Stereotypes in the workplace can harm the organization, the company culture, and interpersonal relationships among co-workers. Stereotyping based on age can cause friction between employees of differing generations, as the workforce in the 21st century witnesses the coming together of four generations with age gaps of up to five decades, in some cases. The disadvantages of stereotyping older people in the workforce include unfair expectations, lack of productivity due to differing perspectives, and legal ramifications of age discrimination.
The workplace can be heavy with competition, differing perspectives, and tensions due to deadlines or discord with co-workers. When there is stereotyping due to age, one disadvantage is when managers have unfair expectations of their older employees. This could mean that supervisors expect their older employees to automatically understand the company culture, and to perform better than their younger counterparts because of their industry or company knowledge and years spent in the organization. Conversely, managers may have unfair expectations of their older employees because of the productivity level of younger employees who are more technologically savvy or more physically able work faster. Supervisors must know the employees under their management, and keep company morale and productivity at the highest level despite different ages. It is best for managers to treat all employees fairly, and to keep expectations equal for all employees.
Lack of Productivity
Employees who are under pressure often respond in negative ways. One of these ways can be a lack of productivity, which can be a result of differing perspectives in the workplace. One disadvantage of stereotyping based on age in the workplace is that older employees may be accustomed to doing things one way, while younger employees may be more apt to introduce new ways of getting tasks done. Either way, the different approaches can create tension, and can lower productivity. This is one reason that stereotyping based on age, or having different expectations for employees based on their length of time within the organization, is unnecessary and detrimental to the work environment.
Federal regulations regarding equal employment opportunities also include legal ramifications for age discrimination. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Age discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) less favorably because of his age." Participating in age discrimination in any way can be destructive to the workplace, and have a negative impact of the overall culture of the organization. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, ADEA, protects employees over the age of 40 from discrimination, and many states also have laws in place that protect younger workers, as well. Employers are responsible for training their supervisors to avoid stereotyping based on age, and the legal consequences of acting upon stereotypes can damage a company's reputation and finances if an employee successfully pursues legal action, which may include fines and punitive and monetary damages.
Avoiding Age Stereotypes
Stereotypes are common in everyday life because each person has her own perspective on the workplace and other situations. To avoid stereotypes based on age, employers must train their supervisors and have policies in place to protect employees of all ages. It is also important for the expectations to be equal across the company, and to have no unfair treatment of employees based on age. Recognizing that there is a generation gap between employees at times, encouraging employees to share information among themselves to increase company productivity can help to avoid the disadvantages and negative consequences of stereotyping older people in the workplace. Managers must model conduct that is collegial and respectful toward everyone, no matter how old or young the employees are.
Jennifer Burton is a human resources professional based in California. She holds an M.A. in American studies from California State University, Fullerton.