Age - The Demographic Dynamic

Posted in : HR Updates on 11 March 2016
Tanya Kennedy
Purpose Consultancy
Issues covered:

We are living longer, healthier lives. We want to work longer, for many different reasons. As employers in 2016, we potentially have five generations of workers. Are we making the most of this opportunity and are we ready for the challenge?

The answer is ‘No’.

Age remains the last acceptable form of discrimination, and it’s our personal bias that perpetuates barriers to inclusive, engaging working environments and the fresh ideas and perspectives that multi-age workforces offer. The fact is, the marriage of the wisdom and experience of age, with the innovation and dynamism of youth, offers employers a heady combination to drive high performance.

“Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” George Orwell

I regularly hear conversations around whether younger people add more value than older workers, or vice versa? I also often hear it argued that older workers staying in jobs prevent younger workers from entering employment.

These are myths.

Although there have always been generational differences at work, what’s new is a recent demographic shift caused by an influx of younger workers. This is fuelling short-term actions and creating faulty long-term thinking. In reality, by 2022 there will be 700,000 fewer people aged 16-49 and 3.7 million more people aged 50 and over in the UK. By 2020 over 50s will comprise almost 1/3 of the working age population. A trend reflected in Northern Ireland age demographics.

The real question is, what skills do we need and how will we attract and retain talent in our organisations? Deloitte’s report on Global Human Capital Trends offers some insight.

Critical skills are scarce and their uneven distribution is forcing employers to develop innovative new ways to find people, develop capabilities, and share expertise. This means that we need to get over our lazy stereotyping around age if we want to drive powerful team performance.

Unfortunately there remain few examples of organisations committing to building truly age-diverse workplaces and fewer examples of employers anticipating long term needs. Here are some case studies that you might find useful.

So, where do we start to create diverse, blended, intergenerational teams where people work well together? Sound HR fundamentals can move us forward, beginning with the humble workforce plan – a 5 step process of forecasting your staffing needs and working out the range of ways you can create and maintain the workforce in line with your business goals.

Simply put, workforce development is about:

  • getting the right people
  • growing the right people
  • keeping the right people

Given the significance that age will have on workforce planning over the next 5 – 10 years, my suggestion is to carry out an age profile as part of your workforce planning, given the significance of the impact that it is going to have. It’s a pretty straight-forward process.

ACAS offers as a free on line Age Audit Tool to help us with this process.

Once we know what we need, we can design effective attraction, development and retention strategies. 

In the mean time, here are my top ten tips for successfully managing a multi-generational workforce:
1. seek views on different motivations 
2. check out your communications channels and styles 
3. consider radical changes to flexibility 
4. maximise coaching and mentoring 
5. re-engage baby boomers
 6. look again at corporate responsibility 
7. who is most engaged? find out why 
8. set core expectations 
9. explain generational differences 
10. talk about change
This article is correct at 11/03/2016

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Tanya Kennedy
Purpose Consultancy

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