported the perception that career expectations decrease with age, more than a third expressed a desire for more careers advice for older workers, and three-quarters agreed that career advice and training is critical in retaining older workers.

The research also shows that the majority of employers do not believe that older workers are more costly Ė shattering a myth that is often used to defend mandatory retirement ages.

But respondents also cited 55 as the mean age for a female "older employee" while a male "older employee" is given the mean age of 57 years.

This has risen significantly since 1995 when the average age for a male "older employee" was 51 compared with 48 for a female "older employee", suggesting that individuals are now perceived as younger for longer but that women are still seen to be "older employees" at a younger age.

According to Dianah Worman, however, forthcoming age discrimination legislation will do nothing to break down these stereotypes.

"The evidence suggests that the current proposal to set a default retirement age of 65 is a useless bureaucratic barrier, which needs to be either finessed or scrapped. If the objective of the legislation is to end age discrimination in the workplace and support older workers, this is likely to be counterproductive.

The Government would do far better to focus their attention on extending flexible working arrangements to ensure that employers are able to make greater use of the skills and experience offered by older workers."