What were you thinking?
A survey exploring the attitudes and experiences of ageism, as seen from the
perspective of young people, uncovered a surprising array of examples.
Age-related discrimination against young people in the workplace sometimes
involved inappropriate behaviour by older supervisors/managers and
colleagues. Bad management practices or policies could lead to younger
people being deliberately or inadvertently disadvantaged.
“In everyday situations, you’re patronised a bit, like ‘young girl’,
‘sweetheart’, ‘good girl’. Not just by managers but from people who’ve
been there longer than you.”
“They don’t like giving a salaried position out to younger people, they
prefer it if you’re over 21. Once you’re salaried you’re paid for holidays
and you’re basically looked after better.”
School leavers, especially those with few or no qualifications, appeared most
likely to experience age discrimination at work. New to the world of work, they
were often less confident. They were more likely to be given the least
rewarding, most menial jobs and sometimes found it hard to get training or more
In general, younger people with A-levels were less likely to be subjected to age
discrimination than 16-year-old school leavers. This group had rather more
employment options available to them.
Graduates and non-graduates aged between 24 and 30 tended to be more
mature and confident; they were thus less vulnerable to being pushed around,
teased or exploited at work. Again, many of these older respondents, having
established themselves in work, were less likely to report instances of age
Age discrimination could occur in the recruitment specifications of job
advertisements. These could use well-recognized phrases such as ‘bright young
school leaver’ or ‘mature personality’ to indicate employers’ age
“My boss on reception looks specifically for younger people because
“Quite a few employers who want a secretary or a PA might say ‘I want a
young thing’ and that effectively means a young, attractive girl.”
“I think the salary they were offering me was what they thought they could
get away with because of my age and because of my situation.”
Giving age as a reason for not employing someone was sometimes seen as
kinder than pointing out a candidate’s lack of suitability for the job on grounds of
personality and maturity.
“Giving age as a reason would be an obvious choice, wouldn’t it?
Nobody wants to think they didn’t get the job because they weren’t
Examples of obvious ageism included stipulating minimum ages in job
advertisements and using age as a criterion for limiting access to promotion and
occupational pension schemes. However, this was seen as acceptable if
justifiable or required by law.
Instances of less obvious ageism included using ‘coded’ phrases in job
advertisements and linking promotion to length of service rather than ability to do
the job. Concealed ageism could be deliberate, for example when older staff or
managers knowingly treat a younger employee differently; it could also be
inadvertent when older staff or managers were unaware that they were treating
younger workers differently.
These forms of ‘hidden’ discrimination were seen to be much harder to
overcome because they were a lot less obvious.
By far the most widespread form of age-related discrimination was ‘petty’
ageism. This often took the form of patronizing remarks, observations and jokes
made at younger people’s expense and often reflected a lack of
sensitivity to their feelings.
“You’re always going to be on the back foot. You get the mickey taken out
of you, lots of pranks. Some of the older blokes on the shop floor got me
wrapped up in cling film so I couldn't move.”
“When I was doing apprentice printing everybody was like 30 and older
and I was like 16, and everybody was kind of down on top of me
constantly, like ‘you’re not doing that, you’ll do this’.”
On a more positive note, younger workers observed that older colleagues were
sometimes useful sources of advice and guidance. There was also a feeling that
older colleagues were usually not as competitive as some of their younger
counterparts. These qualities meant that older people could provide an
invaluable mentoring role in the workplace.
“The people I work with, they go from 16 to late 50s which I enjoy. I like
working with the older ones rather than the younger ones because there’s
a lot of bitchiness I find in the younger, it’s very ‘catty’, I find.”
“The older ones give you more back. They know the problems if you’ve
worked through it, then you understand the job in its entirety. They can
appreciate what you’re going through.”
Evidence like this shows that measures to tackle age discrimination in the
workplace have the potential to be successful.
Date: 2015-02-16; view: 685