I recently wrote and posted “The Psychology of Conservatism” and “Telecommuting – It’s All So Personal”, where I proposed that fear was the prime motivator for human thought, action and philosophy. To quote: “I’ve long believed that the decisions we make are far less rational and objective than we would believe. We are driven by our emotions, fear being the most powerful.

And so I refer to the matter of ageism in the workplace. Ageism is the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. Ageist stereotyping is a tool of cognition which involves categorising into groups and attributing characteristics to these groups. Stereotypes are necessary for processing huge volumes of information which would otherwise overload a person, and they are often based on a "grain of truth" (for example, the association between aging and ill health). However, they cause harm when the content of the stereotype is incorrect with respect to most of the group or where a stereotype is so strongly held that it overrides evidence which shows that an individual does not conform to it. Contrary to common and more obvious forms of stereotyping, such as racism and sexism, ageism is more resistant to change.
Ageism assumptions in regard to employment mean that the elderly are branded and grouped as “inflexible, not open to change, unable to fit in with younger workers, and are more costly”. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show about one-third of older people who have given up looking for work say it is because employers think they are too old. The Financial Services Council research says nearly a third of older workers say they are being discriminated against at work. The council says the problem needs to be addressed because too few Australians have enough superannuation to leave the workforce.
Sixty-eight per cent of all age discrimination complaints to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Australia are about employment. "We lose over $10 billion a year by having people unemployed, who could be employed were it not for age discrimination," age discrimination commissioner Susan Ryan said. Ms Ryan says the implications are not only bad for individuals. "It's a national disaster. It's a disaster for them and a disaster for our economy," she said. That is because Australians are living longer than ever before, and costing the government more to support. Men in their 50s are the most likely to report discrimination in the workplace, as a new survey finds older employees are being dumped, denied training and even verbally abused by colleagues.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission have debunked almost all of the discriminatory assumptions. For example, they have found that it’s incorrect that mature workers are costly. The truth is they’re significantly less likely to resign, they call in sick less often, and they experience fewer work injuries. All of that stuff saves money, especially on recruitment and training. Plus, they’re the fastest growing users of technology, and considering they didn’t grow up with it like Generation Y, it’s an impressive accomplishment.

Researchers have found that younger people see themselves as very much as individuals, whereas they see the elderly as all the same. They connect senility with aging. They disassociate “fun” with aging. They define older people as unproductive. There is no evidence that any of these perceptions are real.

But I think there is much more to age discrimination in the workforce. For a start, the average age of middle management in Australia is 35 years old. And these “youngsters” are largely driven by a need for power and control. Most of them fear on a daily basis that their co-workers or superiors will discover that they are not worthy of their authority. Their self-doubt is sometimes so strong that they feel the need to undermine and bully their underlings. They are constantly fearful. And they see older workers as a threat to their authority. They know that older and more experienced workers will more readily question not only their business decisions, but their management style. They know that the more mature workers will react with indignation should they be poorly treated and not respected. They ultimately fear that it would be the older workers that would uncover their incompetence.

To me, so many of our societal problems come down to personal insecurity. We badly need to educate our young as to what actually motivates people. We need to teach them that the thing to fear most is fear itself. I dream and imagine a society where we all understand not only each other, but, more importantly, ourselves.

Geoff Mooney