A recent Vantage Ageing blog post (2020) shares six reasons why an age diverse workplace is important:
- studies show that age diversity improves performance
- it can reduce employee turnover
- it drives innovation
- it offers a variety of skillsets
- it provides a range of business approaches that can help you reach different customer types more effectively
- it offers a mentorship platform which can work both ways.
Even though there are clear benefits to age diversity within the workforce, there are also many examples of age-related discrimination, of both older and younger workers. Consider these examples (adapted from ACAS 2019):
|Direct discrimination||Louise is recruiting, and the successful applicant must complete difficult training. She discounts her team’s younger members, presuming they will not want the hard work, and older members, thinking they will not adapt to the change, choosing instead to shortlist staff in their mid-thirties who she believes are more likely to have the necessary blend of ambition and sense of responsibility.|
|Indirect discrimination||Gym manager Esme tells employees she needs two staff to work on reception. She adds that anyone interested needs to look ‘fit and enthusiastic’ as the gym is trying to encourage more young people to join. Her requirement may indirectly discriminate against older staff unless it can be objectively justified.|
|Harassment||Sixty-year-old Margaret feels humiliated and undermined at the store where she works. Despite her extensive retail experience and recent visual merchandiser qualification, her manager regularly tells her in front of other staff that she is ‘out of touch’ and that the store needs ‘fresh blood’.|
|Victimisation||Apprentice Reyansh tells his manager Alan that some of the older employees make fun of him because of his age and play pranks such as leaving toys where he’s working. Alan tells Reyansh to toughen up as the firm has no time for complainers. Some weeks later Alan punishes Reyansh for complaining by cancelling his training course.|
Simpson (2021) recommends four actions to tackle ageism in your organisation:
- Be bias-active – take steps to understand the level of age bias that already exists within your organisation and offer relevant training.
- Flex appeal – create flexible roles aimed at older workers, such as rehiring retired professionals for key periods of the year on flexible contracts.
- Change tack – be prepared to hire and re-skill older candidates. Look beyond experience and technical fit to soft skills, behaviour, and motivation.
- Engage the age – ask your existing older workforce what they want and how you can best support them to remain engaged in work for longer.
Enhancing your awareness
A useful way to explore the workstyles and needs of different age groups in the workplace is to consider the characteristics of the different generations, from traditionalists to Gen Z. For the first time in history, it is possible to find individuals from five generations working alongside each other.
Greater awareness of each generation’s preferences can be helpful when you’re working with colleagues from different age groups. A commonly sited example of difference in this context is preferred methods of communication. However, it is important to acknowledge that this is a generalisation and won’t apply to everyone in a given age group. Taking time to understand the preferences of an individual is always the best approach.
Activity 1 Which generation are you?
Although each generation is sometimes defined slightly differently and the specific dates can be disputed, the categories are commonly outlined as follows:
- Traditionalists, also known as the silent generation: born between 1925–1945
- Baby boomers: born between 1946–1964
- Generation X: born between 1965–1979
- Millennials (or Generation Y): born between 1980–1994
- Generation Z: born between 1995–2012
- Generation Alpha: born since 2013
Use your preferred search engine to explore your generation’s key characteristics in more detail. Do they ring true for you? Think about people you work with who are much older or younger than you – do the characteristics for their generations match their preferences?
The aim of this activity is to get you thinking about potential differences in work style that can lead to misunderstanding in the workplace. For example, if you are more aware of how an older or younger colleague prefers to communicate, you could adapt your approach or talk to them about the issue rather than feeling frustrated that their preferences are different from your own.
In the next section, you’ll consider the impact of religion or belief on the workplace, which is a much wider issue than you may have thought.