RUOK with being ageist?

RUOK day in Australia falls around the 2nd week of September.   This year I am posing a question – RUOK with being ageist?   Hard question for many.  That’s good as ageism impacts peoples mental health across all ages and needs personal reflection.

The RUOK message is very important as it focusses on wellbeing,  mental health wellness and suicide prevention. It is one of the most pressing issues of our times.

And its a clear focus for all in HR and organisations broadly to consider. But a deeper reflective lens is required to confront the questions. 

There will not be a person or organisation who hasn’t been impacted, directly or indirectly with the devastation of mental health issues.  

World Health Organisation Research

The World Health Organisations Report in 2021 Ageism is a global challenge  states that:

“Ageism leads to poorer health, social isolation, earlier deaths and cost economies billions: report calls for swift action to implement effective anti-ageism strategies.”

But there is a piece missing around responsibility of the harm of ageism attitudes which frankly HR and hiring organisations need to address. 

And that is asking if people are ok with their own behaviours and attitudes around ageism which cause harm and stress to others. 

The workplace is a key focus of the RUOK  movement to check in with colleagues and staff if they are ok. Terrific stuff for both public and private domains.  Ageism is not linear to any profession or sector.  It’s indeed ubiquitous, but certainly observed in greater levels in certain areas (ie media)

But, what about the tens of thousands of men and women who do not have a job because they are being constantly rejected due to ageism? They are forgotten and suffer greatly from the young under 25 to older over 50s. 

AHRI/Human Rights Survey 

The  2023 Employing & Retaining Older Workers Survey (a joint partnership by the Australian HR Institute & The Human Rights Commission)  reported that:

Just over half (56%) of HR professionals say that they are open to recruiting people aged between 50 and 64 “to a large extent”.

At the same time, just under 18%  say that they would be open to recruiting from the same age cohort either “to a small extent” or “not at all”.

In comparison, an overwhelming majority of HR professionals say that they are open to hiring from younger labour pools “to a large extent”, including people aged between 35 and 49 (85%) and people aged between 18 and 34 (82%).

Previously in 2021 their surveys  found over two thirds of organisations seldom or never undertake bias training and of those which do, only 50% include age bias’.  This has not moved much, if at all since.

AHRI CEO Sarah McCann-Bartlett described these attitudes as disappointing saying organisations are doing themselves a disservice by not considering older workers – particularly at a time when Australia is experiencing historically high levels of job vacancies. 

The report also found that the reluctance by some HR professionals to recruit older workers contradicted the lived experience of employing them, with many reporting no difference between older and younger workers in terms of job performance, concentration, ability to adapt to change, energy levels and creativity.  

Ageism – the silent bias 

Ageism is the silent bias  which is rarely included in DEI policies and conversations, let alone factored into the aftermath of skilled people who are rejected in the hiring system.

The devastating and emotionally destructive impact of ageism in job seeking and hiring will l impact your friends and family and colleagues. 

It effects both men and women of course with erosion of self esteem and self-worth. But I have observed that men are particularly vulnerable as they try to maintain a stiff upper lip.

I cannot tell you how many skilled men I’ve spoken to over 55 who are so disheartened with depression because of years long ageism. 

It can be seen all around all of us, for example: 

1/  The best friend who cannot face another dismissive rejection.

2/  The parent who is feeling depressed due to not being able to get interviews because they are over 50 and feel they cannot support their family.

3/  The spouse who is being discriminated against unfairly and feels so demoralised

4/  The son or daughter under 25 who faces rejection without any kindness

5/  The ex-colleague who was given a unwanted redundancy at 55 and cannot get back into another job

6/  The uncle who despite decades of study and experience is treated like a second class citizen.

7/  The single woman over 55 who cannot survive on super and needs to work.  She faces a mix of biases with her age and gender which causes great angst on every level.

8/  The whippet smart executive who keeps getting rejected being told they are over qualified which is code for ‘we don’t hire your age’. Nothing to do with the role.

9/  The young university graduate who feels cultural pressure to work but cannot get a chance

10/  Even the recruiter and hiring managers own family and friends who are depressed and on the brink.

The question everyone in  business, HR and recruitment needs to ask themselves is are they ageist and are they ok with it?  Are they ok with the harm ageism causes?

We can all chip at this nonsense when we stop stereotyping and sticking our heads in the sand of ageist assumptions.

Read more articles on hiring, ageism and careers HERE 

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