With older generations not ready (or able) to retire, it might be time to embrace the multigenerational workforce
Born between 1946 and 1964, Boomers started reaching retirement age of 65 in 2011. With about 76 million boomers in the US alone, more than you would think either don’t want to retire or they simply can’t. Famed for their work ethic and commitment to getting the job done, Boomers often represent a walking trust of organizational knowledge, between work ethic and sheer years of experience in the workplace: these older workers were less likely to switch employers throughout their careers. But with a rapid growth of Millennials entering the workforce and a huge advancement in technology is there still a place for Baby Boomers?
According to Chris Farrell, author of Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money and a Purpose in the Second Half of Life and senior economics contributor for Marketplace, American Public Medias nationally syndicated public radio programs, among those who have attempted retirement, many have returned to work. A RAND Corporation study revealed results from a 2015 survey that nearly 40% of workers over the age of 65 had previously retired and then boomeranged back to work, rather than remain in retirement. With doing this they are slowing down their brain aging and staying “younger” longer. Even though a “slip of the mind” is normally associated with getting older, people often experience those same moments in their 20s and 30s. While some studies show that one third of older people struggle with declarative memory (facts/events), other studies indicate
that one fifth of 70-year-olds perform cognitive tests just as well as their 20-year-old counterparts. By employing older generations, a company is not only getting somebody who would rather be working than resting easy on leisure, but somebody who may have a different or added skill set than the Millennial just coming into the field.
In certain industries with skills shortages and large numbers of employees approaching retirement age, such as accounting, health care, and manufacturing, they’re trying to retain older workers, sometimes by offering flexible or part-time schedules. An example of this is Allina Health in Minneapolis where about one third of 29,000 employees are over the age of 50. In these jobs where they aren’t popular picks for the newer generation, the Baby Boomers and even the Gen Xers (1965 – 1979) are better educated and more physically fit than the ones who preceded them. Then if you take a look at a lot of the skill sets that are needed today like understanding consumers, teamwork, and leadership, they play into the older generations’ strengths. Despite the billions of dollars spent convincing us that our “golden years” should involve travel, golf, and sitting around the pool, research actually shows that people who stop working and retire often suffer from depression, heart attacks, and a general malaise of not having as much purpose in their lives.
As Millennials continue to dominate the newer or fresher markets, baby boomers are the only group with a growing participation rate. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, about 27% of 65- to 74-year-olds had full- or part-time jobs in 2016; by 2026, 30% are expected to be employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As Stephen Hawking said, “Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it”. It also gives people a chance to socialize and work your intellectual energy. It is widely assumed that most successful entrepreneurs are young, like in their 20s and 30s due to the huge success of big names like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. But in 2018 research released by the Harvard Business Review found that among the top 0.1% of startups based on growth in their first five years, we find that the founders started their companies, on average, when they were 45 years old. So contrary to popular belief, older, more tenured people are more successful entrepreneurs as a result of their patient, collaborative natures, and their lack of a “need to prove myself” attitude that tends to accompany youth.So what can companies gain from hiring older workers and promoting a multigenerational workforce?
For starters the older more experienced members of the workplace are often overlooked and referred to as overpaid and outdated, while a lot of companies want to find younger fresher youth who they think will take less money. Does mental horsepower decline a little bit as you get older? Yes, but that person’s curiosity, knowledge and expertise keep increasing well past the age of 80. There are few companies and things of value that has been accomplished by an individual working alone. The vast majority of our successes, whether in science, business, arts, or sports, are the result of a team effort, or people working together as a cohesive unit. The best way to maximize team output is to increase cognitive diversity, which is the inclusion of people who have different styles of problem-solving and can offer unique perspectives because they think differently. This is significantly more likely to occur if you can get people of different ages (and experiences) working together. In the Harvard Business Review, Alison Reynolds and David Lewis wrote: “Colleagues gravitate toward the people who think and express themselves in a similar way. As a result, organizations often end up with like-minded teams.” After studying the subject for several years, they point out that unfortunately, “This lack of cognitive diversity has two impacts. First, it reduces the opportunity to strengthen the proposition with input from people who think differently. Second, it fails to represent the cognitive diversity of the employee population, reducing the impact of the initiatives.” By upper management encouraging “different” it’s employees will follow suit.
Employers are also finding it difficult to keep millennials on board. Younger generations are still trying to “climb the ladder” and are looking for jobs that have meaning and a path towards advancement. If the job they take isn’t the job they set out for, chances are they will be moving on sooner rather than later. With constant turnover a company can’t grow and thrive. Older generations are looking for ways to reinvent themselves, keep busy and keep their minds young by challenging themselves. With their skillset and drive they can offer different perspectives and help a company grow.
Are multigenerational workforces fool proof?
Definitely not! With just about everything you will experience bumps and some exceptions to the “hire older more seasoned people argument. Companies would first have to refine hiring practices to more effectively recruit older workers and then identify jobs that are a good fit for their skills and lifestyle. Typically offering more flexible employment options like part-time, job-
sharing or working from home would be appealing. Employers would also have to improve their communication to respond to their priorities effectively and spend more time in job training and retraining which could get tedious. This is not a one-size fits all solution for companies, but for the ones that can accommodate it could bode beneficial to their growth, reputation and bottom line.
What action should companies take?
By embracing the multigenerational workforce companies are also fighting helping to overcome
age discrimination. Here are some things today’s companies can do to bring in older and skilled
Be Flexible: being able to offer flexibility like part-time work, workstations with more lighting or larger fonts on things can make the training process that much easier and faster
Be fair with pay: Don’t pay based on tenure unless in directly correlates to skill set and
experience. You can pay an older person less than a younger person if they are new
higher and have less experience, but the door swings both ways!
Actively recruit older people: Look for people that are willing to come out of retirement
and show them that others have done it. Really give them examples on how your
company can help them just like they can help you
Train your staff: By properly training your staff about age discrimination you could
avoid a potential lawsuit. This is also beneficial because you want to teach younger staff
how to manage an older person since sometimes this might feel weird to them
Give them position and titles: Offer them position and titles that really play into their
skills and expertise. Just by showing them they would be the perfect fit for that job you
don’t have to necessarily have to offer higher and higher pay.
If you can create an inclusive work environment for older employees and any “not typical”
group for your workplace you will start to see more innovative, engaged, and profitable
If you still aren’t sure, go download The Intern with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway and
you’ll see that “experience never gets old.”