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Age Diversity In The Workplace: A Guide To An Inclusive Organization

by Karyn H. Rhodes | SHRM-SCP, SPHR on May 5, 2022 6:00:00 AM

Is your organization maintaining age diversity in the workplace? If you’re like many companies, you may not know the answer to that question! That’s because while diversity of race and gender are widely talked about in organizations, age diversity is often overlooked. Yet it’s an equally critical component of an inclusive workforce.

Not only should your business promote age diversity in the workplace to comply with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), there are a host of benefits beyond just avoiding penalties and lawsuits that you’ll realize by employing workers of different ages. In this article, we’ll help you understand the value of an age-inclusive organization and the steps you can take to create one.

What is age diversity in the workplace?

The term “age-diverse workplace” refers to the acceptance of different ages in the workplace. Age diversity is an important part of an inclusive environment, especially because the current workforce now includes members of five generations:

  • The Silent Generation (1928-1945)
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Gen X (1965-1980)
  • Millennials (1981-1996)
  • Gen Z (1997-2012)

Each of these generations has different strengths, expectations, and work styles based on their upbringing, the stage of life they’re in, and their professional experiences. For example, Gen X employees may be raising their own children while caring for aging parents. As a result, they tend to be hard-working, often described as working to live..

What is the importance of age diversity at work?

Multi-generational teams bring together individuals with different skills, abilities, and knowledge. By facilitating an age diverse environment, your company will realize several key benefits, including:

  • Increases loyalty. Diverse workplaces reduce turnover largely because of the greater loyalty of employees over age 55. In fact, those 55 to 64 have been in their jobs about 3 times longer than younger workers. Lower turnover among these workers can create a more stable workplace for an improved culture that incents workers of all ages to stay. And when they do, you’ll benefit from lower recruiting costs and retention of institutional knowledge.
  • Closes the skills gap. A mix of experienced workers and younger ones can help expand skills among all employees, especially when they are encouraged to share their knowledge. For example, older workers may have more industry insight but younger employees might have a better grasp of technology; given the opportunity to teach each other, you’ll benefit from the talents of each generation.
  • Sparks innovation. With a variety of perspectives, ideas, and methods to approaching problems to draw from, age-diverse teams can push innovation – not only in product development for example but also in efficiency and internal processes. This level of creativity can give your company a competitive advantage in the market, leading to improved profitability.
  • Elevates performance. Research shows that age diversity boosts productivity at the team level due to the effect of “knowledge spillover,” where employees share knowledge gained from past experiences. This effect combined with new ideas and approaches sparks solutions to problems while avoiding costly mistakes.
  • Provides positive role models. Role models are looked up to and admired for their work ethic, behaviors, and more. An age diverse workplace can help ensure an organization has positive role models from all generations who inspire others to follow their lead.
  • Enhances motivation. Older workers get energized by sharing their views with the next generations while younger workers are more engaged as a result of learning from their older colleagues. In a 2020 study, being part of a mixed-age group was shown to increase motivation for both older and younger employees, which can also result in increased performance.

How do I build an age-diverse workforce?

Currently, only 8% of companies include age as part of their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Since there are so many advantages to an age-diverse workforce, you may be wondering how you can promote one in your company. Here are 6 steps you can take:

  1. Create an age-inclusive hiring process. Blind hiring can help you identify the top candidates for a role, regardless of demographics. With this approach, each applicant will be able to show their abilities without any personally identifiable details so you can remove age from your decisions. This will also expand your talent pool, which is essential in today’s tight labor market.
  2. Open your mind. Talk to employees about age diversity and encourage them to set aside stereotypes or any assumptions that could be causing bias and negatively impact interactions in the workplace such as “she’s too young to lead” or “he’s too old to learn that software.” Make sure your managers fully understand the benefits of age diversity so they can move beyond outdated beliefs and walk the talk as well.
  3. Embrace differences. While your employees of different ages may share a common goal, they may have very different viewpoints. Set ground rules to ensure they respect their differences so everyone is comfortable sharing ideas, especially if not everyone on your staff is used to working with people from different age groups..
  4. Encourage learning. With intergenerational teams, make time for colleagues of all ages to learn from one another. One way to do this is with mutual mentoring where younger and older employees share new skills or perspectives. It’s also important to provide the same level of employment development opportunities, no matter a worker’s age, for a rewarding career for all employees..
  5. Promote an inclusive culture. You’ll want to make sure your workplace and its HR policies support all workers. For example, you may want to offer loan repayment help to students or flexibility to younger workers with families who need more flexibility in their workday; at the same time, strive to develop an environment that truly values employees in their 50s, 60s, and beyond.
  6. Mix up your teams. Whether you have an important initiative or task force, pull in workers of different ages to collaborate. Giving employees the opportunity to regularly work with co-workers of different ages will help them realize the benefits of an inclusive team.

How to Promote Age Diversity in the Workplace

As you can see, there are a lot of advantages to a multi-generational workforce, especially in today’s job market. And while there are some easy steps you can take to lay the groundwork for an inclusive and supportive environment that will contribute to both your employee’s and your company’s success, it can be challenging to know how to recruit and retain workers of all ages.

That’s why some companies choose to partner with an HR specialist. If you’re considering hiring an outside expert to help develop a strategy for age diversity, read our comparison on handling HR tasks yourself vs outsourcing HR to decide if this may be the best approach for your company to achieve your inclusion goals.

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