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Age in the workplace is the new diversity - problems and opportunities for society and employers alike

This is a transformational time in the workplace and no more so than in the likelihood of a 5 or 6 generation workforce. Everyone talks about the millennials and generation Z, seemingly ignoring the potential offered by older workers. Indeed, stereotyping and subconscious bias is rife and embedded, I’m sorry to say.

The numbers are illuminating. There will be 3.7m more people between 50 and retirement age by 2022. Our declining birth rate means there’s 700,000 or so fewer 16-49 year olds in the workplace and this isn’t a figure that we can confidently cover with immigration any more. In fact, probably the reverse.

However, it’s not all bad. If the 1.2m older workers currently unemployed or inactive were to enter the workplace (full or part time) then it’s estimated that they could add another 9-25bn to GDP. More importantly for their employers, those that embrace best practice in employee engagement and the broader diversity agenda they will add value every minute of every day that they’re there.

To harness the positive we first need to counter the negative – where is our bias in recruitment, in promotion and in working practices? Is it right that we should expect to ‘manage out’ older workers as the norm?

We then need to understand why older workers would want to bring their talent and experience to work every day. Research tells us that many still wish to make a contribution – they have skills, they have relevant experience, they have expertise and more besides. It also tells us that working and social interaction is an important aspect in remaining fit, healthy and active. And, of course, there’s the financial imperative. For some, they have to work. They may have insufficient savings or pension to retire, care costs to pay for younger or older relatives and other family commitments. Whilst many retire comfortably, many older workers have no choice but to keep working. For others, they choose to work because they want to and not because they have to. Understanding which side of this line your valuable older workers sit will be important.

So, harnessing the positive. We have numerous examples as to where this has worked spectacularly well – in Manufacturing, in Care, in Financial Services and Retail. For some clients, this is about putting older and younger workers together in teams. They make great allies in the workplace. For others, it’s about talent mapping – understanding and sharing the unique expertise and experience with more junior co-workers. And for others it’s about matching the customers’ needs and wants at point of contact – an older, more experienced staff member not someone younger and with less experience. And for others we’ve used the flexibility older workers offer to benefit the broader work patterns for both staff and customers alike.

Is your business prepared to harness the potential offered by older workers?

In categories: Employee engagement
Author: John Tarrant
Date published: 04.07.2017

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