Workforce age Diversity – six top tips to tackle the challenges

A workforce comprising four generations presents challenges to employers, which if met can make for an exceptionally happy and successful business. Chris Cook gives six tips to make things work

In today’s day and age, people are working for longer and whilst a workforce comprising of diverse age ranges creates a diverse environment where each generation brings different skills and talents to the table, it also brings with it challenges for small businesses.

The average workforce is now made up of four generations and it is predicted that by 2020, we will see five generations in the workplace for the first time. Consequently, businesses need to ensure that they are adequately prepared to deal with this and the varying needs of such a diverse workforce.  The challenge to businesses is ensuring that all their employees work seamlessly as a team, whilst also ensuring each different generations’ needs are met.

Here are some useful tips to assist in creating an integrated and cohesive working environment:

1. Training the workforce

Employers should invest in an equality and diversity policy, setting out the employer’s commitment in this regard and its expectations of its employees.

Policies should be supported by training dealing with discrimination in the workplace, ensuring staff know how to behave professionally and aren’t discriminatory towards one another. This can help to build a more inclusive workforce and reduce the risk of discrimination.

2. Understanding career priorities

Sometimes employers can be wary about discussing future plans with employees, especially with older employees for fear of being accused of age discrimination. The exception enabling an employer to dismiss an employee by reason of retirement was removed on 6 April 2011. Requiring employees to retire when they reach a fixed retirement age will be direct age discrimination unless it can be objectively justified.

However, it is good practice to hold regular discussions with all employees, whatever their age, during which their short, medium and long term plans are discussed along with their career aspirations generally. This helps both with business planning and also with helping to engage workers of all ages.

3. Development for the workforce

Progression is key for many employees, so employers need to make sure they’re offering plenty of opportunities to learn new skills and progress through the business.

Employers need to be careful that they’re offering the same opportunities to all employees, regardless of age. Everyone should have the right to take on new responsibilities and undergo training when they’re ready and a failure to appreciate this can lead to resentment developing amongst employees.

4. Team work

Companies should ensure that they promote team work. By forming teams of employees from diverse age groups and making their performances dependent on one-another, individuals of all different ages and backgrounds are encouraged to work together and learn from one another.

Expectations should be clearly communicated so that the team understands what the goal of working together is and that they are expected to provide output through mutual efforts.

5. Mentoring in the workforce

It’s a nice idea to encourage mentoring, whether this is through a buddy system or ensuring that all staff support one another. This will not only bring teams closer together, but different age groups can learn from each other.

In a mixed-age workforce where businesses value knowledge, experience and skill, employees of all ages have the opportunity to teach, share and learn from one another. Mentoring can ensure that older employees feel valued and it gives younger employees the opportunity to benefit from the experience of their older colleagues.

This practice also opens up lines of communication between employees who perhaps wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards each other, increasing integration and inclusion.

6. Company culture and investing in employee relationships

The importance of company culture should not be overlooked. Strong communication across the workforce should be encouraged as this will boost morale and bring the team closer together, irrespective of age.

Further, social events play a large part in forming a company’s culture. Events that appeal to all ages should be arranged, helping to facilitate a friendly and enjoyable work environment where employees of all ages can bond and build relationships outside of work.

In short…

The key message for employers is to lead by example. Employees are far more likely to engender an inclusive and supportive workplace where this is actively promoted by the company for which they work. Employers need to appreciate the value, and ensure this is instilled in their managers, of employing individuals from different generations. Otherwise, companies risk missing out on the various skills and experience their workforce can bring to the company, whilst also creating factions, resentment, and ultimately, claims of discrimination.

Chris Cook is Partner and Head of Employment and Data Protection at SA Law

Further reading:

Is diversity too big an issue for small business?

Businesses must look beyond ‘inspirational women’ to tackle gender divide

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Stephanie Spicer

Stephanie Spicer is an editor at Bonhill Group