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During the pandemic ageism may have gotten worse in the workforce

Posted at 7:02 PM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 08:49:02-04

WISCONSIN (NBC 26) — A new study from AARP has found that nearly 80 percent of workers, 45 years of age or older, have seen or experienced discrimination in the workplace during the pandemic. It's an alarming trend that could very likely be tied to ageism in the workforce, which some say is happening at an alarming rate.

Early in the pandemic reports started circulating describing how many folks were opting for early retirement, because they were concerned about catching COVID-19. But many feel it had less to do with workers' concerns and was rather related to management making decisions based on the age of their employees.

"Well, the reality is older people didn't retire. They were pushed out or laid off or furloughed," says Janine Vanderburg the Director of Changing the Narrative.

At Changing the Narrative, Vanderburg helps her organization draw light on the ugly underbelly of ageism in the workplace. She advocates for older employees' rights and encourages employers to see the value in a diverse workforce.

During the pandemic when media, politicians, and doctors drew attention to older folks' vulnerability to the virus; Vandenburg says something drastic happened in the workforce.

"What got planted in the minds of people, who maybe already have ageist attitudes about older people, is wow, we can't have those people working," adds Vandenburg.

Vandenburg says ageism can take many forms, like some employees not being offered advanced technological training at work, or bad taste jokes about how someone is old and grumpy. But the truth of the matter is, ageism is discriminatory behavior, and many believe that the pandemic may have contributed to lost wages and opportunities for many over the age of 40.

"So, has this translated into more age discrimination, because people see those folks as more vulnerable?" Asks Susan Weinstock the Vice President of Financial Resilience Programming at AARP.

Weinstock says her organization has been surveying folks 45 and older for nearly 20 years, asking them if they experienced or saw age discrimination in the workplace. This year she says the answer was overwhelmingly yes.

"This year we got the highest number we have ever seen at 78 percent. We have never had a number that high," says Weinstock.

And while addressing ageism in the workforce can be painstaking for an employee, Weinstock says there is a lot of evidence that suggests a company would be better off having addressed the concerns.

"We know multi-generational teams are good for employers. They increase productivity, they increase engagement, and they lower absenteeism. So, it's a win-win for everybody," adds Weinstock.

AARP has just started offering free skill-building workshops online for folks to brush up on skills related to office work. The skills acquired in these free tutorials can help many improve their resume's appearance and give some a leg up on the competition when applying for jobs.