Patrick Thomson: Effectively managing age diversity will benefit employers and staff

The number of older people in society is growing; more people are living longer, which means more people are working longer.

As the workforce ages, mixed-aged teams will become an increasing part of the day-to-day reality of many businesses. Older workers bring very many valuable benefits, and like staff of any age, older workers who are fulfilled and supported in their work are likely to be more engaged, go the extra mile, and be more loyal to their employer.

Employers who understand this and manage their workforce sensitively and positively will benefit from better staff retention, and improved knowledge transfer, which can be incredibly beneficial to wider team performance, and better employee relations overall. There is, of course, then a knock-on benefit in terms of lower recruitment and training costs because the team is more stable, there is much greater peer-to-peer learning, the culture is positive, and hopefully workplace issues can be more easily resolved.

Promoting fulfilling work for older workers and effectively managing age-diverse workforces will benefit employers, today’s older workers, and all of us as we age.

With the right workplace policies, procedures and culture in place, there is no reason that having a mixed-aged workforce should cause employers extra pressures. Our research at the Centre for Ageing Better shows that it is important to understand what older workers themselves want from their employer. The requirements of older workers can really be boiled down to good management and apply to staff of all ages. Much like all employees, older workers want work that is fulfilling, stimulating, social and age-inclusive. They want to feel that their work matters, and creates value.

However, there are a few factors that might become more important with age, particularly caring responsibilities and ill health, which can become more prevalent with age. Centre for Ageing Better research, Fulfilling work: what do older workers value about work and why?, published in February 2016, shows that health has the biggest effect on older workers’ decisions about continuing to work. Some older workers might, therefore, place greater value on flexibility at work, adjustments or part-time working hours to accommodate health needs or caring.

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By working closely with older workers, employers can benefit from the skills and experience that they bring.

Patrick Thomson is senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better