Age discrimination in the workplace and how it affects you

Know anyone who has been treated badly in the workplace because of their age? We do too! Over the past year, age discrimination has moved to the front and centre of the national debate. As we are working longer than ever before, experts suggest that ageism is set to become a more pertinent problem. 

It is a serious issue that affects many of us in the work-place over the age of 50 and age discrimination has wide-ranging social and economic effects on us as individuals and our nation.

Here are some tips on how to avoid - and deal with - ageism and continue a fulfilling career.

What is age discrimination?
The good news is we are covered legally because under federal law, we are all protected from discrimination on the basis of age. The Age Discrimination Act 2004 makes it illegal to treat someone who is older person unfairly because of their age. Discrimination can be direct or indirect, but the law gives a person the right to equality in a number of distinct situations. These include, but are not limited to, employment, the provision of goods, education and accommodation.

Though several exceptions to the law already exist, there are clear-cut examples of age discrimination that are covered by the law. These include: the blanket refusal of employment based upon one's age; less than desirable terms or conditions that differ to those afforded to other, younger workers; the denial of promotion and training; general dismissal for reasons related to age; and any other detrimental decision that was made on the basis of an individual's age.

Despite the best intentions of the federal law, it seems that acts of age discrimination are nonetheless going unreported and undetected. Alarmingly, statistics also seem to indicate that ageism is increasingly common in the Australian workplace and particular during periods of 'hiring and firing'.

The statistical prevalence of ageism
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, age discrimination is significant and statistically common. In a 2015 study, 'National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace', the AHRC made alarming discoveries about the current Australian workplace. The report arrived at the following findings:

  • 27% of Australians aged 50 and over had experienced age discrimination in the workplace over the last two years
  • 32% of respondents reported that they were aware of others in their age range who had been discriminated against
  • 32% of respondents aged between 55 and 59 believer they experienced discrimination
  • 44% of managers aged over 50 years admitted that age was a deciding factor in their hiring choices
  • 33% of those responsible for making staff-based decisions considered a person's age on a frequent or occasional basis 


The AHRC study also found that a mammoth 43% of Australian workers did not take any action to curb the discrimination. Of those who did report the problem to external or internal authorities, a paltry 18% reported that they were subsequently employed, re-trained, accommodated in terms of working hours or given an apology. All of these statistics are unveiling a job-culture that does seem to be biased towards younger employees, and a system that is having difficulty with transitioning to an older workforce.

Thankfully Attorney-General George Brandis recently ordered the AHRC to begin work on a national inquiry into ageism. The 'Willing To Work' inquiry is set to focus on the economic impacts of isolating older people from the workforce, as well as ways to promote participation among older Australians. It will conclude and report by July 2016.

Did you know an extra 3% participation rate in workers over 55 is estimated to account for a $33 billion boost to Australia’s gross domestic product! 


The economic benefits of staying in the workforce longer
Every year, the Australian economy suffers as a result of age discrimination. Recent Deloitte Access Economics figures indicate that older workers are highly valuable to the economy. The statistics show that an extra 3% participation rate among older workers (over 55s) would account for a $33 billion boost to the nation's Gross Domestic Product. The recent Intergenerational Report reaffirmed the important role of older workers by finding that the continued presence of those aged 55 and over add a whopping $55 billion (or 2.7%) to the country's bottom line.

The employment of ‘older workers’ has also been positively linked to lower recruitment and training costs, the increased flow of knowledge to less experienced workers and the encouragement of a more diverse and equal workforce.

7 tips for battling ageism in the workplace
During the hiring process, and while we are gainfully employed, older workers will face a barrage of issues that may impact on our long-term job prospects. Though these discriminatory factors are patently unfair, there are ways to side step the problems and improve your chances of staying employed or getting a great new job.


Update your resume to ensure a better chance at securing a great new job.

  1. Make sure your resume is up-to-date, well set out and looks modern.
  2. Familiarise yourself with user-based technologies, applications and common programs to avoid the perception that you are 'out of touch'. Consider investing in education such as covering basics in social media if relevant to your field.
  3. Sell your skills and years of experience. Don't be afraid to refer to your years of experience in a specific field as it may well reverberate with potential employers faced with less-experienced, younger workers.
  4. Dress well and professionally. A modern looking dress-sense can make you seem more approachable and more adaptable. Invest in a new hair cut. In doubt about what to wear? Seek professional advice. David Jones offer a free personal shopping service by appointment.
  5. If appropriate don't be afraid to address the elephant in the room. If you get the opportunity, discuss your age and the perceived impact it may have on your ability to work or get the job. Ask questions and be honest with your potential employer. Assert yourself as pro-active and flexible.
  6. Listen to younger workers and develop a good working rapport with them – share your experiences and knowledge with younger workers and work to foster a steady flow of communication between older and younger workers.
  7. End the interview or each working day on a positive note. 

If you choose to you can continue working and contributing to the productivity of the nation and your workplace. We want to know what you think so if you've had experience with age discrimination in the workplace, please share your thought and experiences with others via social media or in the discussion below. 

Jane Fonda delivers an inspiring Tedx talk about making the most of our ‘third act’

For more information on age discrimination visit the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Have you experience age discrimination in the workplace? Share your thoughts and experiences below. . .