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Fine Lines: The 10 Most Ageist Phrases in the Workplace



You're going about your work day when a younger colleague suddenly utters something that smacks of...ageism. Ugh.

Highlighting a co-worker's age is a wrinkle in workplace time that might just leave a few scars. But how do you know if something you've said is ageist? How can you know if you're insulting an older teammate with a back-handed, age-related insult?


Without further ado, here are the 10 most ageist phrases than need to be Botoxed from the face of the modern workplace:

1. "Let me get somebody else to do it." You're perfectly capable of doing "it," but a younger colleague is insistent than you should let "it" go to somebody who was in grade school when you were in grad school. You insist it's no problem, but "it" is handed off, anyway.

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2. "You're overqualified/why are you working here?" Because you need a job, just like your co-workers do? Plus, you're really good at your job. It isn't rocket science.

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3. "You don't need the training session." Hey, everyone else on the team is going, why not you? Older workers want to keep learning and growing, too! Alas, the fee per employee is $300, and investing in anyone over a certain age is like throwing good money away.

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4. "You look tired/you look good for your age." No, I look 50. Shut up.

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5. "I know technology can be confusing." Hey, you're talking to a Gen Xer who was navigating Unix to "talk" online back in the day. Or a Baby Boomer who has dealt with mainframes. Pretty sure they can figure out Slack.

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6. "Oh, and you, too." Thanks for tagging the older teammate as an addendum to whatever has just been said to the team. There's nothing better than being invisible.

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7. "You remind me so much of my parents." Why is that? Oh.

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8. "Does that make sense/am I making sense?" Yes, it made sense the first time, and you don't need to keep asking if you make sense every time we speak. And why are you speaking so slowly, and so loudly? Please stop.

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9. "Thanks, sweetie/you're so adorable." What is it about some older female employees that makes younger employees utter this phrase? On the one hand, it's...sweet. On the other hand, it's basically like saying: "I don't see you as real competition. You're more like my frail 90-year-old great auntie. Adorbs!"

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10. "He's our resident gray-hair." Or gramps, or "old man." Step right up, because our resident Baby Boomer is here, full of gravitas and grandfatherly gumption even though he doesn't have grandchildren yet. We remember when he had fewer gray hairs, though.

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Employees of all ages add real value to the workplace, so let's honor and value our elders at work instead of telling them they look tired. They work hard, and they don't need anyone asking why they don't retire. Does that make sense?

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