Illustration by Lara Borovcic-Kurir

I‘ve just celebrated a significant birthday, one that puts me into a different age bracket to my colleagues. To be honest, as a child of the 70’s, I’m already set apart with my cultural references, writing everything down in a notebook and of course, my taste in music. Ageism is real, ask any Boomer or Gen X professional, and it's likely that many will admit to having been denied a role based solely on their age.

Illustration by Lara Borovcic-Kurir

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been rejected for a job because I was “too experienced.” What is too experienced? When you’re told this, it makes you want to ask the question “why do you think I am applying for this role?” I know exactly why I am applying and what I am capable of, but unfortunately my experience has often been seen as a negative asset. That’s until I applied for Valuebeat. I am not going to gush about how my experience was welcomed, in fact, seen as a positive, but they created a role for me that I’d only dreamed about. 

And here’s the thing about working for a start-up, they’re willing to take chances on people, because as a business they're dynamic and innovative. They understand that each person will bring different talents to the table. 

And so, this is where I find myself writing about something that hasn’t only affected my career in the latter years, but so many others around the world, that have either stopped career changes or progression in its tracks. 

Defining the different generations that make up todays workforce

The current workforce is currently made up of five different generations, all with unique traits and differences. 

  • Traditionalists - (1928 - 1945) Respectful, loyal and determined
  • Baby Boomers – (1946 - 1964) Optimistic, competitive, workaholics and team-oriented.
  • Generation X – (1965 - 1980) Flexible, informal, sceptical and independent.
  • Millennials – (1981 - 2000) Competitive, civic-minded, open-minded on diversity and achievement-oriented.
  • Generation Z – (2001 - 2012) Diversity focused, friendly and approachable, individualistic and creative

How to embrace age diversity in the current landscape

Millennials make up 35% of the working population and will continue to do so, well into 2030. Companies have gone out of their way to deliver benefits, tech and working conditions aimed at this generation. But with Gen Z starting to enter the workforce, a fresh approach needs to be considered, as what worked for one generation won’t necessarily work for another. 

The Workforce in 2030 from The Department of Labor, Wall Street Journal

Focusing solely on a single generation when it comes to managing culture, means that the benefits and positive influence from other generations are being missed. 

Gen X are seen as independent, self-sufficient and resourceful, whilst Millennials are keen on team-work, competitiveness and open-minded. By mixing these two distinct workforces, the dynamic and creative problem solving could be a magnificent thing to witness. Whereas, Gen Z are all about the digitalization of the workplace,  creating digital content and finding online solutions, whilst taking a creative and individualistic approach to tasks. Co-mentoring across the generations should be something that’s encouraged as a driver for new ideas and development of innovation. Establishing a mentoring program also helps with the essential transfer of knowledge and skills.

The role of HR bridging the gap to build diverse teams

If ageism is to be tackled, then HR practices need to be aimed at attracting a mixed-age workforce to fill the gaps in the talent pool. This would bring a more diverse workforce that shares its skills and knowledge, creating better collaboration which in turn helps to improve retention. 

Companies that engage in a multigenerational workforce have found that their productivity also increases. The OECD estimates that age-diverse workforces will create a more efficient, productive and profitable economy and raise GDP per capita by almost 19% in the next three decades. This is achievable through knowledge sharing, skills matching and retention of older workers which provides stability and continuity.

Although bias may operate at an unconscious level, HR bias in recruiting older generations needs to be identified and addressed. Rectifying this will help a company’s talent pipeline to become more inclusive by nature. When filling a vacant position, companies should first look internally at all employees, regardless of age, race, gender or any factors that differentiate them. There might be an uncut diamond hiding in the team that’s desperate to shine!

Don’t forget that engagement, loyalty and motivation are also intrinsically linked to how transparent management is in considering applicants for job roles, whether that be internally or externally.

Political, economic and social factors affect us all, regardless of age. But we’re connected by outside influences and these shape how we want to work and what we bring to a company. Looking at the results of over 900 Valuebeat Prints (from users aged 20 through to 60), every single one stated within their top 3 values that well-being and/or flexibility mattered. (A Valuebeat Print is a unique way of each employee sharing their cultural footprint, in essence, what they need to be happy at work.) Even though there are differences in values that exist between the different generations, there are many similarities too. It’s important that organizations understand what various age groups will bring to the business and how they can leverage their experience, traits and values. 

Graph showing top 3 values per age group, data taken from July 2020- March 2022

Ways to challenge ageism

  • When establishing benefits and schemes, make sure these fit across the spectrum of age ranges. Programs for wellness and work/ life balance flexibility may suit everyone, but different age levels might also like financial investment opportunities, professional development, career advancement or unique social experiences.
  • Bias will exist, not only from a recruitment perspective, but also within the different generational workforce. Addressing these stereotypes and assumptions will encourage a more harmonized team spirit. Educating hiring personnel on the bias of ageism within recruiting practices is also a good way to tackle this issue.
  • Be aware of wording in job postings, stick to neutral language that is not aimed at a specific audience. Develop Diverse is a great tool for this. Utilising cultural values as a source of candidate suitability, will help reduce the bias of age for certain positions, including junior level openings.
  • Anonymous feedback is crucial in monitoring how well HR are doing on key issues. Being able to pre-segment engagement surveys is desirable if HR are able to meet objectives for each generation. Asking the right questions to the right people will help foster greater trust and transparency between management and employees.
  • Create learning opportunities, and always remember this it's a two way street. It’s not only older generations who desire tech training, but younger generations might also learn from this. Just as career advancement programs are not solely focused on the younger members of a workforce, diversification in roles within the older generation might also be worth investing in.

Welcoming a multi-generational workforce is essential if companies are to fight the battle against ageism and continue attracting talent. Values change as each person journeys through life; what mattered to me in my twenties is not necessarily the same now I am in my fifties. So, it’s paramount that companies stay ahead of the competition in ascertaining what matters to all of their employees. Organization’s must understand how to fully utilize the unique skill set of their team members, regardless of age.

Written by
Claire Stone
Content Specialist

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