As business missions increasingly focus on “change” and “adapting to change,” stereotypes have often pigeonholed older workers as resistant to learning and set in their ways. However, overlooked is the fact that ageism, or “youngism,” affects newcomers to their careers more intensely than ever before, impacting multiple generations.
This is the opinion of Michael North, an associate professor of management and organization at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
According to his own research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, co-authored by Stéphane Francoli, he concludes ageism is a “slightly worse problem targeting the young.” Moreover, he says there is “a growing portrait that paints young adults as clueless and burdensome.”
In this ‘reverse ageism’ environment, North claims older generations think of younger workers using words such as ‘entitled’ and ‘lazy’, and they assume that young people think the basics are beneath them. North says: “In this case, it’s not just a life-stage critique – this is something more extreme.”
In this study, North and Francoli specifically asked respondents of various ages to voice their opinions about the older and younger generations. When they asked participants to describe both generations with whatever words first came to mind, they received positive and negative responses. While positive words like “ambition,” “intelligent,” and “tech-savvy” all came up, the most common negative responses were “entitled,” “coddled,” “disrespectful,” and even “radical.”
“If people in senior levels are writing them off because of assumptions, the younger people won’t get the opportunities they need to succeed.” – Michael North.
Lauren Rikleen, author of You Raised Us, Now Work With Us, believes older workers feel this way about younger workers because of emerging disparities in the attitudes of younger people towards the world of work.
“People judge others by their own standards,” she writes. “A senior person may have succeeded by traditional measures of success: long hours, missing family events and constantly being in the workplace. When they see younger persons’ behaviors that aren’t similar – such as leaving work to go work out or taking health and wellness measures – the result can be a stereotype of “Well, that person isn’t acting as I did.”
The result, though, is that these predetermined beliefs are holding young people back more than ever. Age discrimination against younger workers keeps them from being able to take advantage of opportunities to grow their careers, thus stunting their progress.
If you want to protect your company from age discrimination, what better place to start than by providing training specifically on ageism, biases, and diversity.
This training should focus on uncovering unconscious biases and stereotypes, the benefits of diversity, and the effects of ageism in the workplace with real-world examples. This way, you’re giving your employees the tools to address it and recognize some of their own biases towards either generation.
Maybe it’s that years of experience don’t need to be as prized as they used to. Maybe, employers should realize that young people have the potential to contribute in ways that the generation before them never could.