Ageist attitudes damage workers’ health and wellbeing

Ageist attitudes in the workplace and across wider society harm the health and wellbeing of everybody as they get older, a report published by the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) has claimed.

Its That age old question study, published in partnership with the charity the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, suggested that a person’s perception of the ageing process was thought to have an impact on their health and even life expectancy.

It highlighted research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that found those with positive perceptions of ageing lived on average 7.5 years longer than those with more negative outlooks.

Other studies highlighted in the report suggested that a positive view of the ageing process had an effect on the likelihood of developing dementia, following a balanced diet and the speed of recovery after an acute cardiovascular event.

RSPH’s survey of 2,000 people found that three-quarters believed physical health problems associated with ageing would hold them back from doing the things they enjoy, while one in three thought having a long-term illness was an accepted part of getting older.

Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of the RSPH, said: “Our report shows that ageist attitudes abound in society and have a major impact on the public’s health, and yet they are rarely treated with the seriousness they deserve.

“With more people reaching older age than ever before, it is crucial to act now to promote positive integration across the generations.

“If we can begin to remove the stubborn barriers that reinforce societal ageism, we can expect many more to look forward to later life as a period of opportunity for growth and new experiences, rather than a set of mental and physical challenges.”

The report recommended that the planned Mid-life MOT pilot – which is to be taken forward by the Department for Work and Pensions and aims to provide over-40s with financial advice – should also take stock of individuals’ wellbeing and resilience. It said employers should consider the evidence that comes out of the Mid-life MOT pilots to provide more ageing-friendly support, which it said will help them better engage, retain and support workers.

Other recommendations included:

  • the introduction of statutory carers’ leave for employees with caring responsibilities, as it claimed almost half of carers were aged 50 or over;
  • training the workforce about ageism and mandating age-neutral language within the recruitment process;
  • ensuring employees can access flexible working, remote working and working variable hours; and,
  • making healthcare professionals aware of the different ways that ageism can affect patient-carer interactions negatively through ageist language and patronising communication.

Business in the Community (BITC), which is working with employers to increase the number of older workers by 12% by 2022, said businesses needed to encourage cross-generational working to help older workers feel more engaged and help address some of the negative perceptions of ageing.

“Businesses can do more to support their older workers by making training and development opportunities more accessible, promoting a culture of lifelong learning, better targeting support, and introducing mid-life career reviews,” Catherine Sermon, BITC employment director, suggested.

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