Dynamics of Age and Ageism in Strategic Workplace Encounters

Tutkimustuotos: VäitöskirjaCollection of Articles


In the global context of population ageing, organisations face two challenges: managing the ageing of their workers and limiting age stereotypes and prejudices in their practices. This dissertation investigates age and ageism at their roots in and through the social interactions happening at work. Instead of assuming that age is relevant for certain groups of workers, I shed light on how age is discursively mobilised by the workers themselves during strategic workplace encounters. Instead of measuring ageist attitudes or experiences, I expose how workers orient to possible prejudicial notions of age groups as relevant to the interactional and organisational business at hand.

This research was placed in a discursive realm. I consider age and ageism to be constructed in and through language and conversation in the workplace. Two aims structure the overall research. The first is to map the contribution of exploring ageism from a discursive point of view. The second is to pinpoint how age and ageism are mobilised in strategic workplace encounters and how they become relevant for accomplishing these encounters from the interactants’ perspective. I zoom in on two types of strategic workplace encounters. The data comprised video recordings of performance appraisal interviews (12 encounters) and job interviews (24 encounters) from two Italian companies. These practices are strategic because they define access and progress in working life and hence are arenas for discriminatory assessments of the fit between job position and workers’ age. The analyses of strategic workplace encounters are based on membership categorisation analysis, applied conversation analysis and applied discursive psychology.

This dissertation consists of an integrative chapter and three published papers. The two described aims are addressed by, first, a scoping review (Article 1) and, second, two empirical analyses of strategic workplace encounters (Articles 2 and 3). First, I present the results of the review, which scientifically defines my research’s niche, details the main themes of discursive analyses of ageism in working life, and showcases the gap in the knowledge that I address. Second, I focused on age categorisation in performance appraisal interviews. I show how age is discursively co-constructed by managers and employees in three different ways in relation to the organisational category under discussion. Third, I delved into job interviews. I detail how mobilising prejudicial categorisation based on age group can function as an interactional resource in maintaining a favourable impression between job applicants and recruiters. In the analysed strategic encounters, shared social identities are resources to build solidarity, manage workers’ favourable impressions and avoid personal shortcomings.

The construction of age and possible ageist accounts is done collaboratively by managers-employees and recruiters-job applicants and it is functional to accomplish the business at hand. First, age is more than a number inside the workplace, and it assumes a functional meaning linked to the action being performed. Second, prejudicial references to age are not oriented to as morally accountable by workers, even in practices that are supposedly unbiased and inclusive. Third, the methodological focus on categories is crucial to unveiling how shared and institutionalised age norms, even if not directly ageist, reinforce a normative understanding of ageing in working life.

This work contributes to re-shed light on age and ageism in workplace encounters. The methodological focus on interactional practices highlights the advantage of studying policies in their social contexts to determine how they are actualised in everyday life. Hence, I suggest that age management in companies needs to be contextualised not only in the organisational culture, but also in the specific practices and their institutional goals. This dissertation unpacks the idea that ageism is unconsciously and silently spreading in our society by pointing to how it reproduces in social interactions. In conclusion, I propose a new way to educate on age and ageism in an organisational context by not only focusing on the cognitive components of biases, but also by including a discursive understating of age, group membership and identities, and moral accountability from an interactional stance. I include advice for improving the diversity and inclusion agenda in companies. The proposed guidelines include accountability, education about age and ageism, creation of policies and training based on interactional practices.
ISBN (elektroninen)978-952-03-2784-2
TilaJulkaistu - 2023
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG5 Artikkeliväitöskirja


NimiTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (painettu)2489-9860
ISSN (elektroninen)2490-0028


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