my younger coworker keeps making ageist comments to me

A reader writes:

I am an older worker doing very well in my executive position in a small think tank. Apart from the director and myself, the other staff are in their 20s and 30s.

One staff member in particular continually makes both oblique and direct references to age. For example, she said one day that she was struggling because she was “hormonal, not like you — you’re probably menopausal” … has said, “Wow, you know all the modern language” when I use contemporary or colloquial acronyms and term … and has referred to the executive director — the other older person — as the “dad” of younger members of the team.

I am not her direct manager, but I am senior to her.

I don’t appreciate causal ageism, and feel it is perhaps one of the last forms of open discrimination that is still acceptable in the workplace. I’ve experienced structural ageism when laid off previously and have been passed over for job after job by younger hiring managers despite being at the top of my game.

It’s a small organization, and I want to preserve good relationships. What’s the best way to handle this?

The strange irony here is that your coworker is undermining herself by focusing so much on age and regularly casting herself as younger and less experienced. Maybe it won’t have that effect in your particular office, but it definitely could in others.

In any case, are you comfortable calling it out directly when it happens? For example, if she makes another comment like the one about you being menopausal, you could say, “Wow, that is really not appropriate to say to someone at work” or “I’m sure you don’t mean to be, but that’s really inappropriate.” To her comments about how you know “all the modern language,” you could dryly reply, “I’m sure you don’t mean that how it sounds” or “what a weird thing to say.” When she refers to the executive director as “dad,” you could say, “It’s really undermining — to Bob and everyone else — to call him that.”

It also might make sense to address the pattern itself: “You seem really focused on age.” And if she seems receptive, you could add, “I don’t think you realize how that comes across, and can even open the company to legal liability since age over 40 is a protected class.” You could also point out that she’s undermining herself professionally by being so focused on age, which makes her look inexperienced. Hell, if it feels right for the relationship, you could say it in a mentor-y way — “I wanted to mention this to you because I didn’t know if you realized those kind of comments can really undermine your own professionalism and seniority, as well as negatively affecting the people you’re talking about.”

That’s all a soft or at least semi-soft approach because you’re concerned about preserving the relationship. But you’d also be on perfectly solid ground in taking a less soft approach — either in your language to her or by escalating the issue the same way you would with other types of bias. In a small organization, I’m guessing you don’t have HR, but there’s someone you’d talk to if you wanted to report harassment or discrimination and you could take this to that person. (I’m guessing it might be your executive director.)

I don’t think you’re likely to need to lean heavily on the law in this situation, but so you know potentially relevant details: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is the primary federal law that would be in play, and it protects employees who are 40 or older from age-based discrimination or harassment. It covers employers with 20 or more employees, but many states have laws that kick in at lower thresholds. It’s important to know that the law doesn’t prohibit “simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not serious”; harassment is illegal “when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).” The details in the letter likely don’t rise to the level of violating the law, but a smart employer will want to shut it down anyway.

{ 306 comments… read them below }

  1. bamcheeks*

    I don’t appreciate causal ageism, and feel it is perhaps one of the last forms of open discrimination that is still acceptable in the workplace

    Your coworker is wrong and you have standing to address it with her, but please don’t do this.

    1. Lisee*

      I have reread your comment a few times but can’t tell what you’re taking issue with. I think that sentence you quoted is spot on, personally.

      1. DarthVelma*

        I think a lot of people take exception to calling any form of discrimination “the last form that’s still acceptable” given that so very many groups are still very much opernly discriminated against.

        1. Sal*


          things i have seen lately called “the last acceptable form of prejudice”: body-shaming (against both fat and thin people); ageism; ableism; racism against white people…

          It’s not a phrase I have seen used thoughtfully, even when used by otherwise thoughtful people.

        2. Wintermute*

          in employment law terms though, it is very much under-reported and underenforced compared to other EEOA-protected classes.

          1. Anon for this - Negotiating on the Tenure Track*

            This is what I was going to say, it’s very socially acceptable to be fatphobic. I’ve heard many cringeworthy fatphobic comments at work, it’s completely not something people avoid, unfortunately.

        3. Littorally*

          Agreed. It carries this implication that all other forms of discrimination are “solved” or at least are uncontroversially recognized as a legitimate problem and handled accordingly.

      2. Nonny*

        Yeah…I don’t get it either. I would include fat shaming along with ageism, but I’m not sure what’s wrong with pointing that out?

        1. Disabled trans lesbian*

          Well, a lot of marginalised people are actively being discriminated against so “last openly acceptable bigotry” is not only useless and wrong (just consider the elongated muskrat being openly ableist on his social media platform, or open bigotry against trans people, for instance), it is actively dismissive of all forms of discrimination.
          Playing oppression olympics benefits only the ruling class, so please quit it.
          You are not being helpful by pulling other people down.

      3. bamcheeks*

        Oh, to be more clear — there SO. MANY. types of discrimination which are openly practised. Nearly all of them, in fact. Generally speaking, anyone referring to “the last acceptable form of discrimination” is indicating that they are unaware of (or dismissing) how people are impacted by all the other “types” of discrimination.

        1. MassChick*

          LW did say ONE of the last .. not THE last forms. There is a difference, though I agree there no need to make a competition out of discrimination.

          Ultimately, ageism affects all groups, including the discriminated ones.

      4. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “The last acceptable form of discrimination” is a really common internet phrase right now that’s really reductive of…all the other forms of discrimination that are still loud and present.

      5. NaoNao*

        It edges towards dog-whistle. Certain much less savory groups use that exact phrasing “the last acceptable form of prejudice/discrimination” about certain issues (age, size) to downplay or erase very real still-going-on discrimination and unjust treatment in a kind of “XX Lives Matter [so there!]” move.

    2. Katara's side braids*

      Thank you for addressing this. Ageism is too often considered “normal” even in its most egregious forms, but that can be said for so many different kinds of marginalization. I hope the LW is able to resolve this in a way where she no longer has to experience these comments, but as someone with multiple intersecting marginalized identities, it’s tiring when ANY of them are presented as “the last acceptable one.”

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think this is valuable to call out but also don’t want it to take over the post so let’s consider it flagged and addressed. Thank you!

    4. Beebs*

      If LW is in the US this is really not a great thing to say given the increasing open hatred and antagonism towards transgender individuals we’ve been seeing recently

  2. DarthVelma*

    This young woman has some serious internalized misogyny to go along with her ageism and you’d be doing everyone a favor, including her, if you shut that shit down.

    1. Chris*

      That sentence about being hormonal is an excellent example on sexism and ageism at once. In case one kind of discrimination was not bad enough.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      Similar to “why is that funny?” to an -ist joke, I’d have a really hard time not kicking off that particular conversation with “Why do you think it’s acceptable to say {insert comment}?” Most of the advice is geared toward getting ahead of that conversation, which is also a good way to handle it, but I’d honestly want to put this person on the spot and make them come up with an answer first.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I agree. I’d make it clear. You can be so without being rude (though she might see it that way anyway). I think this person probably needs the less soft approach that is still professional. Aside from coming across as biased, she’s also showing her own immaturity and insecurity, neither of which is a good thing for future career growth. To even say she herself is hormonal is being self-depreciating in a way that can negatively affect how others see her professionally.

      2. The Original K.*

        I’ve found that “how strange that you feel comfortable saying that to me/asking me that” works well in situations like this.

        1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

          Agree. Only in my case I’ve just flat out said, “you know Fergus, you seem awfully damn comfortable saying that to me/asking me that.” The situation warranted the stern tone and a supervisor overheard me say that, thereby asking Fergus, who said the thing, to please step into supervisor’s office.Write up and PIP ensued. I won’t go into detail on what he said but suffice to say it was wildly inappropriate but seemed like everyday conversation to him. He didn’t survive the PIP.

    3. Flowers*

      I rolled my eyes so hard that they fell out (literally – my contact lens fell out my eye). I’m betting that coworker is the lone female in a group of male coworkers and is playing up the “I’m a baby” schtick.

      1. pope suburban*

        I mean, that would make the comments about menopause a non-sequitur as well as grossly inappropriate, but…actually, I’ve got to admit to a certain morbid curiosity about how this conclusion was reached, based on the information in the letter. I suppose I could advance some theories, but none of them are what I’d consider great.

        1. Flowers*

          I mean…generally speaking, people here come up with all sorts of wild speculations that are close to being total fanfiction – I don’t think my conclusion was THAT far gone. But as to how I reached it – observations from various jobs since 2005. Aside from that, I’m happy to hear your theories.

          1. pope suburban*

            Generally speaking, people don’t describe male-presenting people as menopausal, so the idea that this person is exploiting some kind of special status as the only woman on the team seems far afield. But there are quite a few people here calling her a child and assuming she’s just going to flirt or pout her way to success, which is totally not rooted in misogyny or resentment, and that seems to be considered okay, so…I’m sure it’s nothing.

    4. Mae*

      Or, LW could be matter-of-fact about it. Everyone gets a teaching moment, because none of us are born at the top. We’ve all made these mistakes. Every single one of us. Why some of us pretend otherwise is beyond me.

      So, LW, I encourage you to teach, be the example, discuss. That’s what will stick. That’s what your co-worker will take into the world, and exactly what will effect change.

      Approaching it as “shit” to “shut down” won’t do any good except for you, which is great for you, but very limiting otherwise.

      This forum is full of understanding about other kinds of employee horrifics, with reasoning ranging from not being raised in a proper home, to being marginalized, and everything in between. Why can’t that be the case here?

      1. metadata minion*

        If the LW wants to be a teacher here, that’s great. Society does indeed depend on us all teaching each other and giving each other a little grace. But it’s very frustrating that this teachable moment seems to always fall on the person facing discrimination rather than other people of the privileged category. The LW doesn’t have to patiently explain why being surprised that an older person can still learn stuff is offensive if she doesn’t want to.

        1. Mae*

          What’s your solution?

          Because I know I will always be grateful to those who swallowed their anger and used it to show me the way.

          And every last one of us has those people in our corner, even if we don’t know who they are.

          I’ve chosen to pay it forward. Not difficult at all.

          1. Kippu*

            It’s not about “swallowing anger”

            It’s about not wanting to relive trauma in order to try to teach someone who may or may not be receptive in the first place.

          2. Kippu*

            >>Not difficult at all.

            I’ll just have to remember, next time a coworker calls me “him” or “It” and my anxiety kicks in so hard I need to medicate that it’s just not difficult at all, really.


            1. JSPA*

              Deep sympathy… but the sort of overt agression and harassment is a couple of giant steps beyond what the LW is experiencing (and what Mae is talking about).

              As Alison quotes, what you’re experiencing is severe and hateful: “…when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.” If the LW were in that situation, they’d have the law on their side; that makes it much more emotionally possible to soft pedal cases that are thoughtless and blurty, rather than cruel and directed.

              Someone at work who thinks they have standing to say, “I sometimes felt like a boy as a kid, but it turns out I was just a tomboy” might be comparable (???)

              “why are you telling me this? Do you intend it as light conversation, a faint invalidation of being trans, or some very random sharing of personal gender conceptions at work? Because it’s landing hecka awkwardly on my end.”

