Firms slow to act on ageism

Oct 24 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Britain’s bosses are slowly beginning to take ageism in the workplace seriously. But while two-thirds are already aware that the Government will introduce legislation outlawing ageism in the workplace by October 2006, almost half also admit that they do not understand the effects that the legislation will have on their business.

A survey of HR managers by Cranfield School of Management paints shows some encouraging signs that employers are introducing policies to tackle ageism.

Two-thirds of those surveyed also believe their senior management is committed to eliminating ageism. Almost a third already have a policy in place and a further 38 per cent say they will introduce policies in the future.

But another third of companies said that they either have no intention of introducing such policies or don't know when they will introduce them.

However with the new legislation only three years away, there is still some way to go. More than four out of ten employers (43 per cent) still use age limits and age related words in job advertisements while almost half (45 per cent) continue to use an employee’s age as a basis for redundancy. And almost one in four organisations still discriminate against older employees when it comes to training and development.

These problems are compounded by the widespread ageist stereotypes amongst HR managers. While a significant proportion perceived older workers as having wide experience, being reliable and dependable and having better time keeping, they were also perceived as lacking technological skills.

Younger workers were generally seen more negatively as being inexperienced, more likely to take time off sick, less likely to stay in the job, unskilled and unreliable.

Shaun Tyson Professor of Human Resources at Cranfield said: “whilst considerable progress has evidently been made, developing a policy on age discrimination is just the first step. Changing attitudes will take time. Employers who have not yet acted should do so quickly to remove any deep-seated prejudice about age."

But according to separate research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), one big problem with the legislation is that managers simply do not understand the effects that it will have on their business.

Seven out of ten of those surveyed by the CMI support the abolition of the mandatory retirement age and the overwhelming majority think that it will lead to more flexible retirement options and a more age-diverse workforce.

But more than half (53 per cent) do not fully understand the aims that can be used to justify different treatment on the grounds of age and want some direct examples of how they will apply to employment situations.

"It is a major concern for both business and employees that so few managers fully understand the Government’s proposals,” said Petra Cook, the CMI’s head of policy.

“It is clear that discrimination affects all ages as people are being overlooked at both the start and end of their careers,” she continued.

“Whole swathes of the population are being victimised by virtue of their birth date and if this continues organisations are likely to miss out on the proven benefits of having a mix of ages in the workforce.”