Creating Diversity in the Workplace Means Hiring for a Diversity of Ages

Today we have members of four generations working side by side. That's great for diversity, inclusion, perspective, and innovation. It also produces new challenges with regard to communication.

Elissa Perry: Because of the increasing diversity in workplaces, you’re seeing people working together now in groups that — people can be very different on all sorts of dimensions. So it could be in terms of their educational background, their race, their age, their gender. One of the benefits of having people from diverse backgrounds is that they bring different ideas and innovation. But the difficulty is that they have a hard time communicating. The managers have to figure out how to tackle that communication problem so those innovative ideas can percolate and be shared in a really safe place. 

Today, we have members of four generations working side by side. If you only focus on investing in younger people, that’s to your detriment because the workplace is aging and so you’re not going to really have the opportunity to only rely on investments in younger people. You won’t have enough people to work for you. There’s lots of research that shows that there’s a bias against older workers in terms of offering them training. And the idea is a lot of times that there’s not a long window to sort of get the returns on that investment, which is really interesting because, in fact, turnover is higher among younger people than older people. So you’re more likely to get your return on your training investment dollars if you invest them in an older worker than you are in a younger worker.

Practices that are humane or that are nice and thoughtful for one group are typically useful for other groups. So I’m thinking about providing opportunities for development not just to younger workers who you think might benefit most, but also thinking about providing them to older workers. Not just providing flexible arrangements for younger workers because they’re the ones who say they want to go to Pilates class in the afternoon, but also for older workers who have these responsibilities to provide elder care.

What’s really important is to think about the synergies between the two because what older people can bring to younger people is their experience. They can transfer their knowledge and there are lots of ways to have employers think about how to do that. One is mentorships and those can be having the older workers bring the younger workers up to speed on that they know, but increasingly employers are using reverse mentorships where you have younger people actually bringing to the older people skills and techniques and technologies that the older people didn’t really get to know when they were younger.

There is something called social exchange theory. What that means is that as an employee, I’m likely to invest a lot in my employer if I think my employer invests a lot in me. And so the more I see my employer doing good things for more people, the more likely I’m being motivated to reciprocate and give back. So when you have an employer whose interested and who does a good job creating a climate of inclusiveness around all these different dimensions — age, race, gender, religion — everybody then employees say, “Wow, this is an employer that’s willing to invest in me and willing to invest in my colleagues. I’m going to give back by working harder and being more committed to this particular organization.”

Today we have members of four generations working side by side. That's great for diversity, inclusion, perspective, and innovation. It also produces new challenges with regard to communication. Employers need to be sure everyone's on the same page while simultaneously making sure they're not stepping on any toes while promoting synergy.

Big Think is proud to partner with Mercer on Inside Employees' Minds, a series that examines employees' changing mindsets and the ways workplaces are responding to them.

Mercer’s new Inside Employees’ Minds™ research reveals what more than 4,000 workers in Canada and the US think about their jobs, their employers, and the changing work experience. It explores trends in employee engagement and the evolving employee value proposition, highlighting key differences by generation, job level, and more. The research confirms that, as business needs and the workforce composition continue to evolve — with the boomer generation moving toward retirement and the preferences of the younger generations starting to dominate — employers need to rethink and reshape their value propositions to lay the foundation for future success. In this compelling video series, Mercer business leaders and other noted experts share their thoughts on the transforming work experience and what it means for both employers and employees.


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