              Being called “it” (without being one of the extremely small number of people who do embrace that!) is more like being called a “smelly old c-word.” Nobody’s suggesting that dealing with an overt attack should be a teaching moment.

          3. Katara's side braids*

            I agree that so much of my learning and growth has come from people who chose to give me grace when they had every reason not to. But I have always understood that that was a *gift*, not something I was entitled to.

            As someone at the intersection of multiple marginalizations, educating someone this way takes an amount of mental and emotional energy that I simply can’t extend to every person who demonstrates ignorance. Plus, the time and energy that marginalized people spend gently educating people is time and energy that their less-marginalized colleagues are able to use to grow in their lives and careers. As someone with ADHD who experiences willpower, focus, and restraint as extremely finite resources, using those resources to educate my colleagues on my personhood instead of doing my work is absolutely “difficult”. It doesn’t mean I never do it, because I understand the value of patience and grace when freely given. But this is not something we can ever tell someone they *should* be doing.

          4. Clorinda*

            Maybe she’s fresh out of spoons and doesn’t care to volunteer to be the young bigot’s teacher.

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Or maybe she isn’t. It is hard to tell from just a letter if this is “confusing and mildly annoying” or “starting to have a serious negative effect on my wellbeing”. Either way though, the LW has no affirmative responsibility to explain this to anyone and only LW knows if (even with the spoons) there would be any positives to trying to put the co-worker on the track.

              I think calling the co-worker a bigot is an overstep. Given her comments, I would say a) clueless, b) mean girl, or c) total lack of filter/no sense of boundaries. All bad, but I seriously doubt (based on these comments) co-worker thinks LW is too old to do her job or something.

              I’m leaning towards clueless and no filter, but I can’t rule out just a person who zeros in on someone’s sore spot (see LW’s discussion of the promotions) and actively tries to poke them.

          5. sometimeswhy*

            People can also seek out education, direct and indirect, from those who are actively willing to give it. Passive consumption of this stuff goes a long, long way. Consume media by and about people who don’t look like you. Read books, fiction and non fiction, by people who don’t live where you live and whose experiences are different than yours. Follow people on social media who are sharing 101 information you need to learn and when you feel uncomfortable, keep your listening ears on and your typing fingers still.

            Our education doesn’t have to come at the price of inflicting pain on someone and hoping they’ll have time to help us correct ourselves.

      2. DataSci*

        Would you ask this of other marginalized groups? It’s not the job of Black people to patiently explain structural racism and microaggressions every time they come up, not the job of women to explain sexism, and not the job of people over 35 (which is where ageism kicks in in tech, if not younger) to explain why ageism is inappropriate. It seems like you’re viewing this from the POV of the co-worker, rather than LW – everyone has to learn sometime, that doesn’t mean marginalized people have to teach every time.

        1. Mae*

          The employee is female, and the letter doesn’t indicate that she’s white, at least not that I saw.

          You can ascribe to me whatever you want to; my point is that yes, indeed, I am coming from the employee’s side, although this isn’t a contest. I agree with the LW that the comments are problematic. What I don’t agree with is the judgmental undercurrent here that gives itself permission to judge when it has no room to. Either help lead the way or don’t, but don’t pile on. That just makes it harder for the rest of us to try to send age-ism to the dustbin.

          1. Oh please*

            Look Mae, if you want to gently educate ignorant bigots – go right ahead. Me? I’m far too tired to do that any more without screaming and possibly slapping people. I’m also tired of people who tone police marginalized people and expect them to do the heavy lifting all the fsking time. No one is owed a gentle education about their bigotry. Ever.

          2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            Mae, I appreciate where you are coming from. But understand, when people say things like this, the implication is that by a person simply taking direct, neutral, non-hostile action to end someone’s unacceptable behavior, that person is somehow causing the negative consequences that befall that person.

            In this situation in particular, if LW responds “what an odd question” or “why would you ask me that?” and the co-worker is temporarily uncomfortable, it is entirely within the LW’s purview if they want to add “because I have noticed you have a pattern of commenting, even obliquely, about my age, and that isn’t appropriate in the workplace” or if they simply want to walk away and leave the co-worker to consider why, when she makes these age related comments, LW responds with a flat retort and walks away.

            By saying LW taking time to correct the co-worker is kinder, it implies there is something unkind about expecting the co-worker is an adult with the capacity for abductive reasoning.

      3. Anon Supervisor*

        Yeah, I’m kind of tired of performing emotional labor for people who are perfectly able to utilize Google..

        1. Sunshine*

          I mean, I get that, but right now she isn’t even aware there is a problem to Google. It would be a kindness for LW to correct her. If LW doesn’t want to that’s perfectly reasonable, but it might mean that no one else will.

          1. allathian*

            To correct her, yes. Possibly by humiliating her in public, if she can do that in a professional way. The coworker isn’t owed any extra special gentleness, she’s a bigoted asshole and deserves to be treated as such.

    5. Reluctant Mezzo*

      I might add that she’s opened herself up to people noticing that she seems more irritable about oh, say, once a month. It would be fun to point this out to her.

  3. Ann Onymous*

    “you’re probably menopausal”

    Aside from the ageism issues, is it ever appropriate to speculate on what other people’s reproductive organs are up to at work?

      1. TomatoSoup*

        I hope that she’s not saying those things to colleagues, even if her work makes it appropriate with patients.

    1. Cold and Tired*

      Right??? It falls in the same category as “oh it must be that time of the month if you’re so emotional/crabby/add other insult here,” aka using female anatomy and hormones to undermine women in the workplace. I’d also not be pleased if someone updated me on the status of their male anatomy either in the workplace. Just keep all of that out of work please!!!

      1. The Crowening*

        My officemate said that to me once – “what are you, on your period or something?” I whipped around to face her and asked if she’d like to ask me again in front of our manager.

        shut her right up. She was indulging in a little zinger and it didn’t go as she expected

        1. Anon Supervisor*

          Whenever I hear that remark, I think of Leo DeCaprio’s character in “The Departed.” In case you haven’t see it, Leo orders a cranberry juice at a mob bar and a guy asks him if he’s on his period. Dude gets the glass smashed in his mush. I think a lot of women could relate to that moment (not that we’d do it, but I chuckled).

    2. Hannah Lee*

      “… is it ever appropriate to speculate on what other people’s reproductive organs are up to at work?”

      I’d make that even broader, aside from workplaces where discussion of other people’s bodies is part of the job (ie as Twix mentions) pretty much ANY discussion of other people’s entire bodies should be out of bounds, no matter which organs or body parts are being talked about.

      Unless someone’s body is indicating they are having a medical emergency (meaning someone needs to call 911) or some or all of someone’s body is threatening or about to cause bodily harm/a safety issue for themselves or others, there is no need to focus on the size, shape, function, color, or hypothetical hormonal levels, activity of any one’s body at work. There be dragons, and also, possible workplace law violations.

    3. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Not unless you are a medical person trying to make a diagnosis on a patient based on symptoms they have described to you.

    4. Valancy Trinit*

      Never! Cervix Boss from last week might be the absolute nadir, but comments about colleagues being menopausal would also have me hopping mad.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Valancy Trinit is referring to the “the CEO makes us rank our personal lives at team meetings” post from March 14, 2023.

    5. Delta Delta*

      I’d say, “what?” And have her repeat it. And then do it again so she has to say it out loud a few times.

    6. Crencestre*

      No, that’s the prerogative of certain legislators and governors (all of whom will hopefully be out of their respective jobs come next election day!)

    7. KR*

      I love the idea of my reproductive organs doing their own thing while I’m at work. Perhaps going to the store or taking up a new hobby.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I love the idea of sending my uterus to the store, pulling a little wagon…

  4. Lisee*

    I disagree with this recommendation because it’s far too soft. I think it’s important to recognize that ageism is a real problem in the work force right now; I am dealing with it myself, and I think the media is part of the problem – it seems that younger people are being outrageously in-your-face with ageist comments because they think it’s acceptable (thanks, media). They need a hard reality check that no, it’s NOT okay. We need to stop allowing casual ageism; can you imagine if this advise was given about someone complaining about racism?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Alison explicitly says in the advice that it’s intentionally soft because the OP was clear about wanting to preserve relationships, but that OP has standing to do more.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I don’t think it’s unusual to suggest after approach *as a first step* before escalating, particularly where the person experiencing the discriminatation wishes to preserve good relationships and where the behaviour is, or appears to be, down to ignorance rather than malice. It’s always easier to escalate than to de-escalate, and I don’t think the advice is much different to where people have been dealing with other types of discrimination.

      1. Alucius*

        Along with that, it’s probably worth starting softer given the seniority that OP has over this person. The power dynamics could make it so that a mild rebuke lands quite strongly.

    3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Regarding the media, It’s almost like millennials have had to listen to a couple of decades or more of complaints about their work ethics, kids these days, and how everything used to be great before they ruined it – I can’t possibly fathom how that might have made them think that ageism was socially acceptable…

      Look, ageism is always wrong, and people should try to have some more compassion and understanding of other generations and their experiences. The idea that ageism is something which only happens to older workers is laughable – they’re just the only ones with actual protections in place for when it does.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            If you remove any tech references, it’s impossible to tell if the complaint came from this March, 1971, 1901, 1420, or 2000 BC.

            1. La Triviata*

              There’s an Egyptian papyrus from about 2400 BCE that laments, “things are not as they were” and “children no longer respect the gods” so it’s been around FOREVER.

              1. Eeyore's Missing Tale*

                I think Cicero also lamented that young people didn’t worship the gods appropriately.

                1. SweetFancyPancakes*

                  And that their music is obnoxious.

                  I don’t know if he really did say that, but I’ve seen it attributed to him and it makes me laugh.

              2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

                And complaints that older workers don’t understand the world, and are behind the times are probably just as old. Appealing to the historical existence of certain mindsets doesn’t make them good mindsets – after all, ethnocentric treatises about how those ‘other’ people aren’t like us, and deserve to be punished/have their stuff taken/be killed for it are also equally ancient. And don’t even get me started on how some ancient languages denied the personhood of outsiders by the nouns used to describe them.

                Historical trends don’t make an action acceptable. They at best show us that there is a neurological predisposition to fall into fallacious and unethical thought processes that allow us to inflict harm on others. It’s the very same predisposition that gives rise to hazing and other ritualized abuses.

                The great thing about progress is that WE CAN BECOME BETTER than our ancestors. I can choose not to inflict the full magnitude of trauma which my parents inflicted on me on my children, and so, incrementally, the human condition improves. When a society chooses to be more ethical or compassionate than our past, we can change the world.

                Yes. Complaints about youth are currently as old as time. But if we work to change that, maybe they won’t always be. And maybe as that changes, our youth won’t resent their elders.

                Wouldn’t that be an interesting world to live in?

              3. Reluctant Mezzo*

                Not to mention all that hanging about in taverns. What did you expect, folks, you invented beer!

