Overlay
Business management

Managing age diversity in the workplace

Much has been made of the millennial generation dominating the workplace – by 2025 they’ll account for 75% – but for the first time in history we have up to five generations working side by side.

But it did. Shaw soon discovered that not everyone was comfortable with the increasingly age-diverse make-up of the team. “I had a colleague in his mid-50s who was quite traditional,” says Shaw. “He found it challenging working with younger people at the same level.”

Eventually, Shaw had to step in and speak to both colleagues. It was only by asking one side to “slow down and find different examples”, and the other to “accept the other person’s skills and experience”, that they could work together productively.

Shaw recalls: “I was surprised by the diplomacy and depth of the conversation I had to use to get the relationship to work.”

But it did. Shaw soon discovered that not everyone was comfortable with the increasingly age-diverse make-up of the team. “I had a colleague in his mid-50s who was quite traditional,” says Shaw. “He found it challenging working with younger people at the same level.”

Eventually, Shaw had to step in and speak to both colleagues. It was only by asking one side to “slow down and find different examples”, and the other to “accept the other person’s skills and experience”, that they could work together productively.

Shaw recalls: “I was surprised by the diplomacy and depth of the conversation I had to use to get the relationship to work.”

The age gap is very helpful. If you only have people in their 20s and 30s, they tend to go head to head, whereas the older crew are calmer and more chilled

Alistair Gosling, founder, Extreme Sports Channel
Making age-diverse teams work

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Managed correctly, a multi-generational workforce has huge advantages, says Alistair Gosling, founder of paid-for TV channel Extreme Sports Channel.

Gosling relies on a core team of young employees for “passion and energy” and a smaller team of older, more senior, employees to keep the business running smoothly. “It’s a wonderful mix of enthusiasm married with the grounding that comes with the experience of age,” says Gosling.

The entrepreneur admits that clashes do occur. Planning meetings can involve younger colleagues wanting to “throw it all open for discussion”, while more experienced colleagues are set on tried-and-tested approaches. It’s his job to facilitate these discussions so that, ultimately, the best is brought out in everyone.

“The age gap is very helpful,” he adds. “If you only have people in their 20s and 30s, they tend to go head to head, whereas the older crew are calmer and more chilled. I really value working with people over 60, and who are near retirement. They have this wonderful, calm demeanour – it’s hugely valuable.”

The Welsh government agrees. In May 2017, it launched its age-awareness campaign, People Don’t Have A Best Before Date, to highlight the importance of older workers and the value of a multi-generational workforce.

“Older workers often have valuable skills and experience gained over a lifetime and if businesses don’t start taking steps now these could be lost when they choose to retire,” says Eluned Morgan, minister for Welsh language and lifelong learning.

Like Gosling, Morgan believes a combination of older and younger workers can boost productivity because each generation brings different skills and talents to the table. “Older workers can draw on a lifetime of experience, while younger workers may challenge strategies and bring fresh perspective,” she says.

Five strategies for progress

1. Talk about age

“Make sure conscious and unconscious bias is on the training agenda,” says Matthew Davies, business coach and founder of professional development consultancy Power The Change. “Inclusion and diversity workshops can put the spotlight on how individuals view age.”

Dr Nachmias agrees; line managers need more training and development to help them challenge stereotypes and biases, and raise awareness of age diversity in the workplace.

2. Make rules for conduct and communication

Conduct and communication are areas prone to inter-generational discord – with young people often lacking the diplomacy and soft skills developed through age and experience. To avoid this, managers should make the implicit, explicit believes Shaw. “You need to set the expectations in the workplace and make sure people are brought into those behaviours and understand why they’re important,” says the CEO, who has developed a handbook of rules for using communication methodologies.

3. Treat people fairly, if not equally

As controversial as it may sound, Raymond advises her clients to roll out extra training for older employees. “It’s about treating people fairly, which may mean not treating them equally,” she says. “If we have an older workforce that isn’t as IT savvy as, say, an 18 year old, making extra support and training available will get them up to speed.”

4. Make time for knowledge sharing

Put on specific lunch sessions where the older workforce can share insight and wisdom on a particular subject, project or work initiative, suggests Raymond. “Older workers can provide valuable wisdom to the younger workforce and this can be demonstrated through specific lunch time sessions.”

5. Mix up your teams

Like Gosling, Davies believes that multi-generational teams are valuable asset. “Impatience from younger generations can often mean that decisions are made impulsively and without due diligence,” says the business coach. “Experience and wisdom are underrated – constructive dissent can be a good thing!”

 

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of the NatWest Group Economics Department, as of this date and are subject to change without notice.

scroll to top