- Ageism being a problem in the workplace is not exclusive to older professionals.
- Some media coverage of this problem has been referring to it as “reverse ageism.”
- Such a state of affairs cannot continue, as young workers getting deterred by being unjustly discriminated against will simply fuel the Great Resignation further.
Ageism in the workplace has been known to affect older workers. While the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are 40 and older, this is largely symbolic and only effective to instances of overt age discrimination.
However, ageism being a problem in the workplace is not exclusive to older professionals. Young professionals also experience forms of ageism in the workplace. Some media coverage of this problem has been referring to it as “reverse ageism.”
What is “reverse ageism?”
We typically think of older professionals when the term “ageism” is used. As of late, the term “reverse ageism” has been used to describe a similar set of concerns facing younger workers.
According to the Harvard Business Review, young workers are oftentimes more likely to report encountering ageism at work than their middle-aged and older counterparts.
To quote Eli Joseph DBA, “When I was working on Wall Street, I was constantly reminded by my managers that they have been ‘in the industry for over 20 years. I remember one time, my direct manager told me that my education does not mean anything in the real world. I lasted about six months at my analyst job.’”
Joseph’s experience is widely shared amongst younger workers. Just as older workers face the age-related challenge of being perceived as less employable, so too are younger workers. This discrimination typically appears differently for younger workers than it does for older workers.
The assumption driving this discrimination is that older workers are, by definition, more experienced and therefore, wiser. In turn, relative to their younger counterparts, they are to be regarded with more respect and praise.
This, however, often manifests in ways that reinforce stereotypes about young people. And when these stereotypes are reinforced, this doesn’t just amount to uncomfortable comments. Rather, it amounts to discriminatory behavior, which leads to the disenfranchisement of young workers.
What does reverse ageism look like?
The primary difference between ageism in the workplace towards older professionals and younger professionals is that the latter generally feel like they are taken as inexperienced due to a lack of time in the field, and the latter feels the same way due to the misperception of unfamiliarity with new technology.
Generally, reverse ageism is a phenomenon reported to be coming from older workers toward younger professionals. One study, for example, showed that “60% of office conflicts within larger companies are caused by older workers’ negative perceptions of their younger workers.”
Essentially, it is the presumption on the part of older workers of youth and its association with irresponsibility, that is driving reverse ageism. When surveyed, 60% of older workers have a negative perception of their younger coworkers.
This manifests in ways that often deter younger workers, such as being patronized via belittling comments, receiving fewer developmental opportunities, and generally being perceived as incompetent on the grounds of young age solely.
According to the American Psychological Association, reverse ageism has a reliable pattern. First, it starts with the perception or ideology that young people are less experienced and lazy.
Then, it manifests as discriminatory behavior, such as disproportionately assigning mundane tasks to younger workers and not taking their ideas seriously. Then, the younger worker loses interest in the work inevitably, because the work is boring.
The negative impact of reverse ageism
Studies show that the negative implications of reverse ageism are wide-ranging, spanning from diminished job satisfaction to negative impacts on memory performance among lower educated populations.
Likewise, studies have shown that reverse ageism leads to behavior among younger workers to appear older than they actually are because of the pressure to conform to the expectations of older workers.
This has a disproportionately negative impact on young female professionals, who reportedly face this sort of discrimination at higher rates than their young male counterparts.
Specifically, female workers report giving in to this pressure by appearing less “feminine through dress, behavior, and speech.” Of those who report facing this discrimination, 81% of respondents are female workers – 61% of whom hold a bachelor’s degree, and an additional 31% of whom hold a master’s degree or higher.
Such a state of affairs cannot continue, as young workers getting deterred by being unjustly discriminated against will simply fuel the Great Resignation further.
Therefore, employers need to take measures to combat reverse ageism. Some of these measures have been empirically researched and proven to be effective at reducing its prevalence.
Perhaps the best-studied and most effective measures are explicit warnings against such acts of discrimination. Others include training young workers to cope or creating events where older and younger professionals intermingle, as exposure often has the effect of nullifying stereotypes.