      1. Elsie*

        This is an important point. Ageism goes in both directions but is only protected for workers over 40. I look about 10 years younger than I am and it’s had a negative effect on my career. I worked at one company in my early 30s where everyone treated me like a college intern because of how I looked and it affected the professional opportunities and development I was able to access. No surprise that I don’t work for that company anymore. All employees should be treated according to their skills, performance, and experience and not discriminated against due to their age, whether being younger or older. I’m not minimizing the challenges that older workers face but wanted to echo that younger workers can face age discrimination too.

        1. Dowager Crone*

          Agism does NOT go in both directions. That’s like saying that racism goes in both directions–it does not. Prejudice goes in both directions. Insults go in both directions. Agism only goes in one direction. Despite the existence of “kids these days” comments, agism very much discriminates against older people in favor of younger people, and the discrimination is worse with increasing age.

          1. daffodil*

            do you have evidence for that claim? For any other kind of -ism you can refer to the boards of large companies or the makeup of US congress and see disproportionate representation. In the case of age, though, most people with a lot of political and financial power are older. Maybe statistically older people get passed over for younger people with similar qualifications, but the dynamics are not the same as racism or sexism.

            1. DataSci*

              In the specific case of employment, it varies a lot from industry to industry. In fields where there’s a high degree of importance placed on being “current” or “up to date” older people – by which I mean 40+, not 55+ – tend to get the short end of the stick.

              1. I have RBF*

                Tech is one of the most extreme cases – if you’re over 30 some tech type wonder if you can “keep up” because you’re “old” by their estimation. There have even been companies (*cough*ibm*cough*) that have sought to lay off or manage out people over 30 because they only wanted “innovative” people – which is a code word for “under 30 and male”.

            2. Susannah*

              It’s not quite the same comparison – representation in elected office or senior management at a company – with race and age. Of course there are no 22-year-old senators. First, the law says you have to be 30. Secondly, age brings experience, which is why people who decide whether or not we go to war, or whether to expand the company overseas, are not very young. That is not age discrimination.

          2. Baron*

            Hi, Dowager Crone,

            I just wanted to say that per the law where I am (Ontario, Canada), “ageism” absolutely is defined as discrimination against older people, and you’re right that, like racism, it only goes one way. But plenty of people don’t even agree with that definition of racism – and I bet most people aren’t even familiar with the definition of ageism as only going one way.

            I do think others raise good points – that there’s plenty of discrimination against younger people on the grounds of age, and many ways in which older people are privileged. But just like “racism” doesn’t mean that every white person has a better life than every black person in every way, so too are these problems not “ageism”. The term “ageism” refers very specifically to the phenomenon of people discriminating against older people for being older, which is a thing that does happen.

          3. You may be right, but you could be wrong*

            I respectfully disagree with your statements that racism and agism does not go in both directions. It has been my life experiences that they absolutely do go in both directions. I wish that people would just get over skin color and age and just view each other as fellow humans just trying to do their best in this very imperfect world.

          4. Bess*

            In the workplace ageism absolutely does go both ways. I have actively heard a previous manager pull up a photo of a highly-credentialed and successful colleague and dismiss her because “oh, she looks young.” I’ve heard other colleagues disparage current managers because they started at the company when they were young. “Remember when so-and-so was a student employee?”

            That’s not to say it’s the same challenge that younger or older workers experience…but pretending it’s only the 50+ crowd that has to deal with prejudice is absurd.

          5. Sorry, but*

            Children have less rights than adults. Children are judged for being children all the time, teenagers are judged and discriminated against, etc. Teenagers at the mall judged for being a “gang”, etc. Every generation is judged by the one older than them, and discrimination follows, on the job, etc. “You lazy Millennials”. Could equal “I’m not going to hire a lazy Millennial.” Discrimination against the young does happen. It may not be “on the books” as the over 40 rule, but it is reality.

        2. I have RBF*

          So, young people get older, or stop living. It’s inevitable, so it’s something that changes. You literally outgrow the “too young” thing. Yes, I experienced that in my 20s. Yes, I hated it. But the casual sexism was worse.

          But older people can’t get younger. So discrimination against them becomes something based on an immutable characteristic – “over 40”. While I can appear to be somewhat younger with the right grooming, it doesn’t change the fact that I am over 60, and will never be under 40 again in this lifetime. I will never appear to be the golden “male, under 30” that the tech bros glorify.

        3. Reluctant Mezzo*

          I was a 2nd Lt. in the Air Force and I looked 15. Mercifully, I was not told if my nickname was ‘thin mints’ or ‘Samoas’.

          But I somehow made it work (having been a nurse’s aide telling people that yes, I am really going to do a blood pressure was actually quite helpful there).

      2. pope suburban*

        Thanks for acknowledging this. While my personal response to that has been to become really, really careful not to do that to anyone else, I can also admit that it’s been effing exhausting. It would have been hard enough to come of age into a crisis that started when I was still a child, that has torpedoed my career and lifetime earning potential, without being blamed for it and perpetually cast as some kind of silly child who still needs her mommy to attach her mittens with a string. It’s not okay- I cannot stress this enough, please know I am not defending this person- but yeah, you’re right about how someone who is new to the working world miiiight have formed some bad impressions of what is and isn’t okay.

      3. Pierrot*

        Millennials are early 80s to mid 90s. People who are in their early 20s are Gen Z. That’s not to say that millennials are not capable of perpetuating ageism but there are also plenty of 40-43 year old millennials.

        In terms of ageism going both ways— people might be prejudiced against younger people, but there is a more systemic form of prejudice that impacts older people and it comes out in the workplace.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          You’re right about when Millennials were born, which is why I was pointing out that they’ve had to hear this for multiple decades – the complaints about (actual) work habits usually don’t start to show up until a generation begins to enter the work force in numbers. Gen-Zs have spent less time hearing complaints about themselves, because they’ve been in the workforce for less time – but they’ve doubtless also internalized that complaints about other generations are acceptable, because it’s what they grew up seeing modeled. I should have given more focus to their experiences, my bad.

          Systemic forms of prejudice exist against every generation that is not your own, generally. They impact the young, such as when someone is called “young and lazy/entitled/soft/immature/disrespectful/etc”. They impact the old, when they’re called “old and slow/decrepit/senile/out of touch/etc”. The impact on older people when it comes to employment is real – but so is the impact on younger employees (especially if you’re used to working in union environments where seniority is a hugely determining factor. Ever tried to get promoted/transferred to a new role when there’s folks who have been working in the union for longer than you’ve been alive?)

          All forms of prejudice, sucks, regardless of who they are directed against – it is judging people for a characteristic they have no control over rather than based on their actual capacities and performance. It is great that a group which has historically needed protections has access to them.

          We should think about extending those protections to everyone, so that dismissing/insulting a Millenial/Gen-Z/younger individual solely on the basis of their age (and we’ve seen a plethora of letters where the younger employee is seen as being insufficiently respectful to their seniors, despite being inherently in the right, so it definitely does happen) is no more acceptable than dismissing an older worker’s experience by saying “Okay Boomer.”

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        Millenials are neither the first nor last to deal with the “kids these days” comments. My generations is a bunch of cynical, disaffected slackers, per media and social commentary. And now the Boomers, who already lived through their kids-these-days time from their parents are now being accused of ruining everything for everyone ever from their kids’ generations.

        These laments span history, it’s not something that’s just happened to Millenials or Gen Z – and there are front-edge Millenials now that are old enough to be covered by age discrimination protections.

      5. Geriatric Millennials Unite*

        LOL lot of millennials getting up into that protected category these days, guys…

        There’s a big difference between “you look less experienced than you are” and ageism. And by that standard I would like to point out the assumptions of experience and talent that also come with physical height. Is it true and unfair unconscious bias? Yep! Is it on par with laws that we have had to put in place because of workplace discrimination against people in protected categories? Uh…

    4. Jennifer Strange*

      it seems that younger people are being outrageously in-your-face with ageist comments because they think it’s acceptable (thanks, media)

      Can we not with the “kids these days”?

          1. pope suburban*

            Yes! And also, what exactly is shocking or unusual about someone new to a situation being unfamiliar with norms or practices? That’s not something that sprang into existence with smartphones, nor is it something that should be considered shameful. We have all been new at something in life, and I would hope that this would make us more willing to let someone know when they are out of line, rather than more inclined to judge and other them. Learning should be a lifelong thing, and we shouldn’t regard someone who is engaged in that process as lesser or silly or whatever else.

            1. Curious*

              If OP had been complaining about comments by a coworker that were racist or homophobic or transphobic, I doubt that anyone here would have the slightest problem treating the comments as shameful, and judging the coworker, regarding the offender as other and lesser.

              I think that this comment, and similar ones in this thread, make OP’s point — all too many people treat ageism as socially acceptable.

              None of this lessens — nor is lessened by– the horrible efforts of right-wing culture warriors against trans people, and against teaching a non-bowdlerised version of history.

              1. pope suburban*

                I’m not sure that anybody is born perfect, especially not with the way we are all constantly learning and evolving as a society. Someone who was brought up around restricted or problematic views probably will find themselves crossing lines or repeating harmful things, simply because they have not yet challenged what they have always heard as “the way things are.” Someone new to the working world will not know the norms, and yeah, it is pretty decent to tell them and give them a chance to improve. This is not mandatory, but I have to figure it’s how we’d all want to be treated, if we were causing harm without knowing/meaning. If the person turns out to be a knowing bigot, well, you deal with that differently and HR/management ought to be supportive of that, but what does it cost to give someone a chance at first?

    5. Observer*

      Alison is not providing a soft approach because she thinks ageism is OK. She offers it because that tends to work better if you want to keep a relationship, which the OP indicates they want. Furthermore, Alison explicitly points out that the OP would have perfect standing to kick this up the chain. I personally think that given the size and structure of the organization, she’s more likely to have success with the softer direct approach followed by a less soft direct approach.

      The OP is the best judge of which approach will work best for her. And I think it’s smart of Alison to give her the tools to take whichever approach she thinks will give her the best results.

    6. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Agreed. As someone who is literally old enough to be the parent of some of my colleagues, I wouldn’t hesitate to be kind but firm in shutting down comments like the ones in the letter. It’s not burning a bridge to call someone out when they’re being rude. You can express that you don’t appreciate those comments and preserve those relationships at the same time.

      1. Pierrot*

        Yeah, my mom had to do this at her job. There are some clueless comments from younger colleagues that she finds humorous more than anything else, but when one person started assuming that my mom was less capable of using technology, she shut that down. The person was also speaking to her in a super condescending way overall, like my mother couldn’t understand her unless she annunciated every word. My mom was like 58 at the time.

    7. Robin*

      I think a lot of younger kids make semi-humorous ageist comments online because they know they’ll get a reaction from it (I’m not immune to this, I distinctly remember when someone asked me where I was on 9/11 because “it’s like I’m talking to living history!”). They just need a calibration that online isn’t real life, and sometimes they mess up like this person in the letter. Hopefully they figure it out!

    8. I have RBF*

      I agree.

      Anything from “OK Boomer” to comments about menopause and Geritol are ageist. At 61, I have a hard enough time getting jobs because most younger hiring managers act like I have advanced Alzheimers and one foot in the grave if I appear to be over 40!

