Research from Jobcentre Plus has shown that 40% of older workers believe their younger colleagues teach them skills they previously did not have, while one-third of younger workers believe older workers are more likely to work anti-social hours than colleagues their own age. If we want young and old to work in perfect harmony, how far can the HR department get involved with imposing age diversity?
Lesley Strathie, chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, says there are many ways HR can help integrate a mixed-age workforce. "Ensure that age is not confused with ability," she advises. "Keep a skills strategy up to date and in line with evolving goals, engage all staff with the role they can play in shaping the future of the organisation, and invest in training for employees of all ages."
Play is just as important as work when promoting age diversity. "Ensuring that any social activities appeal to all staff is an important way to help people get to know each other and avoids the issue of some employees feeling excluded," Strathie says.
Aaron McCormack, BT Age Champion and chief executive of BT Conferencing, says: "It's great that people are beginning to talk about age stereotyping it's an insidious area of discrimination. It's ironic - we want people to be able to ignore age, but to reach that point we have to draw attention to it a lot."
McCormack says the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 mean that "HR people now have to get involved in the age issue". A good leader will already understand that the rules of diversity are gender, background, experience and age.
"HR individuals are involved in recruitment decisions, and every single one of those decisions is an opportunity to ensure that the candidate is being interviewed for competence rather than because of their age. It's all plain good sense, and thankfully legislative changes have put it on the agenda," he says.
Adam Nichols is the chief executive of Changemakers, which specialises in youth-led learning and regularly works on projects whose success is dependent on teenagers and older people working together. "There is a tendency for people to think that if we fill our organisation with bright young things that will be enough," he says.
"There's also a tendency to assume that older people do not bring innovation. Many young people are actually very conservative as they have never made mistakes and recovered from them, so they are more risk averse."
McCormack agrees, describing one team member as "approaching 60 and one of the most innovative people I have ever met".
As the research showed, there are truisms to age and youth that should not be overlooked in diversity fever. "There is no substitute for experience," says Nichols. "You cannot shortcut that, just as you cannot shortcut the energy of youth. We just need to remember that youthfulness is not necessarily related to age."
There was one factor that remained constant, regardless of age - the reason people came to work? Money.
Towards an all-age workforce...
- Don't use age as a proxy for skills, ability, experience, potential, attitude, commitment, ambition, motivation and loyalty.
- Ensure senior managers are trained to be 'age aware' and understand the benefits of embracing age diversity. Help younger supervisors and managers understand and acquire the skills to manage and motivate an all-age workforce.
- Understand the learning styles and preferences of older employees.
- Help all staff challenge their prejudices by encouraging all-age team working.
- Make sure your HR policies at least comply with the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, and seek to go further by becoming an Age Positive Champion.
- Adopt holistic 'age management' policies and practices, such as ongoing training, job rotation, flexible working, secondments etc, which allow staff to maintain their employability.
- Get rid of any fixed retirement ages.
Source: The Age and Employment Network