The Importance of Age Diversity in the Workplace

Elderly female high-fiving a young male and female professional in the workplace

Diversity is a popular topic, particularly when it comes to workplace culture and staffing. Historically, ethnicity or gender will spring to mind when considering diversity at work; now, age diversity will be a term that HR and business leaders will increasingly hear about in the months and years to come.

What is Age Diversity? 

Age diversity is the acceptance of all age groups in the workforce. At present, we are at a unique point in U.S. workplace history, with it being the first time we have five different generations in work, together, at the same time. Several contributing trends may account for this change:

  • An aging population that is living longer
  • People are choosing to work much later in life than before
  • An increasing number of people are unable to retire due to financial constraints
  • People are making career changes later in life
  • Some baby boomers are still supporting their millennial children living at home

Understandably, more discussions are now being had about how generational differences could impact the functioning of teams and how to best leverage the value of an age-diverse workforce.

Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace

Managing a multigenerational workforce in a modern-day setting raises an intriguing set of challenges. Despite having different backgrounds, preferences, and upbringings, there is very little evidence to suggest that each generation needs to be managed or motivated in a markedly different way.

Age diversity isn’t anything new, and nor is the generational gap. As employers across America look to find and hire the best people for their growing teams, hiring a multigenerational workforce is something hiring managers and employers are now embracing. What matters most is that Hiring Managers and business leaders have a foundation of understanding regarding the generation gap and the potential implications on workplace culture, communications, and other such matters.

Outlooks, attitudes, behaviors, and expectations always tend to vary from one generation to the next. Still, with the right planning and consideration, employers can leverage the individual strengths of their workforce and compete more effectively in their respective marketplace.

The Workplace Generational Gap – Explained

Every generation grows up in a slightly alternate context, leading to different generations having different perspectives and outlooks. The generational gap is essentially the difference in mindset, preferences, and beliefs that occur when people are born at distinctly different periods. Individuals may prefer different communication styles, have alternate points of view, and varied expectations that need to be clearly understood.

As leaders will know, diversity is a key consideration in any workforce. Most employers understand the need to ensure that people who represent a range of nationalities, races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, ages, and disability statuses contribute to an organization’s overall functioning. However, according to the PwC, only 8% of organizations include age as part of their Diversity and Inclusion strategies.

The Benefits of an Age-Diverse Workforce

Research shows us that age diversity can boost organizational performance. HR practices that lend themselves to improving the age diversity climate can give businesses the potential to lower employee turnover and improve company performance. Studies also tell us that the productivity levels of both younger and older workers are higher in businesses with mixed-age teams.

  • Improve business and team performance
  • Broaden the skillsets and experience within a team
  • Different perspectives support innovation
  • Reduce employee turnover
  • Creates a platform for mentorship

By accepting and embracing people of different ages in a professional environment, employers can foster a productive and inclusive culture, something any organization of any size can benefit from.

With so many different pools of experience, skills, and talent to draw from, companies with an age-diverse workforce have the opportunity to leverage these resources to mentor, inspire, teach, and support the whole team, giving the business and its people the best chance of success.

Related: Hiring For Diversity; Understanding Why It Matters and How to Do It

Common Challenges of an Age Diverse Workforce

Misunderstandings are one of the leading issues that arise from generational gaps, with communication coming a close second. When people feel they are misunderstood at work or struggle to communicate effectively with others, it can impact morale, relations, productivity, and customer service.

Taking time to consider the potential implications of a generational gap in the workplace can ensure you have the right systems, processes, and tools to support everyone equally. Thus, safeguarding your people from preventable issues and being ready to support should a matter require escalation or intervention.

Related: Traits of the Five Different Generations in the Workplace

Age Diversity in the Workplace FAQS

Q. What is the biggest consideration when managing generational differences in the workforce?

A. Workplace communications can become more complex when generational differences are neglected. This is perhaps the single most important area that requires constant consideration when managing an age-diverse workforce. Each individual within the team will have a unique skill set that will advantage the team or business. The key to success with an age-diverse workforce is to make sure everyone is working towards the same goals and that each person has a clear understanding of their individual and team responsibilities and commitments.

For all of this to succeed, communication between management and staff and between peers is key.

Q. Do generational differences in the workforce create conflict?

A. How generational issues create potential conflicts in the workplace has been observed in every field. Different age groups are everywhere working side by side, and it is important for everybody that they work well together as well as individually. A strained workplace atmosphere is bad for the business in every area of the company’s operation, barring none. Without a clear strategy that considers management, communication, and collaboration, conflicts may occur.

However, that isn’t necessarily because you have an age-diverse workplace. It will be impacted by a lack of planning or failing to have a clear strategy in place that considers the needs and skills of individual team members.

Having a thorough understanding and appreciation of generational traits, beliefs, and life experiences will help you plan and influence how people work, communicate, and respond to change.

Related: How to Manage Workplace Conflict

Q. How do you integrate generational differences in the workplace?

In summary, these key points need to be considered:

  • Devise a comprehensive hiring strategy
  • Ensure business leaders understand the benefits of an age-diverse workforce
  • Create a strategy that addresses employee onboarding and team integration
  • Build awareness of potential issues with leaders to ensure a quick and easy recognition of any problems
  • Consider talking with the wider team about age diversity, primarily to instill a level of respect amongst team members for the different workplace values, styles, skills, and experiences each member brings
  • Implement a workplace mentorship program
  • Periodically but regularly, speak with staff and team members about working relationships, challenges, teamwork, etc.

Building a team with diverse perspectives, insights, and strengths, according to what is best in each generation, can yield great results that impact the whole of the business. Although building teams across generations comes with more than its share of possible friction, there are indisputable advantages of doing so.

Leaders will need to use different skills and strategies for training, recruiting, and retaining qualified personnel in every age group. It’s also important to ensure business leaders clearly understand key generational differences in areas such as personal goals, values, communication preferences, and working with others.

Related: How to Manage Millennials vs Baby Boomers in the Workplace

Age Diversity Conclusion

Understanding and consciously working with generational differences in the workplace will enable you to maximize your employees’ contribution at work, give them enhanced direction in their careers, and thereby better align themselves with the purpose of the organization according to their generational perspectives and experiences.

With five generations now working side-by-side, it is an area of planning not to be neglected; your company’s future success may depend upon it.

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn