There is strength in diversity. That statement holds true for all of society, and it holds true for the business world, as well. Having a workforce that is racially diverse and made up of different genders and orientations makes not only for a more socially interesting place to work, it actually also makes for a stronger business! But when we talk about diversity in the workplace, there’s one type of difference that we often overlook: age. We talk about multicultural workplaces, but we don’t often talk about multigenerational workplaces, and that could be a mistake. And not because you could be opening yourself up to an ageism lawsuit, but because limiting yourself to a younger population at work could mean missing out on the benefits of a multigenerational workforce. So how could having a range of ages working for your business benefit you?
The Benefits of a Multigenerational Workforce
We’re involved in the workforce at an interesting and unprecedented time: it’s possible to be working somewhere or running a business where up to 5 generations of employees are present! From Boomers to Gen Zers, there is a wide range of ages getting down to business these days; the problem is that we often view this diversity as a hindrance to growth. Surely older workers will slow others down, or there will be intergenerational tension, right? Wrong.
In fact, according to a Harvard Business white paper, “Each of these five generations is vastly different, but research shows that these differences have very little impact on the way we act or what motivates us at work.” And we’ll go a step further: most research – and real world examples – show us that having a multigenerational workforce can actually lead to greater productivity and growth. How? Consider the following benefits of having an age-diverse employee population:
Gives Businesses a Solid Pipeline of Talent
It makes sense: widen your recruitment efforts, and look at a wider range of candidates, and you’ll have a more solid pipeline of talent available to you. Reevaluating the way you recruit so you can attract employees from all generations means you’ll end up expanding the talent pool available for you to fill open positions, and tapping into unreached areas.
Not only that, but if you make the effort to retain the older members of your workforce, you’ll be able to keep up a level of productivity and institutional knowledge that are expensive and difficult to replace. After all, how can you bring up a new generation of workers without the help and knowledge of those who have come before them?
Increases innovation and creativity
Younger workers get all the credit for having new, fresh ideas, but there’s also something else they have: less experience. So they might be able to bring the goods when it comes to new approaches and current trends, but older workers can bring a more measured approach based on strategies that have worked in the past, and the balance between these things can end up being a beautiful thing.
That’s not to say that older workers shouldn’t be given the opportunity to innovate. In fact, when everyone on a team has the freedom and support to share diverse opinions and ideas, it creates an energetic environment that utilizes the strengths of everyone at the table, whether those strengths are wisdom and experience, or a daring new approach. In one survey, 83% of workers said that they are able to come up with more innovative ideas and solutions because they work in an age-diverse team! So if you’ve got a workforce made up of all generations, you could find yourself with new products/services, improved processes, and interesting strategies that result in business growth.
Enhances company culture
Did you know that 46% of job candidates believe culture is very important in the application process, with a grand total of 88% of job seekers citing it as at least of relative importance? The culture at a business is also important for retention: employees who don’t like their organization’s culture are 24% more likely to quit. Not only that but a whopping 88% of employees believe that a strong company culture is key to a business’ success.
Employees’ opinions aside, a positive work culture is linked to higher rates of employee engagement, which has been shown to improve productivity and profitability. So what does this have to do with an age-diverse team? When companies have employees with a diverse range of ages, experience, knowledge and tenure, it can dramatically enhance the culture. After all, people with varying perspectives, backgrounds and life experiences help to create an energized workforce that builds/nurtures relationships and learns from each other.
Supports succession planning
We’ve seen a whole lot of people do a whole lot of quitting over the last few years. But the “Great Resignation” aside, losing employees is always a fact of life, and you’ve got to be ready for it! That can include leveraging the skills of the older employees that you have on your team. While some employers might see having older workers as a problem (since they are closer to retirement age), you should actually see it as a competitive advantage. You just need to properly leverage workers’ institutional knowledge, experience, skill sets, and strengths by encouraging cross-generational mentoring.
If you’ve got a multigenerational workforce, you’ll have built-in training opportunities, which will enable you to promote from within. That’s always a good thing, since employees familiar with your business and its culture will be more ready to fit right into their new roles. In addition, when employees have opportunities to advance, it leads to increased retention and less turnover, which can save you a whole lot of money.
Can affect your brand
Sometimes you want to look young and hip, and sometimes you need customers to see you as experienced, knowledgeable, and well-established. Having more seasoned workers in the mix can help you to put your best foot forward in certain situations; not only that, but being seen as an inclusive, diverse, and professional place of business could take you even further.
How to Make It Work
Let’s go back to the benefits listed above. They are very real, and they are things that you could be easily taking advantage of – but you’ve got to get there! So the following are a few notes on creating an age-diverse workforce, and making it work for your business.
Think about how you recruit and retain employees
If you want a more age-diverse workforce, the first thing you’ve got to do is find that more age-diverse workforce, right? That means reevaluating your recruitment efforts: you need to update your job descriptions with language that appeals to everyone, and look for different avenues of recruitment.
Bring employees together
Like we said, watching your employees collaborate and innovate is a beautiful thing. But how can you get them to this point? One way is to try a “reverse mentoring” programming, in which younger employees pair with older employees to share their ideas. This shouldn’t simply be the younger folks schooling the older ones on tech topics and social media trends, and it certainly shouldn’t ever feel patronizing; on the contrary, it should be a two-way street, with those paired together offering both of their perspectives, making the learning a mutual experience.
Remember, while younger employees might know more about tech and trends, “Seasoned employees have a lot more to teach junior employees about business intuition,” says Aaron Harvey, executive creative director at Ready Set Rocket. “Business is much more than trends and technology. It’s applied intuition that takes years of experience to develop.”
Work on leadership and communication
Some surveys show that employees of different ages sometimes find it difficult to communicate with coworkers outside of their age group. This should come as no surprise, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With that being said, an environment where people with a wide range of perspectives working to their mutual benefit, and the benefit of your business, doesn’t happen by accident – it begins with leadership.
According to Dennis Collins, senior director of marketing at West Unified Communications Services, you need to “Establish a solid understanding of who makes up your staff and the different dynamics at play,” and you shouldn’t be afraid to open the lines of communication in a respectful way. “Having an open and candid conversation about the benefits that come from a multigenerational workforce makes everyone feel more comfortable voicing their needs and concerns,” says Collins.
Don’t focus on one age group
It kind of feels like we’re spending all of our time focusing on the needs of one group of employees – often the younger generations. We want to make sure we’re speaking their language, and adopting the tools they prefer, but this can be a big mistake. Again according to Collins, “Ignoring the needs of any group of people in a company will result in a drop in productivity and unhappy employees.” So don’t worry about keeping up with every single latest trend; think more about looking for what works in your current culture, and make sure everyone feels spoken to and included.
If you’ve got an age-diverse team at your business, you don’t have a problem on your hands – on the contrary, you could be sitting on a gold mine! And if you’re looking around and seeing a lot of fresh faces, but not a lot of diversity of viewpoint, you might want to reconsider your recruitment process, and add the spice of age into your workplace. But remember, to make the most out of a multigenerational workforce, and to get all of the benefits we laid out above, you need to be the right kind of leader, and work on bringing people together so the sparks of innovation can fly. Just follow our tips above, and you’ll get there in no time – and we want to hear about your experiences with an age-diverse team!