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The Multigenerational Workforce: Addressing Ageism in the Workplace

By Jess Fitzpatrick, Associate Member ASHRAE

A diverse and inclusive workforce promotes all races, genders, disabilities, sexual orientations, religions, belief systems, and ages. As attention around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies has increased, we have seen crucial conversations encompassing topics such as race and gender. These topics tend to take the spotlight for DEI conversations, overshadowing such issues as ageism. Conversations about ageism hold importance as ageism impacts all ages at different levels throughout an individual's lifetime.

Largely, ageism is viewed as acceptable by society. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 2 people are ageist (de la Fuente-Núñez & Mikton, 2021). The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals above the age of forty from discrimination in employment. However, this does not mean that ageism does not exist within our workforce. Research and studies across several different organizations show otherwise. According to a Harris Poll conducted in 2021, "A third (34%) of working adults believe that ageism is a problem in their workplace, and nearly as many (31%) have experienced it personally" (Rosanwo, 2021).

What prejudices might an older employee face that would classify as ageism under the law? Actions range from negative remarks about someone's age to refusing specialized training for older workers with less familiarity with technology to passing over an older employee for promotion due to the employee being close to retirement age. These actions impact employee mental and emotional well-being, reducing productivity and motivation among older staff. 

Similar to U.S. law, previous research has focused heavily on the impact of ageism on older generations (typically ages 50 and older). The American Psychiatric Association (APA) argues that this research is ageist as it ignores younger generations. Per a 2020 study by the APA, individuals of all ages report experiencing age-based discrimination, indicating that future research must include all age ranges (Bratt et al., 2020). The results of the Harris Poll mentioned above showed that 36% of young professionals report experiencing age-based discrimination (Rosanwo, 2021). Ageism impacts both young and more experienced professionals, which indicates a more significant problem than previously acknowledged.

One may ask themselves why combatting ageism matters to employers. Outside of the ethical duty of companies to treat employees with respect, the longevity of companies relies on the integration of generations. What are the potential risks for companies that ignore this piece of the DEI puzzle? Simply put: labor shortages, tension in the workplace, and knowledge gaps.

Labor Shortages: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate by 2025 (Xue & Larson, 2015). Recruiting and maintaining talent are currently and will continue to be a hurdle employers face as they work to staff projects. Investing in a diverse work environment will help to keep current talent as well as encourage prospective talent to come aboard. It is good business practice to avoid alienating a crucial sector of the available workforce during a labor shortage.

Tension in the Workplace: Another APA Study revealed that 60% of office conflicts within larger companies are caused by older workers' negative perceptions of their younger colleagues (Raymer et al., 2016). Hostile work environments decrease productivity and motivation among staff. Not only are companies at risk of losing their talent, but the financial well-being of the company can be impacted as well. Focusing on a diverse and inclusive culture will aid in eliminating tension in the workplace and help maintain talent. It is good business practice to be a steward of one's resources.

Knowledge Gaps: Almost 40% of the workforce is over 50 (Schramm & Figueiredo, 2020). Within 15 years, over one-third of expertise and knowledge will have left the industry. Do companies have a plan to address this loss in knowledge? In a 2023 poll by the Mary Christie Institute, 39% of respondents felt their college education did not prepare them for a successful transition to the workplace (Ames, 2023). This indicates an opportunity for mentorship among generations. Mentorship benefits both parties involved and can lead to opportunities for skills and knowledge sharing. A younger worker mentoring an older worker on new technology, an older worker mentoring a younger worker on breaking into the industry, or same-aged employees mentoring each other on their strengths will bolster the workforce. Investing in workers of all ages will exchange years of invaluable experience and skills between employees. It is good business practice to utilize assets to their full potential.

Companies must work now to invest in DEI policies for many reasons, including the benefits of having a diversified workforce when it comes to age. What actions can a company take to prevent ageism?

  • Review company policies and standards to highlight any areas where ageism may be present and create a plan to address these deficiencies.
  • Invest in equal training for all employees and provide access to equal opportunities regardless of age.
  • Work on flourishing a culture where stereotypes against specific generations and ageist remarks are not welcome.
  • Be a catalyst of change by encouraging employees of all ages to work together and share their knowledge and skills.

Not only is it ethical to ensure diversity and inclusion, but it is also good business practice. Employers face many challenges, including labor shortages, tension in the workplace, and knowledge gaps. Embracing DEI policies will help to ease these challenges and make any company more highly sought after by prospective talent. In a world where 1 in 2 people are ageist, be a part of the 50% who do not let someone's age dictate their treatment. Together, we can change that statistic.

Sources Cited:

Ames, M. (2023). THE MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING OF YOUNG PROFESSIONALS. The Mary Christie Institute. Retrieved October 21, 2023, from

Bratt, C., Abrams, D., & Swift, H. J. (2020). Supporting the Old but Neglecting the Young? The Two Faces of Ageism. Developmental Psychology, 56(5), 1029-1039.

De la Fuente-Núñez, V., & Mikton, C. (2021). Global Report on Ageism. Retrieved October 21, 2023, from

Raymer, M., Reed, M., Spiegel, M., & Purvanova, R. K. (2016). An Examination of Generational Stereotypes as a Path Towards Reverse Ageism. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 20(3), 148-175.

Rosanwo, D. (2021, June 30). Growing up too fast? Older millennials already see themselves as middle-aged. Retrieved October 21, 2023, from

Schramm, J., & Figueiredo, C. (2020). The US Essential Workforce Ages 50 and Older. AARP Public Policy Institute.

Xue, Y., & Larson, R. C. (2015). STEM crisis or STEM surplus? Yes and yes. Monthly Labor Review. Retrieved October 21, 2023, from,Council%20of%20Advisors%20on%20Science%20and%20Technology%201