      Because of stereotypes, I am assumed to be:
      * non-technical (over 40, AFAB stereotype),
      * unable to learn new technologies (not true),
      * resistant to change (no, just not a fad-follower),
      * unhealthy (no more than I was in my 20s),
      * unable to work with younger people (lol, wrong)

      Because of stereotypes like these it takes me three times as long to find a job when I’m out of work, yet I invariably am in the first wave of any layoff, because I’m older and thus thought to be most expensive and less productive.

      To those that think that this is okay (not likely here), I only have to say this: With any luck you too will end up in your 60s, and most likely you will still need work. Ask yourself if you want the discrimination when you get here.

    9. LCH*

      Yeah, I think it would be fine to respond in the moment: “I don’t appreciate the casual ageism.” Trying to hard to imagine commenting on my coworkers’ menopause status. WTF.

  5. Bagpuss*

    I agree with Alison, start relatively softly – maybe next time she makes a comment, respond with something along the lines of “You perhaps don’t realize how often you do it, but it’s noticeable that you make a lot of comments relating to age . I don’t think you are helping yourself by highlighting your own youth and lack of experience in that way, but also, given that age is a protected characteristic, you could end up in a lot of trouble because the kind of comments you make re a form of age discriminatation, and that’s something that could have legal consequences for you as well as the company ” you could add something like “it’s normal that people continue to develop their skills and become familiar with new technologies over time, so it’s odd that you comment on that so often, as if you were surprised”

  6. ChattyDelle*

    it’s a small organization, it seems like starting softer might be the best way to start. she can get more direct if the soft approach doesn’t work, but I got the sense LW doesn’t want to create hostility (yet)

    1. KatEnigma*

      LW didn’t actually say the organization itself was small- just that her team/department was.

  7. RussianInTexas*

    *throws a chair at her*
    What, are you expecting something else from a hormonal menopausal madwoman?

      1. Anon4This*

        Seriously. I’m peri-menopausal and have had far more issues with mood swings and “PMS” style symptoms since all this BS started than I ever have before/during my actual period.

    1. AFac*

      I’m not sure when ‘hormonal’ got to be the dog whistle for ‘women’s reproductive process’ but seeing as hormones are a critical component for pretty much all life processes if you weren’t hormonal you’d be dead.

        1. AFac*

          Yeah, that’s definitely the way the world works. I suppose I should have guessed the answer before I asked the question.

          Though honestly the sentiment probably existed before the discovery of hormones. Hormones was just a name to put on it to make it all scientific.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        So so so many people don’t realize that hormones are chemical signals that one body part makes to trigger another body part to do something. Which is to say, they are everywhere in our body, doing lots of things that have nothing to do with sex or reproduction. Most people think that hormones are only signals to our reproductive parts. Nope, wrong, those are called “sex hormones” for a reason.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I mean, if you’re throwing that at me because you think I’m being difficult . . . theydies and gentlepeeps, you have no idea how difficult I can be. I just have sense enough to not deploy at work.

  8. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    This is an insecure person who could use some guidance. OP, if you’re comfortable, you might ask where all the references to age are coming from. If the answer is just the awful, “It’s just a joke”, you could comment that it’s an odd thing to constantly joke about.

    If the person thinks insults are a good way to bond, say otherwise. I used to have an insult-y way with a friend, who I thought was fine with it. When he told me he was not, I woke up and grew up.

    Kind honesty can be a big favor.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      Yeah, maybe I’m being too generous but I got this vibe also, that the coworker was trying to “fit in” with humor and obviously it’s backfiring. Either way it needs to stop but I agree kind honesty is the way to go

      1. Hannah Lee*

        That was my sense too. But even if the coworker was not doing it innocently, calling out the behavior lets them know they’ve crossed a line that others are enforcing, that their nonsense has been seen and noted, and gives them a chance to dial it back (saving face with whatever pretense fits)

        If it continues, it’s easy enough to escalate from there.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Maybe taking too many cues from bad sitcoms. Sometimes it takes someone pointing out that the TV version of most occupations =/= the real life version.

    2. Angstrom*

      As with so many things, similar comments can feel very different depending on who the speaker is. A group of older folks could enjoy making ‘old jokes’ amongst themselves, but it could feel very different when a young person did it.
      At work, experience and seniority are far more relevant — and appropriate metrics — than age.

      1. Delta Delta*

        There’s a difference between 2 people in their 40s or 50s laughing about how they have 20 pairs of reading glasses and someone much younger basically saying “you suck because you’re old.”

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yeah but I think the point being made here is I wouldn’t want someone in their 20s to make fun of me for having too many pairs of reading glasses, even if I’d joke about it with a peer.

      2. I have RBF*

        Yeah, I can make jokes about looking forward to retirement and creaking joints with my age-peers, but a younger person making the same jokes would have a different context and be offensive. Some of it is reclaiming those things as just part of life and not a Problem.

  9. HugeTractsofLand*

    Honestly, even if you were both the same age this would still be rude. It’s patronizing to say “wow, look at you knowing words!” and it’s rude/violating for someone to speculate that you’re menopausal and that it’s affecting your judgement. I feel like a Look followed by a somewhat pointed “Have you worked with older people before?” might be a good first level response to her. Second level could be “Wow, that’s a pretty rude. I don’t think anyone wants to be stereotyped no matter what their age is.”

    Write down the incidents, though, because it’s better to be safe than sorry if this escalates or becomes unworkable. Especially if you want to raise it to her direct manager.

    1. Elle*

      This! I think folks are getting really caught up on the age aspect, when the issue is much larger- her behavior is completely inappropriate and it’s making her look really, really bad…Like, has she worked with *other human beings* before?!

      1. Hannah Lee*

        ^ This!

        The Look, followed by a pointed “you realize it’s not okay to talk like that about people in the workplace, right?” Because whatever the physical or personal characteristics this junior employee is harping on on a given day (gender, age, hormonal status, mental status, cognitive agility, ability, etc) NONE of those comments are appropriate or useful in the workplace (or polite society) whether said about oneself, a co-worker, a client or someone you saw on the street that morning.

        Those comments do nothing good, but instead undermine the image of the person saying them, undermine the person they’re being said about (and others who share characteristics with them whether apparent or not … eg a person who has had a hysterectomy in their 20’s may also be “menopausal” in a hormonal sense) plus they create a crappy work environment, especially if others start picking up the negging habit.

    2. H.Regalis*

      Yeah, any way you slice it, it’s patronizing and obnoxious. In this case it’s ageism, but I could see the same thing being said where the cause of it is someone being racist/sexist/classist/whatever.

      Same with the “you’re probably menopausal” comments. This instance is ageist, but pretty much any comment a coworker is going to make related to your reproductive organs is rude.

    3. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      It’s SO RUDE. I have to wonder whether this is really ageism or just someone being a total dick to their coworkers, and in OP’s case what she’s latched onto is age. If I were her manager I’d be taking a careful look at how this person treats everyone else at the office, especially anyone with significant differences (age, gender, socioeconomic status, dis/ability status, race, birthplace…). I suspect she thinks she’s being edgy and funny, and I would bet each of the other employees is getting tired of her shtick too.

    4. Pierrot*

      The colleague’s behavior towards LW is unambiguously ageism (and internalized misogyny), but I also wondered if this coworker’s behavior towards colleagues is problematic overall. Her comments just sound really catty. Maybe she means well and just doesn’t realize that it’s unprofessional, but I have a feeling that she says unprofessional and potentially rude comments to her immediate peers if she is doing this to a more senior colleague.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        That’s a good point. It may be “joking” or it may be a habit of putting others down, negging. But in any case, it’s possible this is a consistent theme in how she relates to others.

      2. STAT!*

        To me her comments just sound really rude. I used to work with a person who did this to me! She had been newly recruited to her first professional job, & somehow thought it was appropriate to tell me “Oh, you’re so old” on a semi-regular basis. It annoyed me, but I didn’t want to give her the pleasure of knowing that. Also, though I never heard her talking like this to others, I wasn’t big enough to tell her such behaviour might be professionally limiting, even though I thought so.

        [Self-glorifying story of absolutely no use to the OP follows.] Anyway, come the evening of a work-sponsored fun run, I catch up with her in the last 500 metres. Almost immediately I get something about how old & physically decrepit I am. “Right, that’s it” thinks I. About 200 metres from the finish, I mock-playfully call “Race you to the end!”. We run neck & neck for most of the distance … but she doesn’t notice that I’m slowly steering her to the edge of the path where a group of people block her way. She has to stop, & I flash to (low key but pointed) victory. Never got any stupid comments about age again.

  10. Weaponized Pumpkin*

    I’m on the other side of this — I’m the older one and can’t stop bringing up my age at work. Clearly my own issues with aging and internalized -isms and -0gynys that I need to work out because it’s harmful to everyone :(

    1. Sloanicota*

      Solidarity – I made So. Many. Missteps around this stuff when I was new to the workforce, I was just pretty unfamiliar with being on the same level as people of different ages (I mean, in high school just one or two years of age difference is *everything* in terms of your cohort and your social standing, and it’s possible to maintain that experience all the way through college and even grad school). And now that I’m the older one I find it weird in a new different way. Sigh.

    2. Employee No. 24601*

      I had a young coworker express to me that our older coworker making repeated references to their age difference was making the younger coworker uncomfortable. It does feel like an odd spot to try to address it from because it’s both A) only a protected topic on the older coworker’s end of the spectrum and B) undermining to them both and othering in a way that really isn’t necessary in an otherwise collegial relationship.

      1. Journey own*

        There’s plenty of behaviors that are rude and exclusionary that aren’t illegal. Still should be addressed by management if they are concerned with things like employee retention and productivity, even if there’s no risk of being sued.

    3. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      In my experience (which is not representative of everyone, everywhere) your situation is much, much more common. Advertising and media in the West has artificially inflated the social value of youth just like they’ve done with whiteness and thinness and wellness and it leaves so, so, so many people with a lot of hangups about things they cannot change about themselves and, frankly, don’t need to.

      I’m only commenting to say you aren’t alone and it isn’t really your fault that you’re feeling like this. The whole culture-producing apparatus drives these feelings to sell products. I don’t have any advice or anything, I just wanted to say that noticing is usually the first and hardest step toward any kind of growth and you’re doing great. I wish you all the support and strength you need to overcome these feelings and embrace who you are.

      (I have only ever wanted to be Dorothy from the Golden Girls and that has helped me to embrace getting older, though I admit I am mid-thirties so I could be talking out my ass.)

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Thank you so much for commenting. I appreciate the compassion, and need it right now.

    4. There You Are*

      I went back to school in my late 40’s to complete my Bachelor’s and get a Master’s, and then start at the bottom-ish of a new career.

      I’m glad I had the transition period of being back in university because I was able to shake out that I wanted to be seen as the same as the other students. In other words, I didn’t want to stick out as the Old Person, either in dress or in attitude (“You young kids have a lot to learn; I am Old and Wise.”)

      So I now do the same thing at work, where my peers are 20-30 years younger than I am.

