Age in the Workplace – The next frontier of diversity and inclusion

Posted by Flux on 

16 August 2019

What is trending now?
Age inclusion and diversity is the new trend in the workplace as companies start to change the way they perceive older people and start to embrace the ageing population.

In recent times, there has been much discussion about ways to embrace diversity through gender, ethnic and racial inclusion. PwC’s Global Diversity and Inclusion survey revealed there has been a large increase in CEOs focusing on inclusion and diversity, from 11% in 2011, to 67% in 2015 and finally reaching 87% in 2017. However, ageism is still a problem that has not received adequate attention. Ageism can be defined as prejudice against a person because of their age. Baby boomers and older Gen Xs are generally the victims of this discrimination.

According to the Virgin Group, ageism in the workplace is still at an all-time high, especially for those older than 50. Research done by the Centre for Ageing Better in the UK revealed that almost half of their respondents believed their age would be a hindrance when applying for a new job and nearly one in five (18%) admitted to having hidden or considered hiding their age when applying for a job.

Age discrimination is mainly due to misleading stereotypes. These include the generalisation that older workers do not want to explore, learn and enhance their skills and that they are unable to use new technology. Research into the validity of these widely-held views published in the Harvard Business Review, revealed the following: given the opportunity, older workers are willing to learn new skills. Secondly, it was established that age is not directly related to exhaustion. Half the respondents between the ages of 45 and 60 said that they wanted to slow down, while only 39% of people over the age of 60 and 20% of people over the age of 70 said that they wanted to do so.

Why is it important?
According to the World Economic Forum, Japan is the only country where 30% of the population is over the age of 60. However, it is expected that by the year 2050, 62 countries will reach the same point. The ageing population is expected to live longer due to healthier eating, increased activity and scientific advancements. This will affect companies and put pressure on them to support the elderly.

Many businesses still focus primarily on younger employees. However, in the future the loss of older workers may result in labour and skills shortages. Companies need to make structural and policy changes, and changes to their organisational culture to create a workplace that is age inclusive.

There are a number of benefits for companies who retain older people or hire workers without age discrimination. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, there are benefits to an age-diverse workplace:

  • Better productivity. Including older workers creates the opportunity to have in-house mentors who can impart valuable skills to younger workers. Reverse mentoring is also a possibility, where younger workers teach their older colleagues how to use and exploit technological innovations.
  • A reduced likelihood of labour and skills shortages, especially if older workers are allowed to take part in training programmes alongside their younger colleagues.
  • A potential increase in a company’s social capital and an improvement in its brand reputation. This could make the company more attractive to potential employees.

Butterfly effects?
There are already companies taking active steps towards including older people in their workforce.

McDonald’s, Google, and department store Macy’s are three of the 1000 companies who have signed a pledge with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to help combat unemployment among the elderly by employing older workers. McDonald’s has agreed to fill 250,000 summer job openings with unemployed individuals over the age of 50.

In the future, the older generation may become participants in the gig economy, generally seen as the preserve of younger workers. Some retirees may find they want to continue working and the gig economy will allow them to do this part time and on a flexible schedule.

Who are the pioneers?
Corporate and consumer-goods companies that are age inclusive in their recruitment processes, policies, organisational cultures, and skills development programmes. These include British multinational insurance company Aviva, Barclays and Home Depot, the largest home improvement retailer in the US.

Global hotspot?
USA, UK, Germany, Japan

By Losego Motshele

About Losego

East of Johannesburg born, Losego Motshele, is a young spirited intellectual with an interest in fashion forecasting and South African pop culture. She is a genuine enthusiast who sees trend research as a way to stay connected to society. In her spare time, Miss Motshele contributes to a body of work called ‘The Orange Flow’, that is her personal project.
Well on her way to being a trend researcher, Losego has knowledge of what influences people’s interests as she is a final year student specialising in the business of fashion, as well as majoring in Consumer Buying Behaviour.

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Image credit: Mentatdgt from Pexel

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