2 common job questions that are secretly age discrimination in disguise

Ageism is a prejudice based on age. If you work long enough, you’ll hear it from colleagues who openly share these views – because it’s still considered acceptable to judge people based on their age.

“Ageism is such an invisible force in society. And it’s something that we’ve been taught literally since we were young,” says Tracey Gendron, director of the Virginia Center on Aging and author of the book “Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End It.”

She cites examples ranging from children’s literature featuring old witches and beautiful young princesses to a thriving anti-aging company that makes money by making people look younger. Once we internalize ageism, “we become afraid of our own aging, we distance ourselves from our own aging, and we see aging only as a process of decline,” Gendron said.

Even if growing older does not have any direct consequences for you now, it will later. How you feel about aging can literally add years to your life. In a 2002 longevity study, researchers followed more than 600 Ohioans over the age of 50 for 20 years. The elderly who had positive views about aging lived seven and a half years longer than those who did not.

That’s why it’s important to stop placing limitations on people’s abilities just because of their age. Here are two of the most age-appropriate comments you’ll hear in the office:

“When do you plan to retire?”

These types of questions are not only age-related, but also have classist implications.

The pension question is based on ‘assumptions that all elderly people can afford it, that they want to, that the dream is to retire. And none of these things may be true,” Gendron said.

“People get a lot of meaning out of their work. And you know, some people say, ‘I’m just getting started, when I’m 60 or 70,'” she added.

When the retirement question comes up during job interviews, it could be a hiring manager’s clumsy attempt to figure out how long an aging candidate plans to work. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects American workers age 40 and older from discrimination based on age, but coworkers and managers can still make inappropriate assumptions.

Instead of asking applicants when they plan to retire, simply ask about their three-year plan. As New York-based employment attorney Domenique Camacho Moran previously told HuffPost, a more appropriate way to ask about an applicant’s desired future is to say, “We expect this job to last three years. Are you willing to commit for three years, assuming all goes well?’”

In general, you should keep your opinions about what your coworker should do with his free time to yourself. Janine Vanderburg, leader of the anti-age discrimination nonprofit Changing the Narrative, said a common unwanted question older workers get is, “Don’t you want to spend more time with your grandchildren?” The assumption here is that the older worker ‘cannot find a balance between personal and professional, as we have done all our lives’. Vanderburg said.

“Are you an intern?”

Even if you are younger, you cannot escape ageism. Assumptions about your abilities or seniority based on your age (or younger appearance) can be widespread in the workplace, often undermining people’s skills.

This is especially true if you are a woman of color. In a 2023 Harvard Business Review article, researchers Amy Diehl, Leanne Dzubinski, and Amber Stephenson surveyed 913 women leaders working in higher education, at faith-based nonprofits, and in law and health care about the different types of bias that they may have experienced in healthcare. their career. Younger women under 40 reported receiving age-based comments that infantilized them and discounted their expertise.

“They reported being mistaken for students, interns, interns, support staff, secretaries, paralegals and court reporters. Such inaccurate assumptions were especially prevalent among non-white women,” the researchers wrote.

Stephenson, one of the study’s researchers, previously told HuffPost that questions like “How would you understand it at your age?” can also send a message to younger women that “you haven’t paid your dues.”

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Many employees have incorrect beliefs about age in the workplace.

There are limiting beliefs that motivate much of this age-related language.

In addition to rude, nosy questions, there are also widely held beliefs that influence whether or not you are ageist. See if you have internalized any of these attitudes.

The wrong idea that ‘younger equals better’

When you think about hiring someone with “fresh ideas,” who do you picture? Too often, only youth is associated with creativity, enthusiasm and energy.

“Older people can have fresh ideas,” Gendron says. “Just because you’ve been doing it for a while doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to come up with new ways of doing things.”

Gendron said that relational ageism “prevents every time we use the words ‘young’ and ‘old’ with judgment.” She said compliments from colleagues, such as that a haircut “makes you look younger,” feeds the “age narrative, that to be successful, to be happy, we have to look, feel and act younger.”

The young ‘digital native’

Alison Chasteen, a social psychologist who studies ageism, says younger people are stereotypically seen as the ones most comfortable with current technology, even though that’s not necessarily the case.

You can see this in vacancies that ask applicants to be ‘digital natives’. “’Digital native’ is basically a code word for I want someone younger,” Vanderburg said.

The generational bias that lumps different people together

There’s a multi-billion dollar industry spreading the belief that millennials all think and work one way, and Gen Z all think and work another, but age researchers say this is a damaging myth. “You can’t tell the characteristics of someone based on when he or she was born,” Gendron said.

Vanderburg said the idea that people of the same generation have the same traits makes no more sense than “deciding to manage someone based on their horoscope.”

Instead, Vanderburg says it’s more useful to group employees’ needs based on their current stage of life. For example, “If you’re a caregiver, whether it’s younger children, older relatives (or) older friends, you have a lot more in common than someone who isn’t a caregiver,” she said.

Because it can be so easy to categorize people, Gendron recommended taking a moment to question your generation’s assumptions the next time you’re judging, say, a 20-year-old colleague.

“Read more about them individually, rather than letting their age guide your assumptions. Age doesn’t really tell us much about someone,” she said.

The patronizing ‘speech of the elderly’

For older people, do not change the cadence and tone of your voice. Chasteen said there is a benevolent ageism called “elder talk” that occurs when people use a sing-songy voice and simplified speech.

Vanderburg said she often sees condescending elder language in health care settings and in coffee shops: “Someone might look at someone who is older and say, ‘Oh hey, honey, here’s your latte.’ (It’s) just like, ‘Honey who?’”

In the workplace, this attitude can lead to too many offers of unwanted help, such as the question: “Are you sure you dare to do that?” This sends the underlying message that the older colleague is incapable of making his own decisions, Chasteen said.

“It can actually be an insidious form of bias because it can affect your self-esteem and your sense of competence in being able to take on a task, and it can stop you from perhaps trying new things,” she said . .

Ultimately, ending ageism means learning to understand when you are part of the problem. Gendron pointed to a simple flowchart she created to clarify what is and is not age-related. The first question you ask yourself is, “Is age a factor in what I am going to say or do?” If the answer is no, you’re probably not age-sensitive.

But if you answer yes, do another gut check and ask yourself, “Am I making an assumption or judgment based on age?”