      I do not reference pop culture from my childhood (“All in the Family,” “Happy Days”, etc.) but choose references from their childhoods (“Grey’s Anatomy”, “House”).

      Prior to realizing that I needed to be seen as a peer and not as An Older Adult, I, too, said a bunch of age-related things. (“Congrats on the new job! ‘Moooovin’ on up, to the East Side…’ Oh, wait, you aren’t old enough to know what that song is.”)

      FWIW, it has helped me appreciate the current world more than I would have if I’d quit paying close attention to things that are popular now (and were popular over the past couple of decades). I do a better job of living in the moment.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        You’re right. Unfortunately I don’t pay a lot of attention to the world or live in the moment! I could do better at that. At least I’m on social a lot, which helps.

        The pop culture and x years ago references are my trap. I have friendly/chatty relationships at work plus I think and speak really fast — the result is I don’t catch my words in time. For example, when people are talking about the change to WFH and I mention that I’ve been WFH for 20 years…that dates me even if it’s not disparaging. That never needed to be said at all. My filters aren’t strong enough yet.

        I’m also having to unlearn. For a long time I was a consultant and looked more than a decade younger, so it benefited me to talk up my experience to create credibility with senior leaders. Now that I’m older than most of my bosses and clients, I have to flip it.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Mentioning age is not a problem. Ascribing traits to people because of their age is the problem.

          1. There You Are*

            For me, mentioning age is a problem because ageism is a problem. Dating myself as “An Old” could hurt my career. So, until ageism goes away, I’ll do my best to obfuscate how old I really am.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              The person I was responding to was suggesting that mentioning their own age was somehow harming others.

        2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          As a starting point, just be less specific. You don’t have to say 20 years when you can say “a long time”. Everyone has their own judgement about how long is a long time and they’ll fill in blanks if they want to.

          (But I get it. I looked at least a decade younger than my own age for a long time, and having braces (again) in my late 20’s didn’t help *at*all*. )

    5. Aziraphale the Cat*

      I’m definitely on the older end of the spectrum and I find myself making jokes about how old I am/feel as well. I know it’s not great and it’s not the self deprecating joke I mean it to be, but I’ve been struggling with it since my youngest child had his 30th birthday and can’t seem to stop myself.

      I think I need to find a way to reframe it for myself as it never being a good idea to bring up age in a work context.

  11. Phoebe*

    My own (extremely liberal, normally accepting) tween son said seriously yesterday while we were playing a game that he couldn’t believe I picked up a “modern game like this” so quickly at my age. The rest of the family jumped on him so fast I don’t think he’ll make that mistake again. What’s WITH these whippersnappers these days?

    At the advanced age of 50, I’m really starting to feel the divide at work. There’s my generation, and there’s the young one. I like to think they’re respecting our experience, but I’m not convinced.

    1. Pippa K*

      As to “respecting experience,” gender comes into this a lot, of course. Middle aged men “look” experienced and authoritative; middle aged women “look”… tired? Or maybe like nothing at all, what with the onset of invisibility. (I’m talking about the cultural generalization here, not about individual examples of women, of course.)

      Anyway, this is why my retirement plan is to create a consulting firm that supplies middle aged women spy/assassins. Make that invisibility a professional advantage!

      1. BellyButton*

        After 20 years of watching, reading and listening to everything true crime I know how to get way with murder.

          1. gyratory_circus*

            As in food poisoning? I had a roommate in college who solely subsisted on a giant bag of fish sticks that she would take out of the freezer, thaw the whole thing, fry half a dozen, then stick the bag back in the freezer. Lather, rinse, repeat. I kept waiting for her to get botulism or salmonella, and frankly I’m still surprised she didn’t.

        1. Pippa K*

          I feel like we could staff this whole agency from the AAM readership. Such a deep and wide pool of professional skills here. Plus we’d all have great workplace norms. No one would store their untraceable poisons in the shared lunch fridge!

      2. Lisanthus*

        Fiction rec for those who like mystery/thriller: *Killers of a Certain Age,* Deanna Raybourn, where a group of women assassins coming up on retirement age find out their employer has them marked for elimination on the “celebration cruise” they were invited to. Lots of pointed commentary on the invisibility factor and a really gripping read!

      3. DarthVelma*

        My mother liked to joke that if someone wanted to run drugs, they should use middle-aged women in minivans as their drivers. (She was a middle-aged woman in a minivan at the time. I would wonder if she was trying to tell me something, only our lifestyle wasn’t lavish enough for her to be a drug queenpin.)

      4. DataSci*

        There’s a SF book (several volumes deep in a series, so it doesn’t really stand alone) where people start acquiring superpowers, and the middle-aged female main character gets literal invisibility. It’s a very deliberate, and well-done, choice.

      5. camille*

        I volunteer as tribute! Nobody sees me. I’d be PERFECT.

        On the topic of work, I adore the expertise I have acquired and love being the go-to person on the particular topics I know about. My company generally values that, not just in me, which is nice. But in the wider world…OOF. Completely invisible at the age of 46. Just… do not register as a person. I’d love to Walter White that particular characteristic in some lucrative, yet also redeeming for society, way!

      6. Jaydee*

        At what age may a woman apply to your consulting firm? To be clear, I want to be a spy not an assassin (though I might be willing to rethink that for very specific cases). I have cultivated my sleuthing skills over the course of my career and frankly as a hobby too, and judging by the frequency with which people walk between me and my husband when he gets a couple steps ahead of me, I’m convinced I’ve been mostly invisible for many years already.

    2. Onward*

      “What’s WITH these whippersnappers these days?”

      Look, don’t do the same thing to him and his peers, though…

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Pretty sure that was a joke. Most of us 50-year-old decrepits are too young to toss around ‘whippersnappers’ in a non-ironic fashion.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          Yes, I also viewed it as a joke.

          Part of the problem is that people don’t recognize ironic humor, and then people on the right complain “You can’t joke about anything anymore.”

      2. hello, goodbye*

        I mean, Phoebe presumably raised this “whippersnapper” so maybe she should look inwards at her parenting style before painting all Gen Zers with a single brush

        1. rusty*

          I’m really pretty sure that was a joke. I don’t think anyone is saying whippersnapper on this post unironically.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      I think it was always the case that preteens and young teenagers thought adults were out of touch and boring. I think part of it is a reaction to being a little kid who thought adults knew everything and then you reach your tweens or early teens and you realise, woah, there are things I know more about than adults. I think a lot of kids go through a “gosh, adults are so out of touch” stage, even (maybe even especially), the liberal and accepting ones.

    4. Just Me*

      I think part of the problem is with comments like “I like to think they’re respecting our experience, but I’m not convinced.” that aren’t followed with “I’m doing my best to respect their point of view” or something similar. Sounds like you expect respect but there’s zero concession in your comment that they (probably) deserve respect at well.

  12. Elle*

    This person’s focus on age is extremely cringe-it’s definitely going to make her look bad if she keeps it up. I find this advice overly gentle, but that may just be because I’m so outraged. I would find it more than a little bit hard to resist messing with her a little- explaining obvious work norms and remarking that “this is Jenna’s first time [insert random basic task], go Jenna, you girl boss you!” Obviously, do not do this, listen to Alison, but DAMN this is infuriating.

  13. afiendishthingy*

    I am trying to imagine what would possess a person to say “you’re probably menopausal” to a coworker unprompted and I am coming up empty. It’s so far out of bounds.

    1. Ingemma*

      For real… the other things are obviously unacceptable too but I can sort of see how someone very young, extremely sheltered, and with pretty bad judgment might say some of them.

      The menopause thing feels so clearly out of bounds I don’t know what to make of it… does this coworker have otherwise bad judgment ? And do they have any client work or other equivalent because if so I would absolutely flag this to their boss in case they’re already seeing or it helps them look for a pattern of inappropriate comments.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Yeah, it’s so way out of left field that I confess I’m scratching my head a little bit about how it would risk preserving relationships if the LW were to shut it down by saying, really straightforwardly, “Hey, that’s inappropriate, what the heck?” That is to say, it’s such a bizarre thing for the co-worker to say, I’m not sure that anybody would take pushback from the LW as out of line.

    3. Anon Supervisor*

      I mean, I’m starting that process and I’m fairly open about the challenges of approaching that milestone. If this was said to me in private during a call or something, I would have probably laughed it off and stated “Just wait, your time will come” if I knew the coworker really well. If they were an indirect report, I might lightly admonish (or use Alison’s script) after saying that just so they knew not to say those things again. In a meeting or in front of others? Oh heck no…

    4. I have RBF*

      Yeah, that’s pretty cringeworthy. Not only that, but menopause comments are sexist as well as ageist.

      What’s worse is that, if the wrong things happen, a person AFAB can end up going through menopause in their 20s. So equating menopause with female aging has a lot of cringe factors.

    5. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      This kind of lead me to conclude she has a terrible filter. Because it wasn’t like it was that the LW was doing something and the co-worker said “LW must being going through menopause”. The co-worker was having a hard day (LW doesn’t really specify what they mean) and the co-worker volunteered that she was hormonal…and then followed it up with the menopause comment. Like the whole exchange is just like “You don’t need to say everything that comes into your head!”

  14. AlwhoisThatAl*

    Being recently turned 55, it’s good to have a laugh with the younger folk. When they try and be cutting that’s even funnier, excuse me, you’re trying to make an ageist remark? You, my young friend, are going to pay a visit to Banterbury that you will never forget.

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      Outside of work, I’m with you.

      At work … I refer to myself as “older than sand and younger than rocks” fairly regularly with younger people I work with.

      As far as unleashing the Bantasaurus Rex … you can do that but it’s probably not going to lead you back to the environment where you can all have a laugh together. Especially if you’re senior to them, in which case it’s very easy to get into “swatting flies with Tiger tanks” territory.

      “We all like a laugh but if I have to ask if you’re joking you’re over the line” works a lot better.

  15. Baron*

    Taken all together, these all sound to me like someone who first and foremost needs to work on her boundaries and reading the room – who needs to learn that, no, her boss is not her dad, and that these kinds of comments might be welcome as banter among family/close friends, but that your coworkers are not your family/close friends.

  16. BellyButton*

    “you’re probably menopausal” This is no different than “geez, you must be on your period”


    1. Book lover*

      Right. That one gets an immediate, “Did you just speculate about my ovaries? At work?”

  17. AM*

    This younger person is definitely crossing the line. These rude comments about age are highly unprofessional. She seems way to causal in her office conversations. Perhaps this is something that her direct supervisor needs to address with her directly and privately.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “It’s a small organization, and I want to preserve good relationships.”
      OP, this is not one. This is person actively insulting, undermining and belittling you.
      Put the awkward back on the sender.

  18. Dumpster Fire*

    “I’m assuming that you’re making these comments because you’re so young and immature, or perhaps your cramps are affecting your judgement.”

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I posted just above about this not being a good relationship OP should want to preserve and to put the awkward back on the sender. I controlled the urge to add, “you must be very young because you sound like a petulant child who walked off a Disney show about incompetent parents causing shenanigans.”

