For small and large businesses alike, changing demographics are creating a new kind of work space. Age-friendly businesses practices are on the rise, as employers learn to deal with a multigenerational workplace. This shift has the potential to be productive, harmonious and profitable—if dealt with correctly.
Given that the U.S. now has a historically large proportion of people over age 65—a demographic that is expected to more than double by 2050—it’s more important than ever for HR to be able to separate fact from fiction about aging workers (i.e., everyone employed). Let’s start with one very important fact: multigenerational workforces have been shown to be more productive and have less turnover than those without age diversity.
“If you’ve ever witnessed a team spanning 50 or more years come together to solve a problem, you know that that’s when the magic happens,” said Bettina Deynes, SHRM-SCP, vice president of human resources for the Society for Human Resource Management.
Career reentry programs — or “returnships” as they’re sometimes called — offer women and men an opportunity to “try out” the big transition back into the workforce. Workers that have taken years, or even decades off from full-time work, either to raise children, help with elderly relatives, or deal with personal health issues, have been able to gradually return to successful careers at companies like IBM, Goldman Sachs, General Motors and others.
Extended time away from a career means employees miss out on training and market developments, but it also means they’re gaining other skills and bringing some needed diversity to the existing workforce, says Megan Hogan, vice president and head of diversity recruiting at Goldman Sachs.
“Definitely it’s a diversity program,” she says. “Returnships fit squarely in my purview. It’s about diversity of experience.”
Aging adults are not only consumers—they are our only increasing natural resource—a talent pool that can power the businesses and enhance the communities of the future. And they are ready, willing and able to be deployed.
Today’s older adults seek meaning and purpose, disrupting retirement norms and expressing increasing interest in lifelong work and volunteering.
Consider it a major disconnect in hiring: On the one hand, many recruiters put a premium on “high-performers” with “proven experience,” while on the other they are increasingly looking for “digital natives”—members of the demographic raised in the age of online technology and thus by definition too new to the workforce to have proved much of anything.
Indeed, as employers’ desire to snag tech-savvy Millennial workers reaches a fever pitch, you may notice a shift in hiring managers’ vocabulary (or even your own), away from “experienced” and “seasoned” and toward “high-potential” and “energetic.”
Small business gets hit especially hard by this kind of thing. A single flare-up between a “get ‘er done” Gen Xer and a process-driven boomer, for example, causes more disruption without the buffer of a large group. Small businesses literally cannot afford generational disconnects….
Stop paying so freakin’ much attention to millennials, and focus on the keystone of your group, Gen Xers. The original latch-key kids, this generation grew up independent. If you have a no-nonsense lone wolf who just gets shit done, she’s likely an X.
And somewhat isolated. My research shows an uneasy fit between self-reliant Gen Xers and relational Booms and millennials. Why is X on the outs? Communication style is part of it. As a rule, Gen Xers don’t waste time making nice.
A version of this story was originally published in March 2018.