Embracing older employees

A look at how to eliminate ageism in an organization with a younger workforce
By Brian Kreissl
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/12/2016

Question: We are a technology company. Most of our employees are in their 20s and early 30s, but we recently hired a few workers who are older. How can we make our office more welcoming for employees in their 40s, 50s and 60s?

Answer: To a certain extent, some of the supposed generational differences in the workplace are somewhat overhyped. In many respects, people want the same things from their work whether they’re 25 or 75. These include interesting and meaningful work, fair and reasonable compensation and benefits, a safe and pleasant work environment, a certain level of job security, reasonable work-life balance and suitable learning and development opportunities.

Employee engagement is largely universal in that many of the same things can engage employees of all ages. For example, employers should clearly communicate the organization’s vision, mission and values and explain to employees how their jobs contribute to organizational goals; ensure senior management is available and approachable; give employees the resources needed to be successful; ensure work is stimulating and meaningful; provide employees with the freedom to determine how they complete their work; and offer career advancement.

Different life stages, diversity
Nevertheless, people often want different things from their jobs at different stages of their lives. Workers in their 20s are often concerned with establishing themselves, while those in their 30s and 40s may be thinking about providing for their families while climbing the corporate ladder, and those in their 50s and 60s and beyond may be thinking about retirement and passing their knowledge on to younger colleagues.

Therefore, it may be necessary to build some flexibility into the employment value proposition by ensuring the organization can attract and retain different demographic groups. One way of doing this is by offering flexible benefits packages that allow employees to have greater coverage in certain areas depending on their individual needs, family status and life stages. 
Older employees in particular may appreciate expanded health benefits, life insurance and pension plans and other retirement savings vehicles more than their younger counterparts.

It is important to have a real and meaningful commitment to diversity when it comes to attracting and retaining workers of all ages. Diverse organizations are less prone to engage in groupthink and are better able to innovate, change and meet customer needs. For that reason, it makes sense to welcome employees of all ages and ensure that older workers feel welcome.

Above all, managers and employees need to understand diversity represents a competitive advantage for the organization. They also need to be trained and coached so that they understand that age discrimination and stereotyping are never acceptable.

Welcoming all ages
Creating a climate that’s welcoming to employees of all ages can be challenging, but it can be done as long as the culture and work environment are fun and stimulating yet dignified and professional at the same time. While an employer should never assume older workers wouldn’t be interested in “fun” activities in the workplace such as dress-up days or teambuilding events, such programs should be voluntary and appropriate for people of all ages

If you’re like some technology companies that have perks such as beer fridges, foosball tables and pods for napping, there is a likelihood many of those types of benefits wouldn’t be appreciated as much by older employees, who may see them as unprofessional. However, that’s not to say they should be taken away — especially if the core demographic of the workforce enjoys such perks and they help to retain and engage those employees.

While many people who are familiar with the most recent tools and technologies are likely to be young, older people can and do learn and develop new skills. Older workers are also frequently able to leverage their wisdom and understanding of technology — particularly where they have been working in the field and have had to adapt to newer technologies as they were introduced.

Job descriptions and recruitment advertising should avoid ageist language such as asking for candidates who are “recent graduates,” “digital natives” or people with a “bubbly personality.” It is also a good idea to review policies, practices, norms, unwritten rules and programs to ensure they aren’t ageist.

With respect to existing employees, it is important not to make assumptions about the career goals of older employees and ensure development opportunities are provided to employees of all ages. It is also important to consider diverse opinions and perspectives and understand that older people have wisdom and experience and will often have encountered similar issues and challenges in the past.

Brian Kreissl is the Toronto-based product development manager for Carswell’s human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.

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