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Beware the so-called positive age stereotype (again)

by on December 17, 2014

Launching a scheme to encourage employers to hire older workers on a form of ‘work experience’, Steve Webb, the pensions minister, is quoted here in The Telegraph as saying that older workers are ‘reliable, polite, and turn up on time’. We had contemplated running a Christmas competition for the worst age stereotypes that could be found on the Web but actually this comment is a good example of the kind of practice we had in mind.

On the face of it, this comment appears to describe older workers in a positive way but let’s unpack it a bit. The description invokes a younger worker who is the opposite of these attributes and both stereotypes are sweeping generalisations. Further, the so-called positive characteristics operate in such a way as to ‘allow’ a more negative assessment to be made by way of balance, here, that older workers may be lacking the latest IT skills. Again, a gross generalisation which over-simplifies the position of those of all ages who may lack key skills.

As ever, the reader comments on this article are every bit as interesting as the original item including those pointing out the unfairness of the above stereotype. Others include the view that these ‘older worker’ attributes are not rewarded in salary terms and (again, a generalisation) that older workers have a low bullshit threshold which works against them in many organisations.

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