Is your business inadvertently ageist?

Written by Steve Butler CMgr FCMI Monday 08 June 2020
There are fears that the Covid-19 pandemic will lead to many redundancies, especially among older workers - but this important group of workers shouldn’t be overlooked

Ageism is rife in the workplace.

People in their 50s routinely complain that there is very little career progression and that employers simply do not want workers in this age bracket, thus preferring to hire younger workers. This is at a time when 30% of the UK workforce is already over the age of 50, and figures released by the CIPD in 2019 showed that the number of people in work had increased by 457,000 over the previous year and that more than 70% of them were aged 50 or older.

Companies must stop assuming that age is a competitive disadvantage. Employers should evaluate all new hires and existing staff members on their expertise and fitness for their role, and learn to appreciate the skills, experience and networks that all employees can bring to the table.

A few years from now, the average age in your workplace will probably be even higher than it is today. There’s nothing anybody can do to change that; we can only adjust and prepare for it.

Flexibility isn’t a young-worker’s game

In March 2019, BNY Mellon told its 50,000 employees that they could no longer work from home. According to chief executive Charles Scharf, the bank believed that it would help collaboration to have more employees together in the same physical space.

The backlash from employees was fierce, with immediate threats of lawsuits. Within 48 hours, Scharf had sent his staff an apologetic email telling them that he had ‘listened and learned’ to their concerns and would review the flexible working policy again.

Scharf had made one critical mistake, which every company can learn from: he assumed that he could change the people working for him so that they would look at work in the same way he did.

Flexibility need to be inclusive

But equally, managing an age-diverse workforce doesn’t mean offering flexibility to one part of your team and not to the other. Some benefits will please everyone. In particular, that applies to flexibility. Mercer’s Global Talents Survey showed that 51% of UK employees (across all age groups) wanted more fluid work options.

Making flexibility a reality is critical if you want to harness the talents of older people who are leaving the workforce. Research by Carers UK showed that 2.6 million people have left their job to care for a loved one who is older, disabled or seriously ill, and nearly half a million of those have left their job in the last two years.

Covid-19 and age diversity

Age has typically been regarded as a barrier to technology adoption, however the current crisis has seen the widespread adoption of online collaboration tools across the workforce. Younger workers have embraced the opportunity to support their older colleagues, as everyone has learnt the ‘new way of working’ as a collective journey. Equally, the crisis has seen a cultural shift in the way we support one another, with older workers drawing on their experience to support younger colleagues through the emotional challenges of isolation.

Managing a business in today’s fast-changing environment, already poses a lot of challenges. It would be tempting to dismiss blending the generations as just another problem. In fact, creating age-diverse teams can be the perfect way to future-proof your business. Under one roof you can tap into the experiences, views, knowledge and creativity of a complete cross section of society. We need to ensure that we’re ready with a practical, comprehensive strategy to manage these challenges in our own workforces if we are going to successfully navigate the demographic changes ahead.

Steve Butler is the author of new book The Midlife Review: A Guide to Work, Wealth and Wellbeing, published by ReThink Press and available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

In CMI’s recently published Better Manager’s Manual, we take you through the five pillars that will uphold your business during the crisis and beyond - why not download it and see how else you can widen your D&I measures through mental health and flexibility measures?

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