Consequences of Age Discrimination in the Workplace
When one takes a hard look at the consequences of age discrimination in the workplace, they tend to fall into one of two categories: consequences which impact the individual being discriminated against, and everyone else. And, there are consequences which affect others, often including the workplace as a whole.
Discrimination is manifest in a variety of ways. For the employee, it can be an act as blatant as termination (typically on manufactured grounds), or as subtle as having one’s ideas and suggestions ignored, or trivialized. Consider the case of a former co-worker we’ll call Bob. In his early fifties, Bob was a technical writer for a large company. His manager was promoted, and the manager’s replacement was a gentleman in his mid-thirties. Within a matter of weeks, Bob determined his new boss “had it in” for him; giving him extra work, belittling him in front of his associates, and generally making his workday miserable. Bob complained to HR, but before any action could be taken, Bob was “down-sized”. As the most senior person in his group, he alone was laid off.
In this situation, not only was a valuable employee booted to the unemployment line, Bob’s newer associates were left without a mentor - someone they had previously gone to for advice and feedback. And, the group as a whole learned a lesson: don’t get on the new boss’ bad side.
Age discrimination against job applicants is also on the rise, to such a degree that some older workers simply give up their job search after months or years of unsuccessful attempts. As a result, a greater number of older workers are being forced into early retirement and drawing social security earlier than they’d planned. Which is putting even more pressure on an already overburdened system, as the “baby boomer bulge” increases.
Loss of a job is typically considered one of the ten most stressful “life events”, so many older workers who lose their livelihood (and are unable to obtain employment afterward) are subjected to the effects of stress, when their bodies are often least equipped to deal with it. And, this stress will affect the older worker’s spouse, adult children, etc.
As previously stated, when an older worker is suddenly removed from the workplace, they take a considerable amount of so-called “tribal knowledge” with them. Obviously, most companies have documented procedures and processes, but there are times when there is no substitute for experience. It may simply be workplace lore, but I’ll relate the story of the $5,000 chalk mark:
A loading dock crane had become disabled, at a time when the dock was at peak load. Several maintenance people crawled over it like ants for the better part of the day trying to repair it. Finally, late in the afternoon, one looked at the other and said, “Call Henry. He’ll know what to do”. Henry was retired, and initially wanted no part of this problem. Finally, he relented and drove down to the dock. He listened to the gears and motors of the failed crane for a few minutes, then removed a piece of chalk from his pocket. He made an “X” on the side of the crane, near the control panel. “Hit it here”, he said. Bewildered, one of the maintenance men pounded the crane with his fist, and the crane came to life.
A few weeks later, the maintenance company received a bill from Henry for $5,000. The supervisor called Henry. “Five thousand dollars for a chalk mark?”, he asked. “No”, Henry replied. "The chalk mark was free. The five thousand dollars is for knowing where to put it.”
When one person is discriminated against, it often has a ripple effect which negatively impacts many others.