  19. Cabubbles*

    Not to draw focus away from older folks and the discrimination they face but I’m genuinely curious as to why age alone is not a protected characteristic? In the past, I’ve seen people passed up for promotion simply because they were young even though they had the exact same level of experience as the selected candidate. Why should anything that is out of the control of the individual be an allowable consideration as long as the job can reasonably accommodate them?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      I think that the law was written to only apply to those over 40 because age discrimination usually affects older people (not always, of course, as you note).

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I’m guessing it’s because with younger people, it’s hard to draw a line between discrimination on age grounds and giving preference to people with more experience, which is reasonable.

        And as somebody else mentioned, there is an assumption that “well, you’ll get older, so you just have to ‘wait your turn’.”

        I would say it’s pretty common for young people to be dismissed in the workplace. In my personal experience, I’ve seen younger people’s expertise ignored a lot more than older people’s. Not in my current job, thankfully, but I’ve worked in some schools where teachers in their 20s were sort of expected to just assume the older members of staff knew best.

        1. DataSci*

          And in my personal experience, I see older people with more experience just plain not get hired in favor of younger people with less. It’s pointless to speculate on which is more common and which is less, or to suggest that people observing younger people being dismissed is really just “less experience” or older people being dismissed is really just “out of touch”. Both happen, and neither is okay.

          1. Gracely*

            It’s not pointless to speculate which is more common when one group is being protected and the other isn’t. If both kinds of discrimination are equally bad/not okay, then shouldn’t both groups be protected?

    2. Angstrom*

      Was it age, or perhaps some of the “soft skills” that often improve with life experience? I’ve certainly seen young employees who were technically experienced but whose people skills needed development.
      But good point — “She seems awfully young for this role” is no better than “She seems a bit old for this role”.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        The only justification I can think of (not advocating, just looking at all sides) is that most things we create protected classes around are irreversible to some extent. You will not be too young forever, but being too old is not a state that will improve.

      2. Cabubbles*

        Literally just age. Upper management was concerned that customers wouldn’t take her seriously due to her age.

    3. alienor*

      Probably because youth is something that people grow out of. If they don’t get a promotion this year because they’re young, there’s always next year or the year after that. On the other hand, once you’re over 40, each passing year is only going to exacerbate the discrimination you face. Really there’s a pretty narrow window of being “old enough” but not “too old,” unless you’re a politician or a non-tech CEO.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        It’s nice to think that there will be next year, and the year after, but I know far too many people who got passed over for challenges/projects/promotions while young, because they “weren’t ready” or it “wouldn’t be taken seriously with someone that age at the helm” or any number of other dismissals, and then the passed over person fell into believing that X was all they were able to do – because it was all they had ever been allowed to try (and don’t get me started on the places where you get passed over to help with complex projects, but then they say you ‘don’t have a track record of working on complex projects’ when you try to move up). It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; “I’ve never been anything but a Y. Who will take a chance on me becoming a U now, let alone one of the cool U’s with an umlaut?”

        The age of your employees, young or old, is, and always has been, a demonstrably terrible reason to make decisions about their roles and responsibilities.

  20. Observer*

    If you can manage it, it would probably be good if you could point out to her that she’s making herself look very, very bad.

    Firstly, the old saying about “when you point a finger, three fingers are pointing at you” really hods true here. Comments about being hormonal vs menopausal, someone being “the dad of us” in the office, etc. make her look like a caricature of all of the negative (and inaccurate) stereotypes about women and “young people these days”.

    Also, it looks bad because there is a lot of boundary crossing there. Comments about people’s bodies, reproductive situations, etc. just don’t belong in the workplace (with a very, very few exceptions) even when they aren’t ageist or sexist. Same for putting a personal role on someone, even if it’s because of their work role rather than age. So these comments are clueless – and in many contexts it will also make people question her *overall* judgement, because what other inappropriate comments are going to come out of her mouth?

  21. El l*

    –You’re probably menopausal. Response: “Please don’t ever comment on anyone’s hormone levels again in a professional context.”

    –You know all the modern language. Response: “You don’t know how disrespectful and patronizing that sounds.”

    –Dad. Response: “Don’t call someone ‘dad’ unless you’re comfortable with being called a ‘child.'”

    Those responses aside, I think you just have to address it directly. “Age seems to matter a lot to you in your comments. [Examples]. I’m talking to you about it because right now, it’s an issue about respect to your colleagues. That’s bad enough, but be advised that your comments are heading towards discrimination – and yes age is a legally protected category here. You’re going to have to knock this off.”

  22. Mae*

    It’s just odd to me that the LW who kept a mis-sent 72″screen TV was there-there’d ad nauseum because…young! just starting out! didn’t know any better!

    But the person the LW describes is outrageous, offensive, immature. Isn’t there room for that person also to be young, just starting out, doesn’t know any better? If not, why not? Because age-ism is a far more complex lesson to learn than is keeping a package that isn’t intended for you.

    I’m not trying to start an argument, but I really don’t understand the double standard where youth in the workplace is concerned.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I think there’s a world of difference between not knowing what to do in an unexpected situation where you don’t really understand all of the protocols, and feeling comfortable making comments about someone being menopausal.

      1. BaskingInMyWindowlessOffice*

        Agreed. Avoiding commenting on other people’s age, looks, etc. is basic life stuff, not office, professional stuff. Popular culture is littered with this lesson.

    2. Technically a Director*

      Outrage provokes more response than apathy, but being present and willing to acknowledge errors builds more sympathetic responses.

      Bear in mind that a double-standard implies that there is a standard. Are you sure there is one, and not just different sets of people responding differently?

    3. Book lover*

      There’s a huge difference between “I don’t know what to do with work-issued equipment because I’ve never dealt with this before” and “I think it is okay to be rude to people.”

      1. Mae*

        I learned to not keep what wasn’t mine when I was 4. It’s not complicated.

        What can be complicated is to know and understand comments that are too familiar and that amount to age-ism. Knowing and understanding that stuff typically takes time and experience.

        That’s the heart of the comparison, i.e. trial and error. Every. last. one. of us have said things that amount to being horrifically insulting to someone else, and then we learned what was wrong and why over time, and we didn’t do it anymore. Life lessons, I believe they’re called.

        1. JimmyJab*

          Riiiight, hopefully LW will be the person to teach this life lesson to her coworker. Can we not criticize people because they are young and don’t know better?

          1. Mae*

            She doesn’t have to be, and I didn’t say she should. Your point?

            As for criticizing, sure, go ahead. Not sure of your point there, either.

          2. Susannah*

            Wow, really? So… the younger employee makes (not one, but several) ageist and belittling comments to LW, and we’re supposed to save our sympathy for the mis-behaving workers because… she’s young? And is not responsible for her behavior?
            Yeah, I was young once. And not so clueless as to think you could say that to an older workers without offending that person at best and getting written up for it at worst. If you don’t know how to behave in the workplace, maybe you’re not ready to be in the workplace yet.

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              I don’t think anyone is saying there is some sort of binary here. The co-worker can definitely be super wrong, LW being grossly mistreated, AND we can have a level of compassion for the co-worker’s utter cluelessness.

              Speculating that LW was in menopause seems to be a real problem for most people, but my issue was that the co-worker just kind of decided to engage LW in a completely inappropriate personal conversation about menstruation that LW in NO WAY signed on for. Co-worker probably just commented about menopause because, statistically, LW was likely no longer experiencing the same hormonal changes co-worker was. Were co-worker not oversharing and being over familiar we never would have gotten to the menopause issue. Menopause is really the cringe cherry on the conversational train wreck cupcake.

              And if co-worker is so clueless she didn’t get that exchange isn’t “girl bonding” but inappropriate and insulting, I DO feel bad for her because there is no chance that the age comments are the only inappropriate things she says and yet no one who is ACTUALLY her supervisor (or even close co-worker) has sat her down and said “This is a massive issue and you need to fix it.”

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          I learned when I started menstruating at 13 that it was rude to say “you’re bitchy today, are you on the rag?” so it’s not hard to extrapolate that commenting on menopause is also rude.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            (And if you bristle at that and insist there’s nuance…then maybe the other scenario had nuance too, hmm?)

    4. What She Said*

      I think it’s a difference between a one-off accident and a pattern of offensiveness. Yes, both are young and new to the work world. Both could use some empathy, understanding, and a conversation. But accidentally keeping a one-off piece of equipment vs a pattern of offensive words. Very different situations with very different consequences.

      1. Mae*

        I see it as theft vs. ignorance.

        We will just have to disagree, although I’ll take ignorant comments any day over outright theft.

        LW, try not to miss this opportunity to show the way.

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        Yep, this is a good point.

        (It also gave me an image of the other LW stashing horded televisions all over their flat! I needed that bit of humor today!)

    5. Irish Teacher*

      I think that while ageism can be a complex lesson, not dismissing somebody by calling them menopausal is really something I’d expect most people to know by the time they enter their teens at the latest. The other things like referring to the older man as the “dad” of the team and maybe the “wow, you know modern slang!” I could possibly put down to being young and immature, though the latter still seems like it would be very immature from most people old enough in the workplace. But to me, the menopausal one really didn’t seem like something I could imagine any adult not knowing better than to do. I teach teen boys and if any of them were to say something like that, they would be saying it with the full intent of being as offensive as they could possibly be.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, that’s it. I frequently wield Hanlon’s razor (never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity), but there are exceptions.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      Mostly it’s a difference between actively doing something (this letter) and passively failing to do anything (that letter).

      There’s also a tradition where if the OP has screwed up and owns that, people can get weirdly invested in reassuring them. Like, biting the office manager became understandable.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        All of what Falling Diphthong said, plus: there were plenty of commenters who said the TV letter writer’s (in)action was inexcusable.

        1. Marley's Ghost*

          Right? There were a lot of comments like that.

          The AAM commentariat is not and never has been a monolith.

    7. Indolent Libertine*

      Keeping the TV didn’t directly cause harm to anybody. Telling someone they must be menopausal, and similar rudeness, does. Seems pretty obvious to me.

  23. Just Another Fed*

    and has referred to the executive director — the other older person — as the “dad” of younger members of the team.

    I’m curious what the executive director’s take is on this, because I have definitely known older supervisors to make these kinds of comments about themselves. To be clear I think it’s a problem either way–I sure didn’t appreciate supervisors trying to present themselves in a parental light when I was younger!–but it’s a thing I’ve experienced frequently enough that I wonder if part of Young Colleague’s issue is that she’s trying to read the room and learn workplace norms, and not getting good guidance from all her superiors. If LW is fuming about these comments but executive director is encouraging them, that’s a problem whose resolution has to start with the executive director.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I had that thought too. And if it is something the ED is encouraging – implicitly or explicitly – I wonder what other small cultural things are lending to this environment.

    2. neeko*

      This was my thought as well. I’ve been in situations where older mentors have referred to themselves in a similar fashion. It’s also a huge difference to refer to someone as “the dad of the group” vs straight up calling him dad.

