How to deal with age discrimination in the workplace

Sunday June 28 2020

Workplace. PHOTO/FILE

By Mwikali Lati

Some of the questions being asked mostly by senior job seekers is ‘are you sure they will be keen to hire me?’ or ‘have you confirmed that they have not set any age limit?.

The bolder ones shoot straight and ask ‘ are you certain that there is no preference for high-energy candidates’ a cliché used by many employers to show a preference for younger staff.

Many organisations have elaborate policies in diversity and how to ensure there is equal opportunity for all employees — joining and serving — but hardly do these policies specifically mention age, other than in retirement policies.

 While employment laws rule out discrimination of any nature, there are always undertones in some organisations around older employees and their perceived inability to adapt to change quickly.

With Covid-19 and the older persons categorised riskier to the infection, I wonder how many employers may be biased against this group when hiring or restructuring. We have heard statements in interview panels that conclude a candidate is overqualified, simply saying they have been working far too long. You probably have heard conclusions like ‘I doubt they will be a good cultural fit’ short of saying he or she is too old to fit in a youthful organisation.

I appreciate that there are many who thrive in helping others achieve their dreams, and there is nothing wrong with that, after all, if we were all job creators, whom would we employ? But sitting there and wishing age away and wallowing in self-pity will not work. How about seeking every opportunity to increase your competitiveness and solidify your position as a productive employee?


Instead of giving your employer the reason to call you ‘old school’ or see you as ‘blocking a role’ or ‘too costly’, cultivate a habit to be well versed with workplace transformation — new technology, way of doing business, business trends, future of work and workplace jargon.

Information is at your fingertips, choose to sharpen your skills, which combined with your experience should be gold to organisations that treasure wisdom gained over the years.

One mistake aging employees make is to look down on younger generations, but by choosing to walk with them, you will be surprised at how much you can learn from them once trust is established. Instead of being stressed over the so-called millennials now rising to key positions of leadership or the burst of innocent energy of GenZ’s who are impatient with everyone, even technology, offer wisdom.

Finally, we all have a work sale-by-date so to speak — prepare yourself for this moment because it will come and you cannot wish it away. I have seen people plead for their retirement dates to be extended and I often wonder what they think they will achieve in a few years that they failed to do over the decades.

Secure an alternative source of income while you can, and take it easy as years go by.