If you’re an older worker who regularly gets teased by colleagues about your grey hair and ‘senior moments’, it can get a bit annoying. The same goes if you’re the junior member of the team and older colleagues refer to you as ‘babyface’ or offer you a glass of milk and a cookie. These exchanges are usually viewed as harmless office banter, but if you feel you’re the victim of genuine ageism, what should you do?
The first step is to keep a diary, and note down any comments or put-downs that have made you feel uncomfortable, and when they happened. Is your experience of ageism focused purely around the way people interact with you, or is there something even more serious going on? For instance, are you being blocked from any promotions, opportunities or responsibilities because you are deemed to be too old? Or has your boss avoided putting you on the team for a pitch – not because you lack ability or experience, but because they think you look too young and are worried how that will come across?
Reflect on the evidence that you’ve gathered and discuss it with family, friends, a colleague (if appropriate) or one of the HR Solver team. From there, you can decide on an action plan.
In many cases, it may just be a case of speaking to the people that are offending you – they may have no idea of the impact their comments are having. The next time they step out of line, why not say: “I know you may be joking, but when you speak to me like that, it makes me feel really uncomfortable.”
If this doesn’t work, or if the problem is more acute, you’ll need to take your concerns to a senior manager – and this where the evidence you have gathered will be crucial. As always, it will also help your case to point out how any ageist behaviour is undermining the organisation’s values. Managers usually respond better if they can see a detrimental impact on efficiency or profitability.
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