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Why tackling age discrimination can boost your business

The law obliges employers to treat workers equally and prohibits discrimination based on age or disability. But to ensure full equality in practice, this often translates to employers adopting specific measures to level the playing field, including in the area of safety and health.


Discrimination against older people has its roots in negative age stereotypes, prejudices and perceptions of older people. When surveyed 45% of people in the EU consider discrimination against people over 55 to be widespread. The Eurobarometer on active ageing highlights that ‘workplace age discrimination is the most widespread form of age discrimination with one in five citizens having personally experienced or witnessed it’.

Policies and measures aimed at preventing age discrimination can help address people’s negative views, and employers can do much to improve the situation. For example, some employers have adopted age-positive recruitment strategies, not only to reduce discrimination but to ensure access to the widest pool of talent.

DAIKIN Europe, a Belgian manufacturer of heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, even targets recruitment campaigns at older workers. They employ older workers – often individuals who have been unemployed for a long time – on seasonal contracts to cover busy summer periods. Subsequently, a significant number of them are retained. Training is offered to all recruits which, together with gaining work experience, also increases employability in the longer term.

DAIKIN Europe also takes into account health and safety aspects, such as adapting heavy workstations to ease the physical burden on its employees. They also hold workshops for managers and staff to assess what measures will be required to enable and motivate people to work longer (at least up to retirement age).

Training plays an important role, not only in ensuring awareness and prevention of occupational safety and health risks, but also in reducing discrimination and is increasingly being used to raise awareness of the importance of being age positive, and of the business benefits of having age diverse teams.

Older workers bring with them a range of favourable skills and characteristics such as stability, reliability, loyalty, experience and wisdom. These skills are not only good for an organisation, they can also be harnessed and passed on to the next generation.

Employers are increasingly tapping into the benefits that active age management practices such as intergenerational cooperation can bring, not only to bridge the gap between young and older workers but also to increase the overall knowledge within their organisations.

Last year the EU adopted the ‘New Skills Agenda for Europe’ which aims to make sure that people develop the skills necessary for the jobs of today and tomorrow. The agenda promotes comprehensive lifelong learning to help, among others, older workers to improve their skills to be better equipped to find quality jobs.

The European Commission has also recently presented the European Pillar of Social Rights, which aims to deliver new and more effective rights for workers. It consists of 20 principles covering equal opportunities and access to labour market; fair working conditions; and social protection and inclusion.

As population and workforce ageing is a cross-policy issue, a holistic approach is preferable in order to address the challenges efficiently. This means integrating the concept of active ageing into all relevant policy areas. Important differences remain between the participation rates of older workers between EU countries. This provides significant potential for mutual learning.

If you want to learn more take a look at the Employers’ practices for active ageing tool available on the Healthy Workplaces for All Ages campaign website. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, using the hashtag #EUhealthyworkplaces. You can also subscribe to our campaign newsletter.