The Key to Celebrating Age Diversity in the Workplace
What if there was a way to boost your workplace productivity, improve your employee retention rate and upgrade your team’s skill set? Turns out, there is. You just need to work on improving the age diversity in your workplace.
I’m proud to say that we now live in a world where conversations about workplace diversity are commonplace. Sure, there’s always more to be done. But we’re finally making some progress in celebrating the broad backgrounds of our workforce.
Yet, age diversity seems to be the one that gets left behind. Which is fascinating, as there’s so much to be gained from it. Here’s how to celebrate age diversity in your workplace.
The benefits of age diversity in the workplace (this is why it matters)
When multiple generations come together to create one single workforce, all that experience, thought and expertise blend together. Knowledge of what has worked in the past is combined with new ways of thinking to create a shared vision for the future.
The mix of new ways of thinking or more creative input from the younger generation, together with the experience of the older generation, produces an amazingly diverse company, which would most likely attract a diverse range of clients.
Older workers can boost productivity
The studies linking age with productivity vary. Whilst the general population assumes that productivity declines from prime working age to retirement age, there’s little evidence to actually prove that.
The OECD cites research that references Israel, where firms with a higher share of older workers appear to be more productive than those without. Whilst in Austria, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Portugal, older workers seem to be just as productive as prime working age employees.
Of course, it’s industry specific too. A German truck assembly plant study revealed that productivity increased until age 65, as older workers made fewer mistakes.
What does that mean for you? It means that it’s important to remove yourself from biases and keep an open mind.
An age diverse workforce is a motivated workforce
A 2020 study showed that when a workforce is made up of both older and younger workers, the workforce as a whole is more motivated.
The act of sharing knowledge is more closely related to the older workers’ goals, which helps them feel more fulfilled in the workplace. Meanwhile, the act of receiving knowledge is more closely related to the younger workers’ goals, which in turn helps them feel more fulfilled in the workplace.
This creates what the OECD refers to as a “positive spillover effect”, where the experience of older workers can help younger workers perform better.
The key to a more stable workplace
How frustrating is it to put all that time, money and effort into training someone new, only for them to pack their desk up a year or two later? Leaving you to start the process all over again…
Older workers are less likely to do that. According to the OECD, turnover is 4% lower at firms that have a 10% higher share of workers aged 50 and above.
This means you get a more stable and more productive workforce. Without the endless training cycles.
The challenges to harnessing the power of age diversity
Now you know the benefits of age diversity for your workplace, how do you actually achieve them?
Like anything in the business world, there are a few hurdles and roadblocks that you might experience along the way. But, thankfully, they can all be overcome.
Adjusting to different working styles
Different age groups tend to have different priorities.
Whilst it’s likely that older workers will have more traditional working styles – like working from an office, following a predetermined 9-5 schedule, and moving up a traditionally hierarchical ladder. Younger workers are more likely to take an alternative route – celebrating a work-from-anywhere model, advocating for flexible working, and shunning traditional work methods in favour of something new and different.
“It’s always been done this way”
We’ve all heard the old adage “it’s always been done this way, why change it now”. This is often a stark contrast to the younger generation’s approach of “let’s change things up and do them in a more creative and efficient way”.
The challenge is to harness the diversity of the ages and extract the best ideas and ways of working from them all.
Varying communication styles
Older and younger generations have very different communication styles. They’ll each have different words, different reference points, different formality levels, different interpretations of the same thing…
All those nuances add up. Workplace communication is always a challenge. But when multiple generations are involved? It can seem even trickier to navigate.
Increasing age diversity in the workplace (whilst overcoming any communication hiccups)
Making the decision to improve your age diversity is the first step. The second is doing it in a way that actually makes a difference. So you can a) attract the talent you need and b) give them the tools they need to succeed.
Here’s how to do just that. So you can celebrate age diversity at your organisation, without letting those challenges stand in your way.
1. Offer the right incentives
When you’re putting your job adverts out and looking for your next hire, think about how you’re doing it. Ask yourself whether your hiring incentives will appeal to everyone, or just a certain demographic?
For example, poor health is one of the biggest reasons for economic inactivity among those in their 50s. So offering healthcare as a benefit will help older job seekers overcome a potential hurdle to their application.
2. Be smart about where you place your job adverts
Look at where you’re placing your job adverts and who’s going to see your job openings in those places. If you’re only advertising to a small subset of people, you’re only going to get those people applying.
Don’t be shy about asking around and speaking with your target audience about where they look for roles. Then, position yourself in those places.
3. Introduce an unbiased recruitment process
Is there a chance that age bias is appearing in your recruitment process? It’s a hard question to answer. But an important one.
Take some time to audit your recruitment process and remove anything that might give away an applicant’s age. Anonymise CVs, cut out dates, remove photos… do everything you can to focus on the applicant’s skills and experience, without distraction.
4. Educate your workforce on the benefits of age diversity
For age diversity to be a positive influence in your company, your team needs to be on board. They need to operate without bias.
This means speaking publicly about the benefits of age diversity and why you’re making it a focus for your organisation. It means giving the right credits to your achievements and highlighting the role of age diversity in your success. And removing any discrimination or bias that might stand in your way.
5. Promote the mixing of age groups within the company
There’s no point in hiring a diverse workforce only to segregate them in the office. Instead, mix your teams. Promote multi-generational participation. Bring different age groups together at company events and team-building activities.
This isn’t a “one and done” thing. Advocating for age diversity takes time and practice. It’s something that’ll need continuous attention. But, like most things, the benefits are worth it.
6. Consider a two-way mentoring scheme
Having a multi-generational workforce puts you in a unique position. On the one hand, you have a network of older employees with strong management experience, report writing skills and strategic insights. Whilst on the other, you have a team of younger employees with a natural understanding of social media practices, strong technical skills and impressive current awareness.
So make the most of it. A two-way mentoring scheme sees a younger employee paired with an older employee. Unlike a traditional mentoring relationship, it isn’t top down. Instead, each mentee gets just as much out of it as the other, as they share their areas of expertise whilst learning from each other.
7. Add communications workshops to your professional development programme
Good communication is a key component of any company. But it’s even more important when multiple generations are involved and key insights get lost in translation between the ages.
So put a plan together to overcome that. And add regular communication workshops or communication coaching sessions to your professional development programme. And help your organisation overtake the competition.
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About the author
Lisa is a mother, a business owner, a founder, and an executive leader. She's been through it all and has come out the other side to thrive. Now she's helping you to do the same! Learn how you can find clarity and support through her services for individuals and organisations.