  24. keze*

    Wow. Menopausal! This definitely needs to be shut down.
    I’ve heard some truly outrageous things come out of younger staff members, and most often, it was a misread of the room and a lack of understanding, rather than hostility. I once heard a young man make a joke about “Oh, you senior citizens!” His boss immediately pulled him aside. Turns out, he’d heard some of the older employees joking with themselves that way, and he thought it would be a way to share their humor. It was definitely a kindness for his manager to explain where he went wrong.
    That being said, the word “menopausal” is so blatantly rude to use in that way, I agree with Alison that you’re on solid ground to be as firm as you want to be.

  25. Goldenrod*

    I’ve noticed that a lot of people at work will (strangely) seek family dynamics in work relationships – like in the example OP gave of calling the boss “dad.” My theory is that these people lacked some kind of parenting in their own lives – or maybe they just have bad boundaries!

    It can play out many different ways, too. I had a c0-worker who always seemed to be looking for a mother relationship with her various female bosses. Another example: When I stepped into the role of a woman who had retired, it turned out she had performed various housekeeping tasks and strongly identified with the role of “office mom.” I had to explicitly instruct my new co-workers that, guess what? I wasn’t going to be cleaning the fridge for them or “looking after them” in that way.

    So, I’m guessing this co-worker has similar bad boundaries and is very immature– so in her eyes, anyone older is “mom” or “dad.” I think Alison’s suggestions are spot on, and that these comments need to be shut down! It’s not professional behavior and, as Alison points out, it doesn’t benefit *anyone*.

    1. Username Unknown*

      These are good insights. It makes me think of people who call celebrities mom and dad. I don’t understand it at all. Why are you using these overly familiar terms for people you don’t know who aren’t much older than you? I mostly see this online.

      1. Expelliarmus*

        The celebrities thing is different because often times it stems from the roles those celebrities play in TV shows, movies, etc. If they’re literally known for playing father figures or mother figures, people tend to ascribe those qualities to them in real life (ex. Tom Hanks being called America’s Dad). Not saying that’s necessarily justified, but it’s significantly different than what’s happening here between colleagues.

        1. Expelliarmus*

          Actually, maybe Tom Hanks isn’t the best example as far as roles go, as his fatherly distinction is more about his real-life persona. Someone like James Avery or Pedro Pascal, both of whom are well known for playing father figures on TV, are better examples.

  26. MicroManagered*

    I think the “menopausal” comment deserves to be in its own category, separate from “wow you know all the cool slang.”

    Asking or commenting on your menstrual cycle is off the table. I think I would shut that down VERY HARD in the moment and I do think this is a situation where, if she ends up hurt or embarrassed, so be it. A little guilt or shame can be a powerful social conditioning tool. I would say something like “WOW it is rude and unacceptable to make comments about things like menstrual cycles and menopause like that. Please make sure you don’t do that again.” and then follow up with her supervisor so they’re aware of the pattern. That’s just uneffingacceptable!

  27. HonorBox*

    I remember distinctly when I first started in a leadership position, I got many comments from people about my age and how people “have underwear older than me” or something like that. It pissed me off but I didn’t feel like I could say something. I wish I had. I’ve taken that experience to heart though, and try REALLY HARD not to do the same to younger colleagues. Age isn’t something we need to be talking about in this way. While that’s the flip side of this particular situation, it is the same in that age is the subject, and people’s comments aren’t appropriate.

    This is a perfect place to remind people that even though our intent may not be harmful or hurtful, it is the person who we’re speaking to who gets to make the judgment as to whether something is harmful or hurtful to them. Maybe this colleague doesn’t mean anything negative with the comments, but it is obviously being taken as negative, and that’s something. Hell, that’s the only thing. It would be in the best interest of LW to follow Alison’s advice and start by gently pointing out that what is being said comes across a certain way and that isn’t a positive way.

  28. Critical Rolls*

    I agree with several other commenters that this person’s at-work social calibrations are just wildly off across multiple dimensions. The comments are not just ageist, but sexist and overly personal and bodily speculation and self-infantilizing and and and… She needs intervention before she gets in real trouble and/or damages her reputation. If you’re not willing or correctly positioned, maybe you can talk to her supervisor.

  29. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    Ageism is a serious issue and I would give my kingdom for a panel with professional women about how its intersection with their gender identity created obstacles in the workplace without that conversation turning to “kids these days” stuff.

    Everyone needs to be better about not gauging the amount of respect someone deserves based on their perceived age, but ageism is deeper and more structural than sideways comments and I would really love to get some experienced perspective on that. Which is not to say the comments don’t matter or enforce those structures, just that the visibility is out of proportion with the impact.

    1. BellyButton*

      I find “kids these days” to be much more accepting of ages/genders/race and more concerned about equity than any other generations I have worked with. When I read the letter, ageism wasn’t what came to mind, my first thought was this is someone who probably makes these kinds of jokes within their family circle and doesn’t realize the impact or inappropriateness at work.

      As far as intersectionality between age and gender- for me it was most prevalent at two times in my life. Mid-20s after just getting married and having older male bosses assume that I was going to have kids and not wat to advance in my career because I was going to choose to be a SAHM or that I couldn’t or wouldn’t want to travel anymore for my job. And now that I am almost 50– assuming that I am no longer innovative or staying on top of trends in my career or that I can relate to what “the kids” want and need.

      1. Baron*

        “When I read the letter, ageism wasn’t what came to mind, my first thought was this is someone who probably makes these kinds of jokes within their family circle and doesn’t realize the impact or inappropriateness at work.” <– Yup, me too. Saying your boss is like your dad can certainly be ageist, but my first thought is that it's about having bad/no boundaries.

        Not to say the comments being made aren't ageist – they are – but I think the ageism is a byproduct of being a bit too comfortable/informal.

        1. Observer*

          I disagree. Neither the misogyny nor the ageism are a product of being to informal. There is a difference between comfortable and informal and dismissive and disrespectful, which is what most of these comments are.

  30. Robin*

    Tbh I think these scripts are too wordy and wouldn’t work–in the moment, the best way to handle it would be to just say “Excuse me?” or “What?” with an open face and then just wait. 9 times out of 10 they’re going to feel incredibly awkward and won’t do it again. If you haven’t been documenting, start, and tell her manager about it.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      As An Old (born during the Nixon Administration) I would likely go the short, direct way here, yes. LW says they’re concerned about preserving relationships, and stopping the menopause comment short with this kind of reaction is probably not risky.

  31. BaskingInMyWindowlessOffice*

    Passive aggressive suggestion. Shout out agist when she makes those comments like a Gilmore Girl and then otherwise ignore it.

  32. SofiaDeo*

    I wonder if this person’s youth/immaturity/lack of experience is a case of “trying to be cool.” Alison’s advice about starting low & slow is spot on. I recall in my callow late 20’s part of my career, I was generally pretty flippant/sarcastic in a lot of conversations. I distinctly recall the shame/embarrassment I felt at our table of 4, where my older, more experienced co-worker gently and simply commented about my remarks. It brought me to my senses, and I stopped that behavior. No lectures about how inappropriate I was being necessary. I think the others who have also commented along the lines of “it’s always possible to continue to escalate/make the point, not so easy to take things back” are spot-on. I wouldn’t immediately jump to screaming “STOP BEING SO RUDE/AGEIST” immediately, I would work my way up to it lolol.

    As you can see, I haven’t entirely gotten out of the sarcastic/snarky quipping…

    1. allathian*

      And please don’t get out of it altogether. Sarcasm has its place. That said, it’s often the nuclear option, so it should be used with discretion.

  33. Clydesdalesncoconuts*

    My advice is to take this to HR immediately. DO NOT engage in a discrimination war with this individual or you likely will find yourself being punished instead. Make it clear to HR that this has happened numerous times, that it is unwanted, that it falls under the harrassment in the workplace laws, and you want it stopped NOW.

  34. MurpMaureep*

    As a woman in her early 50s, I completely get the sensitivity to remarks that feel age/gender based. But I’d be concerned about the employee more broadly. If she’s saying this kind of stuff to the LW, what is she saying to others based on how she perceives them? Anyone who brings up a coworker being “menopausal” doesn’t have a working filter. It doesn’t take much imagination to come up with other equally inappropriate scenarios (e.g. what’s she saying to someone from another country about their grasp of the language)..

    1. Pierrot*

      Yeah, the coworker is definitely ageist and LW can respond to that directly, but it also seems like the colleague has poor boundaries/judgment and that could be a problem across the board. I wonder how she treats colleagues who are at her level or potentially newer/lower in rank.

    2. Observer*

      I think that this is a very good point and something that the OP could point out both to the coworker and management if that needs to happen.

  35. WellRed*

    To quote the great Kathy abates in Fried Green Tomatoes: “I’m older and have better insurance”

  36. Fishsticks*

    While I sympathize heavily with your situation, “age is the last thing it’s okay to discriminate against” isn’t really true. Looks, weight, etc, not to mention the fact that discrimination against parents/against people who chose not to have children, race, etc… all of that is still very much a problem but also very much “lol just how it is” in a lot of places.

    That said, and not to derail –

    I think you’re within your rights to take the sharper approach if needed, but I might try the softer options Allison gave you first. She very well may just not be thinking about how absurdly rude she’s being. Although I will say I bodily cringed at the idea of saying something like “haha you’re menopausal” even JOKINGLY in the office. I do have a few coworkers I joke around with like that (in their 60’s – I’m closing in on 40) but I know those coworkers VERY well and would never make such jokes with someone I wasn’t close to.

    I do think you may have an easier time getting her to listen by specifically utilizing the framing Allison gave on how it reflects poorly on HER. That it makes someone look deeply unprofessional and could negatively impact her career in the future, as well as hurting your own feelings and being wildly baseline inappropriate. The statements sound like poor attempts at a joke to me, and maybe she just can’t “read the room”, as it were… but you can definitely explain it to her.

    1. Abogado Avocado*

      I disagree. Being over 40 is, like race, a legally protected class in the United States. Which makes it far different from being a parent or childless, neither of which are protected classes.

      And, by the way, joking isn’t protected speech in the discrimination context, so saying, “I was just joking” when accused of making an ageist comment doesn’t get a speaker out of trouble. Because you’re under 40 and, therefore, outside the protected class, do re-think “joking around” about age with your co-workers in their 60’s.

  37. DomaneSL5*

    The hormonal/menopause comment is pretty bad. To me that one should have gotten some push back or even a good talking to by her manager.

    The Dad thing and language thing personally wouldn’t bother me. I could see that friendly banter between employees. But this coworker really does seem like a bit of death by a thousand cuts, and so I can get why your just fed up with her.

    One last thing, having being cut during a layoff and passed over for a manager role many years ago. Don’t let those experiences cloud everything you do at work. At the time not getting promoted and the layoff really hurt, but in the end I landed at a better company and now am a much better place.

    1. Almost There Don't Know Where*

      Death by a thousand cuts is how it feels when as a minority you are faced with daily microaggressions like this. The menopause comment was HORRIBLE. How often in this forum have people been mortified by any reference to their body or bodily functions? I this the issue OP describes rises to the level of intervention being needed because it is not a one-off.

  38. Almost There Don't Know Where*

    bamcheeks, what in the world are you talking about in the first comment? I’m 67 and I tell you age discrimination is indeed one of the last casually acceptable ones, even in this forum. Can’t post directly under your comment, but I’ve got to say something.

