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Age diversity: An underemphasized and underappreciated competitive advantage

It seems that our culture focuses diversity attention on the areas of gender, race, and ethnicity. Why don’t we focus on age diversity, too? Workers of all ages have something of value to bring to the workplace.

Having a broad range of employees will give your company the advantage of perspectives that help make your products or services relevant to a broader market.

Consider that in 2016, almost 20 percent of Americans 65 years old and older were working, according to Bloomberg. That’s a higher percentage than ever before in the United States. Some societal factors impact why workers who may have retired at a traditional age continue to work, including increases to the full retirement age for Social Security benefits, loss of traditional pensions and stock market fluctuations that can impact retirement savings for many.

With so many experienced workers in the workforce, how can companies respond in a way that shows value to all employees and gleans the most benefit from an age-diverse workforce?

Diversified age groups in the workplace benefit all

Seasoned workers have a rich base of experiences to draw upon when making decisions at work. Some gain them outside of the company, while others may be long-term employees with a wealth of company history. That maturity and wisdom can bring some necessary balance to fresh new ideas.

Younger employees may be more open to taking needed risks, while more experienced employees may bring a stability to that risk-taking. That experience may include knowledge of what has or hasn’t worked in the past, which could help the company avoid repeating mistakes.

With a broad range of ages, there’s great opportunity for mentoring newer employees by others with company or industry knowledge who can pass that knowledge on.

With all of the advancements in technology, communication can become focused on only the progressive, high-tech methods. More mature employees can help maintain a balance that combines rich personal communication with the latest options.

A person with more life experiences sees the value of looking long term and moving the company towards a long, profitable future in a way that younger employees might not understand or emphasize.

Managing diversity can be a balancing act

As with any type of diversity, it must be managed well to be effective and bring a competitive advantage. Start by hiring based on knowledge, skills and abilities, and not screening someone out based on age.

Show that you value all employees. Management sets the tone for this in how they treat people and who they select for specific positions. It begins with modeling respect for every person and showing value for all perspectives and ideas. For instance, management can ask seasoned employees to offer their opinions or direct employees with questions to seek guidance from them. They can build project teams with employees of all ages, or intersperse age-diversity throughout the work space so no one age group is segregated, fostering natural interactions throughout the work day.

When providing training, management should be sensitive to employee learning styles and be prepared to provide training options. Different generations may respond differently to training methods, and providing options will help everyone feel included and valued. Ultimately, making sure everyone is up-to-speed with one another may help diminish differences that draw negative attention to age diversity.

There are so many strategic benefits to all types of diversity in the workforce, including age diversity. Hiring and age diverse workforce and modeling respect and appreciation for employees of every age is one way to develop a competitive advantage.

Trisha Crigger, HR Generalist