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 in our culture, especially when it comes to its impact on workplaces and staffing. Race and ethnicity will likely come to mind when we think of diversity. However, there’s a growing awareness of another type of workplace diversity that has the potential to fragment and strengthen teams: age diversity. 

For the first time in history, workplaces have the potential to see five distinct generations co-existing under one figurative roof: the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. Considering the immense differences between these generational groups, it’s of growing importance for employers to understand, accommodate, and leverage age diversity to facilitate a productive work environment. 

We’ll explore the benefits and challenges of age diversity in the workplace and offer tips to make it an asset rather than a stumbling block within your organization. 

What is Age Diversity? 

Age diversity, also known as generational diversity, is a term used to describe the various age groups of workers that exist within an organization. 

Our current workforce is more diverse than ever in terms of workers’ ages. Several trends have contributed to this:

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

Understandably, the rise in generational diversity has sparked a growing discussion of how age differences can impact team function and how employers can best leverage the opportunities that an age-diverse workforce offers. 

The Workplace Generational Gap, Explained

Every generation grows up in a specific context influenced by several factors: contemporary events, political attitudes, social values, preferences, and behaviors, to name a few. Baby Boomers, for example, grew up striving toward classical notions of “the American dream,” while members of Gen Z have never known a world without the internet. These factors give each generation a unique yet collective outlook on the world, as well as distinct work styles and professional preferences. 

It makes sense, then, that employers should recognize and capitalize on these differences rather than pretend they don’t exist. And yet, employers have some catching up to do when it comes to embracing age diversity. Fifty-six percent of employed adults in the U.S. say focusing on increased diversity in the workplace is a good thing (and two-thirds of workers under 30 say this). Yet, only 8% of companies include age in their diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

There’s no denying that generational diversity will impact teams, staffing and productivity for the foreseeable future. Forward-thinking employers that embrace this diversity have a substantial opportunity to differentiate themselves in terms of performance and company culture.  

Find the perfect fit for your team.

Speak to one of our experienced recruiters today.

The Benefits of an Age-Diverse Workforce

Enhanced innovation

Age-diverse workers have varied experiences, approaches, and viewpoints, which fosters an environment where unique ideas can flourish. The wide range of competencies within a diverse age group facilitates creative problem-solving, which can better position a company to adapt and innovate.  

Stronger talent pipeline

Companies that value and promote age diversity are more attractive to a wider range of candidates, giving the organization access to a larger talent pool. A stronger talent pipeline makes hiring faster, easier, and less costly. 

Smaller skills gap

Many industries are grappling with a challenging skills gap. Teams with a mix of younger and older workers balance each other out, mitigating the impact of this gap. More seasoned workers can pass on knowledge to younger employees, while younger members of the team offer fresh perspectives and experience with emerging technology.  

Higher productivity

Many studies have found that workers who are “in the prime” of their career–a.k.a. around their 40’s–are the most productive. The younger years are mostly spent gaining skills and ramping up to optimized performance. Thus, organizations with a higher share of more experienced workers will see a positive impact on their productivity levels. 

Greater resilience

Employees in different age groups have weathered different storms. Gen Xers lost jobs and had homes foreclosed on during the Great Recession. Gen Zers struggled to gain their footing in adulthood just as a global pandemic shut down the world. As such, age-diverse teams are better positioned for resilience in the face of varied and unexpected challenges. 

Organic mentorship

Age diversity in the workplace fosters natural mentor-mentee relationships. Older employees feel engaged by the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience, while younger employees learn by example and benefit from valuable personal guidance from older peers. 

Greater customer understanding

Having a staff with a wide range of ages can be beneficial from a marketing and sales perspective. A workforce that accurately reflects the market makeup is better equipped to understand and meet the needs of diverse customer demographics. 

Positive reputation

A commitment to diversity can promote a company’s reputation as a fair and inclusive employer. This is not only beneficial for public perception but also aids in recruiting, as diversity is of increasing importance to top candidates. 

Related: How to Hire for Diversity

Common Challenges of an Age-Diverse Workforce

Age diversity is nothing new, but managing a multigenerational workforce in a modern-day setting raises intriguing challenges. 

Generational stereotypes

Gen Xers lament the entitled Millennial who makes everything about them. Gen Zers throw out a dismissive “OK Boomer” in response to their out-of-touch elders. The truth is that every generation has stereotypes. These biases can cause friction and undermine teamwork among diverse age groups. 

Related: Generational Differences in the Workplace

Communication barriers

Different generations have different preferences for communicating in terms of both the platform and the tone. Older workers tend to prefer frank face-to-face conversations, while younger ones tend to favor digital communications and may not be as forthright about sensitive topics. This can cause misunderstandings and lead to information breakdowns. 

Varying work styles

Workers vary along the age spectrum when it comes to their work style. Employers will need to manage differing levels of responsiveness to change, openness to new technology, independence, rigid versus loosely defined job responsibilities, and more. 

Career motivations

Younger workers may be more focused on career advancement and development opportunities, while older ones may emphasize career stability, job security, and good benefits. Creating employee engagement initiatives that cater to the diverse motivations of different age groups can be complex. 

Taking time to consider the potential implications of generational gaps in the workplace can ensure that the right systems, processes, and tools are in place to support all workers regardless of age.

6 Strategies for Promoting Age Diversity

Don’t ignore it

The worst thing you can do is to pretend age differences in your workforce don’t exist. Acknowledging age diversity–and its challenges–is the first step toward fostering a more inclusive environment. 

Organizations should actively recognize and discuss the benefits of generational diversity. Conducting regular assessments and surveys on the age diversity within your teams and its impact can help you set goals and ensure that improvement is always on the agenda. 

Find common ground

In many ways, generations are more alike than they’re different. Baby Boomers who pioneered the counterculture movement of the 1960s may have a lot in common with their activism-minded Gen Z peers and so on. Actively facilitating opportunities for various groups to find common ground will help create a culture where all age groups feel valued and supported. 

Provide age-diversity training

Provide age-based diversity training to combat stereotypes and arm employees with productive ways to overcome generational barriers. Such training can help employees see the value of working with individuals from different age groups and gain better communication and collaboration strategies. 

Hire more older workers

The fact is that older workers have a harder time getting hired, with a whopping 78% saying they’ve seen or experienced workplace age discrimination. If you want to be age-diverse, you must intentionally seek and recruit workers in the advanced stages of their careers. Review your recruitment strategies and tailor them to include older candidates. This might include things like advertising in publications read by older professionals and working with a recruitment agency that can help you target candidates over a certain age. 

Strategize succession planning

Formalize the process of sharing knowledge and ensuring that skills are passed down from older workers to younger ones. Mentorship programs are an invaluable tool, as they facilitate this knowledge transfer and foster meaningful relationships among generational groups. Adopt a strategic succession approach to retirements, facilitating them in a way that minimizes operations disruptions as much as possible. 

Be flexible

Flexibility in the workplace benefits all employees but can be particularly important for supporting age diversity. Older workers might appreciate options such as part-time roles, phased retirement, or opportunities to work from home. Younger employees might value flexible hours and remote work options. By offering a range of flexible work arrangements, you can accommodate the varying needs of your workforce and create an environment where everyone can thrive.

Embracing an Age-Diverse Workplace

Age diversity is an essential element of a dynamic, inclusive workplace. By accepting and embracing people of different ages in a professional environment, employers can foster a productive and inclusive culture, which organizations of any size can benefit from. With the right planning and consideration, employers can leverage the individual strengths of each age group in their workforce and compete more effectively in their respective marketplaces.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you build an age-diverse team!

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