    1. Observer*

      Well, you’re wrong. MOST discrimination gets jumped on in this forum, but even here there have been some pretty bigoted things said that just flew under the radar. Out “in the wild”?

      I’m at the stage where ageism is a real problem for me. But so is looks / weight – and so far that has had a far greater effect on me (absolutely has affected my medical treatment, for one.) As for antisemitism? Or more generalized bias towards anyone who is not Christian (at least culturally)? Look at every single discussion of Christmas in public spaces and the workplace for one example.

      As for misogyny? Don’t even get me started. Again, the archives here are a great starting point, but it’s everywhere you look.

      I’m not going to list every group that faces this – I suggest that you look at the archives here to see some examples, though. Perhaps some others who face discrimination can weigh in.

    2. Lucky Meas*

      Does it seem more casually acceptable because it affects you personally? Because there are lots of other types of discrimination that are still casually acceptable and even legally enforced by the US government…

  39. Almost There Don't Know Where*

    My reply to any incredible rude comment including references to menopause would have to be directly calling out this person for their rudeness, and asking them how would they like it if I asked them about their period or anything to do with their reproductive status? I would then caution them not to do it again. I get wanting to preserve relationships, but accepting microaggression after microaggression is very tiring. This obnoxious person needs to be checked and soon. But I’m direct like that. They would need to worry about preserving their relationship with me. Some behavior is just totally out of bounds.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. I get it that some people have a hard time being direct, but I have a direct/blunt reputation in a culture that favors direct, unambiguous communication over saving face, so I would absolutely have come down hard on the first inappropriate comment of this kind from a younger employee. I’m a senior IC with 15 years tenure at my current employer, and I’m also just past 50, and definitely perimenopausal. So I’d feel targeted by that sort of comment.

  40. Almost There Don't Know Where*

    “While I sympathize heavily with your situation, “age is the last thing it’s okay to discriminate against” isn’t really true. Looks, weight, etc, not to mention the fact that discrimination against parents/against people who chose not to have children, race, etc… all of that is still very much a problem but also very much “lol just how it is” in a lot of places.”

    The difference is, it is clearly NOT OK to discriminate on the basis of the other things (except weight). Few people look favorably upon a casual racist. In the US, with EEO, obvious discrimination in larger workplaces is not likely to be a “that’s just the way it is” situation, not officially at least. So many folks don’t blink an eye at ageist references and remarks while the same bigotry directed toward other groups would not be tolerated for a second.

      1. Cool Tina, Train Conductress*

        I suppose that works if LW is including “all of them.” The statement is only accurate if it’s broad enough to be useless.

        All the major forms of discrimination are accepted in the workplace, in various forms; people tend to use this phrase only about discrimination that affects them personally, because they don’t notice other kinds of discrimination.

        Race and gender discrimination is still written into dress codes; ableism/medical discrimination is openly part of hiring and firing; transphobia is law. Coworkers with no hierarchical power over you saying highly inappropriate things about your age aren’t magically “more accepted” than those as soon as one personally experiences them. Our own sample size of one does not outweigh actual discrimination trends and impacts.

    1. Katara's side braids*

      Member of “other groups” weighing in here to say that casual bigotry toward my “groups” is frequently tolerated for far longer than a second, including in the workplace. In general, if you’re about to emphasize one group’s marginalization by saying “imagine if it was [other group]!!,” it’s probably a good idea to reconsider. Hypervisibility is not the same thing as solidarity or tolerance.

  41. Abogado Avocado*

    Also, for those seeking not to be ageist, please remember NOT to refer to older workers as “young lady” or “young man”, which many think is a compliment but which is condescending as heck, or by their first names if you haven’t been invited to do so as it’s overly familiar and demonstrates a lack of respect.

    1. allathian*

      The first names thing is definitely culture related. I’m in Finland, and I’ve called my teachers by their first name since daycare. Using anything other than their first name to refer to anyone I’ve ever worked with in Finland would be absolutely inconceivable for me. Only in the armed forces do they use ranks and last names, at least on duty.

    2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Or your younger coworkers. I’m not “young lady”. I’m not your daughter getting grounded, I am a colleague who you have decided has not earned the right to be called her my name.

      Maybe let’s just drop all age based descriptors when referring to people at work?

      1. I have RBF*

        Seriously. I call my coworkers by what they wish. I neither call them “young man” or “old man”.

    3. rusty*

      First names for everyone has been standard practice in absolutely every workplace I’ve experienced, and in higher education too. I can’t remember a single occasion when using a colleague or manager’s first name would have been seen as disrespectful, no matter what their age.

  42. Rainbow*

    When I saw the title, I wondered whether this was going to be something that the younger coworker thought was banter, and the older coworker resented. Wow, no it is not that.

    It’s very interesting, as I took a lot of effort in my 20’s (which are now over) to look older, as it seemed sometimes I was being overlooked or downright patronized by a few select 40+ coworkers.

    1. allathian*

      I’m in Finland where the drinking age’s 18. I was still getting carded in bars at 30, at least sometimes. That was before stores and bars started carding everyone who looks younger than 30 just to be sure. Now that I’m over 50, I’m very happy that I look younger than my age without effort.

  43. DJ*

    Yeah the comments I’ve had about my age have been incredible ie referring to me as “being considerately older than everyone else”, little digs about my age and other older workers in my prescience etc.
    Sadly when I talk about the situation of other older workers I feel I need to point out the person in question is very well presented to avoid fielding ageist comments. Eg overhearing a medical receptionist advise she had to continue working as there was no superannuation when she was younger, a colleague chuffed she’d been successful in finding work elsewhere during a restructure. She got a job in the restructure so didn’t take the external job but boosted her confidence.
    How ever hear similar comments RE those with disability ie do they have to work when discussing support worker issues preventing someone with a significant disability who wants to go in 1-2 days pw always doing so. Rather than when there are SW issues could they WFH fully? Fine with employer BTW. Someone else with learning difficulties having problems at work and also trying to get work closer to home and if chucks in their job expected to jobseek and meet many obligations by our social security system for a tiny allowance.

  44. KCK*

    Such a triggering letter. I am in the last decade of my career and experience the same condescending comments from younger coworkers who quite honestly don’t bother to keep up in the field or have the same credentials. I learned a LOT from older, experienced colleagues back in the day and benefitted greatly from it. I am helpful when asked too, because everyone needs to learn.

    1. I have RBF*

      This. I’m also in the last decade before retirement. I’ve benefited from mentoring by older folks, and I try to do my part for people newer to the field. I often get it shoved back in my face by people who think they are too college smart for me to tell them anything, but that’s their loss.

      My field is actually one where there are only a miniscule handful of degree programs in the actual field, and tons of degrees in a adjacent field, so graduates in the adjacent field think that their degrees give the knowledge and experience needed for my field. If they refuse my help, they get to sink or swim on their own. This often goes poorly, or they ask a male peer for help, never the actually senior AFAB.

  45. Susannah*

    It is true that people make incredibly ageist comments and think a)they are funny and b)something you can’t take personally, since we all hope to get older and c) something you won’t object to, since it makes you look over-sensitive and actually reinforces the ageism.

    I think what LW is talking about with acceptable forms of bigotry is not the kind that keeps you from getting promoted because you’re too “old” (which happens, along with not being promoted or hired because you female, POC, etc.). And as a chubby and once very very overweight person, I know about fat-phobia. But most people know not to say directly to someone, gee, you’re fat! But would not remotely think there’s anything wrong with calling you “old-timer,” or assuming you can’t do basic computer work.

    1. JSPA*

      Agreed. It’s absolutely true that there are jerks who make “jokes” about all kinds of people and aggressors who are aggressive to all kinds of people. And plenty of apologists who will tell you that those are nice guys and you just need to get a sense of humor.

      But even thoroughly kind, gentle, otherwise-thoughtful people will comment on both youth and age.

      Perhaps it’s because we all know and love old and young people; perhaps it’s because we have all been young and (most of us hope to grow old).
      Perhaps it’s because we still feel young or already feel old.

      Regardless, there’s a lot of it, and much of the time it does not register as even potentially unwelcome with most of the people present, so long as it’s not said ” In a mean or pointed way.”

  46. Anne*

    Hi, I am the original LW, writing from somewhere not the US and in a different timezone. I take all the points above. When I said “perhaps one of the last forms of open discrimination that is still acceptable in the workplace” I did not mean to suggest that other forms have been eliminated. As a queer woman from a refugee background I am very well aware that is not the case, and I think on reflection my remark was made too casually and without adequate qualification. My experience is that in the “knowledge industry”/ white collar workforce in my country under no circumstances would any adverse reference ever be openly made to my queerness, gender or background, or to other characteristics, such as weight, race etc. Such remarks are subject to widespread “zero tolerance” policies. That doesn’t mean these forms of discrimination have been eliminated, just that the are not made explicit.
    As to legal recourse, in my country, age is a protected characteristic but the legal sanction is effectively unenforceable, ie., impossible to prove, and I’m not sure it applies in very small workplaces like mine.
    Appreciate all the comments and tips from others (though have not yet had a chance to read them all, will do).

  47. All Outrage, All The Time*

    Someone needs to tell this child that people’s reproductive status is not up for discussion in the office, ever. She needs to be told directly and immediately to never, ever comment on someone’s body or reproductive capacity. Not just “hormones”. People’s bodies and reproductive matters. No waiting for the next time she says it. Cut that shit down right now. Give me her number and I’ll tell her for you. Far out.

    Eveything else just makes her look ridiculous and can be addressed by someone who cares enough to set her straight in due course.

    1. Anne*

      Original LW here. Thanks for this. As a person with a history of conception through donor embryo/ART your response crystallised why her reference to what she perceives to be my hormonal status is not ok. Not that that uniquely qualifies me to object to her remarks. It’s not ok to assume reproductive status about anyone ever, as you point out.

    2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Please don’t call her a “child”. Insulting the co-worker’s age doesn’t somehow “even the scales” with the co-worker’s insults about LW.

  48. I've Got The Vapours*

    Weird to think that the oldest of us millennials are currently hitting the age of being in a protected class.
    I’m too young to be old.

  49. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    I would approach this with a “I’m not sure you meant that the way it sounded”, followed up quickly with a “you do realise barbs and insults reflect more poorly on the one throwing them out than their victim?”

    Of course if she’s young and half-way pretty or sexy, she may think she doesn’t need it, she’ll only have to flutter her eyelashes to get whatever she wants. Which strategy will only last for another decade or so. It might be worthwhile to help her realise that as a young woman, she may need help from another more experienced woman at some point.

  50. Mothman*

    I would say with 90% certainty this is coming from a combination of insecurity and upbringing, not ill intent.

    It’s also something a lot of younger folks don’t realize can be harmful to themselves and others

    Start with that assumption–that she doesn’t realize it’s ageism or inappropriate and could be a sign that she feels she’s too young to be there–rather than it being a form of discrimination. If she continues regularly, then sure, do something else. But otherwise, just lead with kindness.

    Oh, and let “dad” fight his own battle if it bothers him.

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