Maybe it means equal gender representation in managerial and executive positions. Perhaps your business encourages hiring of racial and ethnic candidates to reflect your customer and market base. Your company might also prioritize recruiting workers of different sexual orientation or those who are physically differently abled.
While all these initiatives help drive workforce diversity, companies often overlook another important aspect: age diversity. According to PwC, only 8% of companies include age as part of their diversity and inclusion strategy. Employing workers of varying ages can enhance the performance of your business as they bring different levels of experience, insight and energy to the way your work. Together, they synergistically improve business outcomes.
With four generations cooperating side by side, the global workforce is a mix of pre- and post-digital natives, which means they each bring unique skills to employers. Baby Boomers, often defined as those born before 1956, came into the labor market before the advent of the commercial internet, which means deeper experience with a traditionally cooperative work environment. Gen X, those born mid-1960s to early 1980s, witnessed the birth of the internet in the workplace, possess similar skills but also has experience with the transition from analog to digital systems.
Millennials, those born from 1981 to 1996, account for the largest group in the workforce and are the first generation to help bring their companies into the post-digital era. Gen Z, the youngest group, is now coming out of college and entering the workforce, already steeped in the newest technologies of the times.
why age diversity matters
With many businesses still undergoing digital transformation today, you might question why having a workforce that’s also inclusive of older works is important. After all, many of today’s dynamic start-ups seem to be headed up by 20-somethings with boundless energy. Everywhere you look, young entrepreneurs are launching new apps and online businesses.
In fact, experience still counts even in today’s youth-oriented markets. According to one study, the average age of a startup is 42, and the average age of founders of high-growth businesses in 45. In another study of Stack Overflow members, researchers found that programmers in their 50s exhibited expertise in more areas than younger users.
Aside from digital skills, more experienced workers bring a wealth of other assets to an employer, including teamwork adeptness, in-person communication skills and historical insights into a market or business. Of course experience also means leadership development. According to Quartz Media, the average age of CEOs of the biggest U.S. companies has risen from 45 to 50 since 2012. So even if you’re not filling C-suite roles, the expertise of Gen X and Baby Boomers can help your business in other ways.
One company exemplifying the importance of retaining older workers is automaker Mercedes-Benz, which has launched initiatives to challenge the myths surrounding older workers. As talent scarcity grows in its home market of Germany and elsewhere around the world, the luxury brand says it needs to educate the public and its own managers about the impact that Gen X and Baby Boomers can have on their operations.
“Many prejudices about aging are long out-of-date. Every age has potential... age diversity means diversity of experience, perspectives and new ideas,” Mercedes production head Markus Schaefer told Reuters.
what workers prefer
It’s not just corporate leaders who see the potential of having a diverse workforce. Workers themselves agree that having an inclusive approach to talent is important to their organization’s success. According to Randstad’s Q2 2018 Workmonitor, a global survey of working-age adults in 34 countries, 86% prefer to be in a multi-generational team, reflecting perhaps the different opinions and insights they gain from those older and younger than they are. Nearly the same percentage (85%) say an age-diverse team helps them come up with innovative ideas and solutions and is mutually beneficial to all team members.
However, a multi-generational workforce is not without challenges. Nearly one-third surveyed say they find it difficult to communicate with peers who are not from the same generation, and 80% say the biggest difference is the way they communicate. With younger generations more prone to use digital tools in their communications, it may clash with the in-person approach that Boomers and Gen X prefer.
Despite these differences, however, the prevailing attitude is that having an age-diverse organization is critical to better performance and workforce expertise. Companies that can successfully bridge the differences and accentuate the commonalities of different generations are most likely to optimize the unique contributions each brings to the business. More importantly, their teamwork means each will gain from the wisdom and skills of younger and older colleagues.
three tips to optimize a multi-generational workforce
- create age-diverse project teams
By creating teams that leverage the strengths of each generation, you can optimize the outcome based on the unique contribution individual members offer. For instance, Gen Z workers may have a better grasp on the latest digital tools and social strategies for your business while more experienced peers may have better historical insights on markets and customer relationships.
- provide the right tools
Whether it’s to enhance communications or automate processes, make sure to give your diverse workforce tools they all feel comfortable using. There are many emerging technologies making their way into the workplace, but hold off from introducing too many new ones to prevent overload. Pilot any new technology with an age-diverse user group before making an enterprise roll-out.
- capture tribal knowledge
One of the most important assets of older workers, especially those with long tenures at an organization, is their deep knowledge about the business and its culture. Make sure you capture their know-how and share this with the broader group so they retain the information after a worker leaves or retires.
For an overview of all findings on the impact of a multi-generational workforce, please see our Q2 Workmonitor report. Workmonitor research focuses on global and local trends in mobility, job satisfaction and motivation in 34 countries.