Table of Contents

The Multi-generational and Aging Workforce

The Multi-generational and Aging Workforce

Challenges and Opportunities

New Horizons in Management series

Edited by Ronald J. Burke, Cary Cooper and Alexander-Stamatios Antoniou

The workforce is aging as people live longer and healthier lives, and mandatory retirement has become a relic of the past. Though workforces have always contained both younger and older employees the age range today has expanded, and the generational gap has become more distinct. This book advocates the need for talented employees of all ages as a way to prevent potential skill shortages and considers both the challenges and opportunities that these changes raise for individual organizations. The benefits they discuss include greater employee diversity with regards to knowledge, skills experience and perspectives, whilst challenges involve potential generational tensions, stereotypes and age biases. The book further places an emphasis on initiatives to create generation-friendly workplaces; these involve fostering lifelong learning, tackling age stereotypes and biases, employing reverse mentoring where younger employees mentor older employees, and offering older individuals career options including phased retirement, bridge employment and encore careers.

Chapter 5: Cause, effect, and solution? The uneasy relationship between older age bias and age discrimination law

Susan Bisom-Rapp and Malcolm Sargeant

Subjects: business and management, human resource management, organisational behaviour


Causal explanations for age bias may draw from varied theoretical accounts. These include neoliberal accounts based in economics, political economy perspectives emphasizing industrial change and flexible labor markets, and post-modern arguments tied to the breakdown of cultural values and social groups (Wood et al., 2008). From a public policy perspective, however, among the most influential explanations for older age bias are accounts derived from the research of industrial and organizational psychologists. Described variously as the problem of ageism, prejudice, stereotyping, or implicit bias, unfounded assumptions about older workers and their corresponding ill effects are justifications articulated by policymakers and courts for the prohibition of age discrimination in employment (Bisom-Rapp and Sargeant, 2013). Despite the ubiquity of a psychologically based rationale for legal regulation, deficiencies in the construction and application of legal doctrine, and the recent experience of older workers during the global economic crisis (Bisom-Rapp et al., 2011; Neumark and Button, 2013) raise important questions about the sufficiency of employment discrimination law as protective armor for an aging workforce. Drawing on the authors’ previous work, this chapter addresses these matters as follows. First, the chapter lays out a relatively simple account of older age bias derived from the psychological literature and highlights its strong tie to age discrimination law.

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