It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted several facets of our personal and professional lives. From the rising prevalence of remote work to the expansion of contingent labor usage, the outbreak of the coronavirus has led to significant—and unexpected—change. But one of the most underreported aspects of the pandemic was its impact on ageism and older generations in the workforce.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, ageism is defined as the stereotyping, prejudice, and/or discrimination of individuals on the basis of their age. It is known as one of the most pervasive—yet least acknowledged and socially accepted—forms of intolerance in society. While this idea has historically been problematic in professional settings, it has only worsened throughout the pandemic.
So why has ageism in the workforce been exacerbated since March 2020—and how can the collective business and professional world reclaim lost ground by reducing age stereotyping? Here’s my take on why older working professionals have been disadvantaged since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and what we can do to reverse these trends.
Disbanded working environment causes technology strife
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our professional world shifted to a remote environment almost overnight. The need for rapid adoption of technology in such a disbanded working environment caused tremendous challenges for many workers. Many may wrongly assume that because older generations possess a lesser knowledge of digital concepts, they are behind the eight-ball when it comes to technology. Rather than promoting these false stereotypes, organizations must work to prevent them from becoming widely accepted as true.
Concerns about contracting COVID-19
It’s been well documented—and scientifically proven—that COVID-19 impacts older generations more than younger ones. According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 80 percent of coronavirus-related deaths are by people over the age of 65. To avoid the risk of older employees contracting COVID-19 in the workplace, some companies have simply chosen not to hire them. This form of discrimination cannot continue. In 2020, a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force revealed that three-quarters of the population over the age of 65 healthy and fully functional—with no difficulties in vision, hearing, mobility, communication, or cognition. As these individuals are capable of professional work, companies must continue to foster a fair and equitable recruiting process to create opportunities for older generations. Ultimately, it’s up to employers to bolster protectionary measures that make their workspace safer for all employees.
Problems re-entering the workforce
For older individuals who were laid off from their jobs due to COVID-19, re-entering the workforce has proven to be quite the challenge. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more adults over the age of 65 left the labor force in 2020 than any other year on record. While some members of this older generation chose to enter into early retirement, others searching for employment opportunities were unable to find any. Studies show that older unemployed workers take twice as long as their younger counterparts to become reemployed—and those that find work typically earn only half as much as they did in their previous role.
Making strides to end ageism
When attempting to reverse the ageism trend in the United States, companies must be fully invested in promoting opportunities for older populations. Redoubling efforts to foster job growth for workers, volunteers, and caregivers is incredibly important to the facilitation of a well-rounded and equitable workforce. Confronting inaccurate stereotypes and harmful generalizations related to ageism is critically important to uprooting these ways of thinking in the professional world. Our collective society must put an end to damaging rhetoric that underscores the contributions of our older generations. Everyone deserves a seat at the table—regardless of age.
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