Workplace ageism: Discovering hidden bias

Sanna Malinen, Lucy Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background/Study Context: Research largely shows no performance differences between older and younger employees, or that older workers even outperform younger employees, yet negative attitudes towards older workers can underpin discrimination. Unfortunately, traditional "explicit" techniques for assessing attitudes (i.e., self-report measures) have serious drawbacks. Therefore, using an approach that is novel to organizational contexts, the authors supplemented explicit with implicit (indirect) measures of attitudes towards older workers, and examined the malleability of both. Methods: This research consists of two studies. The authors measured self-report (explicit) attitudes towards older and younger workers with a survey, and implicit attitudes with a reaction-time-based measure of implicit associations. In addition, to test whether attitudes were malleable, the authors measured attitudes before and after a mental imagery intervention, where the authors asked participants in the experimental group to imagine respected and valued older workers from their surroundings. Results: Negative, stable implicit attitudes towards older workers emerged in two studies. Conversely, explicit attitudes showed no age bias and were more susceptible to change intervention, such that attitudes became more positive towards older workers following the experimental manipulation. Conclusion: This research demonstrates the unconscious nature of bias against older workers, and highlights the utility of implicit attitude measures in the context of the workplace. In the current era of aging workforce and skill shortages, implicit measures may be necessary to illuminate hidden workplace ageism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-465
Number of pages21
JournalExperimental Aging Research
Volume39
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes

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