Many are turning to plastic surgery to avoid age discrimination at work

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Middle-aged workers are turning to face-lifts to compete with younger colleagues in what experts say is an increasingly ageist workplace.

Figures for 2005 from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) show a 40 per cent increase in anti-ageing treatments including face-lifts. Blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) operations, which remove wrinkled skin and bags around the eyes, increased by 50 per cent and brow lifts increased by 35 per cent. Eyelid surgery is now second only to breast augmentation in the UK's top 10 surgery choices. The Harley Medical Group, one of the UK's largest and best-known cosmetic surgery organisations, also confirms that "silver surgery" is booming. The proportion of 50-year-olds having surgery in their clinics has quadrupled in the past five years and almost half of those people said they wanted to remain a player in the workplace. Dr Norman Waterhouse, a Harley Street face-lift specialist with 28 years' experience, said: "Policewomen and teachers come to me. People who would not have come to me 15 or 20 years ago are now requesting treatments."

Dr Waterhouse believes that facial ageing, which generally occurs in the 40s or 50s, can often coincide with changes of direction in life and in people's careers. Some of his patients think that looking older means less respect in a competitive work environment. He said: "We are all going to be working longer. As we get older we all have to make sure we are presentable. Where once we would have had a haircut, we now consider surgery as a realistic option."

The Harley Medical Group reports that while face-lifts are popular with both sexes, women are also opting for brow and breast lifts and Botox treatments, while men tend to change a feature they have always been unhappy with, such as the nose. People do not want to be considered "over the hill" and ready for retirement by their colleagues before they are ready to go.

Statistics support the idea that attitudes to age in the office have changed. A recent study on age discrimination carried out by the Chartered Management Institute and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported that more than half of respondents felt they had been personally disadvantaged at work because of age discrimination. Significantly, 39 per cent believed that their chances of promotion had been hindered by age discrimination. Staff between the ages of 30 and 39 are considered to have the best promotion prospects, with opportunities falling sharply for the over-50s.

Professor Chris Warhurst of Strathclyde Business School blames the rise of psychology in business and impression management, the idea that an individual can influence other people's perceptions of them by adjusting their appearance. "The business press exhorts professionals to look their best. This used to mean dress, body language and comportment, and plastic surgery is an extension of that." While youth and good looks are important in services that have direct contact with customers, the effects are discernible across all occupations.

But in October of this year, the EU Employment Framework comes into effect, making it illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of, among other things, age.