“Age Against the Machine – Ending Ageism in the Workplace”

That’s the kickass-if-I-say-so-myself title of my new talk, which debuted earlier this month, in real life, at the annual conference of the Financial Planners Association. The catalyst was my pre-event call with the organizers. “There’s grousing from our older members, who pretty much invented the field and feel their contributions aren’t acknowledged,” they told me. “Meanwhile the Millennials think their older colleagues should get out of the way.” Sound familiar?

I’ve been on a tear for a while now about the need to wean ourselves off generational labels in general. Once I started digging into research on age bias in the workplace, I realized there was plenty more to say about why generational finger-pointing is so widespread. It’s convenient, it’s tempting, and it’s lucrative. A whole industry has sprung up urging worried managers to consult pricey experts about how to cope with real and significant generational differences. In fact, most needs are universal. Work-life balance is no more important to Millennials than it is to other employees. Everyone needs mental health days. Everyone appreciates flexible work schedules.  Age has far less to do with affinity than we think it does. Although tensions are real, an ageist culture makes it easy to blame conflicts on age differences instead of considering other explanations for what employees do, or don’t, have in common.   

Generational stereotypes contaminate every corner of the workplace, from decision-making to how colleagues perceive and treat each other. They obscure the rich and complex reality. They foster scapegoating—”Gen Z is so picky, what’s a manager to do?” They make people feel devalued and excluded. They undermine the solidarity and collective action necessary to implement any social good, including work-related fundamentals like affordable child care and a decent retirement. Discrimination in the workplace provides ideological cover for a whole set of unacceptable business practices that enable employers to take advantage of workers at both ends of the age spectrum. It’s not a too-many-old people problem, it’s a disposable-human problem.

There’s plenty more in “Age Against the Machine,” including ten ways to detect and eliminate age bias in your organization or workplace. For a full description, and/or to book me for your event, please contact the Lavin Agency.

2 thoughts on ““Age Against the Machine – Ending Ageism in the Workplace”

  1. Ashton – Glad to see that you are out addressing the generation issue in your speaking – especially in the work world. As someone in the world of tech and media – and who is 65 (you said to state your age!) it’s something I constantly address with people across ALL ‘generations’ – both internalized comments and behaviors, and externalized expressions. Appreciate you and your work.

  2. Hi Ashton, you are right on so many levels. I do want to agree to disagree on one statement you make: “A whole industry has sprung up urging worried managers to consult pricey experts about how to cope with real and significant generational differences.”

    My experience has taught me (I’m one of those pricey experts) that most managers and even HR leaders don’t know how to address the intergenerational challenges they’re facing, especially now. I truly believe they need their eyes opened up (which you do very eloquently). The kinds of biases and stereotyping you refer to have become, and are, insidious. Our brains like to keep things simple, if we let them. I’m working with a DEI VR team here in the NL. I’d love to share the results of this with you. We can talk all we want but unless we make people feel what it’s like to be marginalized in any way, then I don’t think what we say will stick. Combine the two and magic happens.

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