They may be the categories talked about most, but gender and ethnicity aren’t the only types of diversity that UK employers need to consider.
Often forgotten is age. Businesses get caught up either in maintaining a youthful workforce at the risk of discriminating against older candidates or go the opposite way and discount anyone without years of experience.
Why age diversity is important
According to research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), fewer than one-in-ten organisations include age as part of their diversity & inclusion strategies. This is despite experts and studies generally agreeing that age-diversity, like other types, is beneficial to productivity.
In a 2016 article on LinkedIn, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins wrote: “The productivity of both older and younger workers is higher in companies that have mixed-age work teams than in companies that do not - and that age diversity within a team heightens performance in groups that must undertake complex decision-making tasks.”
Supporting Jenkins’ claims are the results of a 2014 survey from CIPD, which identified three key benefits of age-diversity among UK SMEs: knowledge-sharing (cited by 56% of respondents), problem-solving (34%), and enhanced customer services (21%).
What the generations can teach each other
It’s not simply about creating future talent pipelines and safeguarding the company’s in-house knowledge; the different generations have a lot to teach each other.
According to Indeed, older workers can teach their younger colleagues soft skills, loyalty, how to handle conflict and to manage office politics. With experience also comes wisdom, and they can share the regrets, struggles and setbacks that shaped their career, in addition to the high points.
Meanwhile, younger workers can help older team mates to accept change, learn new skills, become confident with new technology and how to develop a collaborative mindset. In addition, they can demonstrate the importance of diversity and why, even if in their ‘twilight years’, no one should give up on their dreams.
Pretty important points, wouldn’t you agree?
Addressing the imbalance
You’re thinking about age diversity for the first time, but where do you begin in creating a more balanced workforce? The same CIPD report suggests three starting points:
- Measure the age profile of your workforce on a continuous basis to see what’s changing and how your strategy might need to be adapted
- Understand the commercial benefits of age diversity within your own organisation and share it with employees
- Make age diversity part of your brand in a way that differentiates you and appeals to employees and customers alike.
Focusing on the last part specifically, it’s vital to create an inclusive message in your recruitment efforts. The current workforce is divided into four basic generations: Baby Boomers (age 55-73), Generation X (39-54), Millennials (23-38) and Generation Z (7-22). These groups have similarities as well as differences, and your recruitment strategy should be built with that in mind. We’re proud that we have representatives from each group working in Optamor.
While each group has its own motivations – a millennial might prioritise stability and reputation over a generous annual leave policy that’s more likely to interest a baby boomer, for instance – flexible working and the ability to apply for roles on a mobile device are valued by workers of all ages. These kinds of details should be considered.
Get the most from your age-diverse workforce with reverse mentoring
While all-out stereotyping can be dangerous, there are some general advantages that can be applied to each age group – and allowing these skills to be shared across the entire workforce can be hugely beneficial.
Younger generations may have an advantage when it comes technological fluency, for example, but older workers excel in other areas. Attributes like leadership, strategic thinking, communication and emotional intelligence can take decades to develop – and all will be beneficial to your business now and in the future.
Mentoring is nothing new to UK workplaces, but there’s a growing volume of evidence to suggest businesses that only allow skills to pass from old to young are missing a major trick. Reverse mentoring, where younger employees are used to improve the skills of their older counterparts, is not only a great way to create a more rounded, digitally capable workforce, it may also help with retention.
A 2018 Deloitte survey found that 43% of millennials plan to leave their current jobs within two years, and only 28% envision staying beyond five. But it’s also been proven that younger workers want to feel valued in their companies, and as though they can contribute. Giving training responsibilities could well help with this.
Other benefits include the communication improvements that come from bringing employees of different ages and abilities together, as well as the added appeal for prospective employees. With all that in mind, what is there to lose?
Don’t miss out
When thinking about diversity, most of us automatically think about gender, ethnicity and disability; age rarely gets a look in. Yet it’s a vital category which employers can’t afford not to consider when developing their people strategies. It’s easy to dismiss a candidate based on their age – either they don’t have enough experience or they are perceived as not having the requisite ‘new’ skills. However, businesses could be missing out of some much-needed talent.
Reverse mentoring is one way to combat this issue, as is a decent employee training programme which highlights age-related prejudices. It’s worth taking action; don’t let existing talent slip through your fingers.