Why age can be just a number in inclusive companies

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Article provided by Steve Butler, CEO of Punter Southall Aspire and author of Inclusive Culture: Leading Change Across Organisations and Industries

Since 2010 employees in the UK have protection against age discrimination. How, then do older employees themselves view the way they are managed in the workplace?

The findings from a YouGov poll on age discrimination in the workplace, commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better, revealed that two-fifths of more than 1,100 employees over the age of 50 think their age would put them at a disadvantage when applying for a job. Some 27% have been put off applying for jobs since turning fifty, believing the job description was aimed at younger candidates.

Many employees feel let down by their bosses and prevailing working practices as a direct consequence of their age.  A third feel they have had fewer opportunities for training and progression as they have got older; almost as many don’t feel that their workplace values older workers.

The inevitable conclusion? That a significant number of UK employers don’t have policies in place that encourage older people to work for them. In recent years, the UK has started a journey to address the bias (unconscious or otherwise) against women, ethnic minorities, and other minority groups, such as LGBTQ. But there is another bias that still dogs’ society, the media, and the workplace: the stereotyping of people by their age.

However, as with all diversity and inclusion challenges, these stereotypes are in direct conflict with business needs. Life expectancy is rising, while the numbers of younger people entering the workplace is shrinking. We’ve known about this demographic shift for some time now, but most companies have barely started to think about how they will actively manage a workplace where three (or more) generations will be expected to function smoothly together. Critically, too few experiences are being shared on how businesses can best enable people of all ages to complement each other’s skills and assets, while ironing out generational differences in attitudes, priorities, and approaches to work. From my own experience in recent years managing an age diverse team business leaders and managers should consider the following as a starting point to support a more age diverse workforce.

Age diversity is a strength.

All the research shows that having a mixed-age workforce makes for a more successful business. To make that happen, you need to build in working practices that accommodate different ethics and outlooks.

Life’s not just about work.

From the employee’s perspective, these days it’s all about work-life balance – for younger cohorts especially, but also for older workers whom you hope to retain. There’s plenty you can do to make your company more attractive for a generation of people who work to live, rather than live to work.

Be flexible.

People of all ages want (and often need) to accommodate other pressures and activities in their lives. You might need to change some long-established practices, but the technology is now available to make it possible.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’. 

Old-style, broad-brush management techniques are no longer fit for purpose. Everyone is an individual – with different personal needs and aspirations – and it’s up to you to know what these are and develop a rewards and benefits structure that works for them.

Don’t assume.

To recruit the best people, don’t make assumptions about who can bring something special to your business. Age should never be a barrier – at either end of the spectrum – and neither should work gaps or experience in different spheres.

Keep communicating with your people.

Let them know what you are thinking and listen to what they want to say to you. Remember, this might be best achieved by using different communication channels.

Give your people opportunities to learn.

Keep your team constantly learning, growing, and developing new skills: the jobs they do now may soon be obsolete, but you’ll still want them in your business.

Finally, as with any diversity and inclusion initiative, it needs senior leader sponsorship.

Leadership drives inclusion, so hiring, retention and promotion efforts will be more successful if senior management teams are aware of the benefits of an age diversity and on board with your efforts to create a more inclusive workplace.  

Steve ButlerAbout the author

Steve Butler, CEO, Punter Southall Aspire a national retirement savings business, providing employee benefits consultancy, workplace savings and individual financial advice to employers, trustees, and private clients.

Steve is author of several books on inclusivity in the workplace. In October 2019, he published ‘Manage the Gap: Achieving success with intergenerational teams,’ providing advice, learning and best practice to help employers manage age diversity.

In 2020, he published two more books, ‘The Midlife Review: A guide to work, wealth and wellbeing’, designed to bring employers and employees together in meaningful conversations to provide ‘win-win’ solutions and ‘The Diversity Project: Accelerating progress towards an inclusive culture in the investment and savings industry’ which is a management book for middle and senior managers to implement change.  This year, he has published a new book called ‘Inclusive Culture,’ focuses on practical ways leaders can drive change and create inclusive workplace cultures in financial services.

He has a master’s degree in Business Administration from Solent University. I am currently researching for a Doctor of Business Administration at the University of Winchester Business School and Centre for Responsible Management. My studies have focused on age diversity, age discrimination and intergenerational management.

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