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May 3, 2021

A Workforce Divided: How To Bridge The Gap Between Older And Younger Workers

People are working longer than ever and the age gap in the workforce is widening. A number of factors have given rise to this including longer life expectancies, ongoing financial concerns and increasing healthcare costs. Continued employment or re-employment in later life helps mature workers to provide for themselves while allowing others to benefit from their knowledge and experience. However, 50-plus employees face several challenges. 

As expected, there are cultural, ideological and technological differences between younger and older workers. This is not inherently negative since diversity can benefit staff and organizations as a whole. The problem occurs when these differences lead to harmful stereotypes and age-discrimination. Fortunately, both older and younger workers can learn from each other. However, organizations need to take active steps to bridge the gap and reap the benefits of having a workforce with a huge age gap. Let’s look at what businesses can do to motivate both younger and older workers and take use their unique skills to the organization’s advantage. 

Who Makes Up the Modern Workforce

We’ve all heard about baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and other generational cohorts. However, the lines sometimes get muddled and all younger workers are lumped into the millennial group while mature workers are considered baby boomers. The cohorts aren’t set in stone. However, it can be argued that there are five generations in the job market today. These are: 

  • The “Silents” – those born between 1925 and 1945 who are 76 years old and older.
  • Baby boomers – individuals born between 1946 and 1964 who are between 57 and 75 years old. 
  • Gen X – those born between 1965 and 1980 who are between the ages of 41 and 56. 
  • Gen Y or millennials – people born between 1981 and 1996 and ranging from age 25 to 40. These are sometimes split into Gen Y.1 (25 to 29) and Gen Y.2 (29 to 39) to account for their varying stages of life.
  • Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2015 who are 24 or younger. 

Since people are increasingly working well past the typical retirement age, it means that the modern workforce is more age-diverse than ever. At the same time, there’s evidence of what is known as “the drift”. This is when mature talent feels so disengaged and disconnected from their work that they leave the workforce even though they can still make a valuable contribution. The premature loss of mature talent negatively affects the organization and the younger members of the workforce. 

How You Can Leverage Cross-Generational Teams 

There are clear differences across generations especially as it relates to how they communicate and how they want to be managed. However, research shows that there are things on which workers of all ages tend to agree. Employees generally want good relationships with their bosses, meaningful work and opportunities for professional growth. To harness the skills of everyone from baby boomers to Gen Z, there are some relatively simple things you can do. 

Facilitate Interaction Among Generations

Workers of similar ages will naturally form bonds in the workplace. If you want to ensure that there is intergenerational interaction, you can: 

  • Institute a mentorship program 
  • Have open-door policies for senior staff 
  • Ensure committees and groups include a wide cross-section of employees 
  • Have one-on-one check-ins between managers and employees 

Ensure There’s a Culture of Respect Throughout the Office

Younger workers often don’t do what mature workers ask of them and 50-plus workers seem to disregard the views of new hires. Even though this may come naturally, it doesn’t have to remain this way. You can: 

  •  Encourage workers to listen to each other 
  • Take feedback from each employee seriously 
  • Establish clear rules for conduct 
  • Recognize employees who do well 

Allow Individuality

Workers of all ages can become resentful if they feel like they’re being pigeon-holed. Each generation brings unique skills and experiences to the job and these should be embraced. If you allow for different work styles and focus on results rather than just rules, it will redound to the benefit of the organization. Comfortable employees will typically be more productive. Catering to different generations may mean emailing or texting young workers but calling 50-plus employees or meeting them face-to-face. Meanwhile, older employees may prefer to work from the office during regular working hours whereas younger workers want more flexible options. 

Get Help with Building a Productive, Multigenerational Workplace

If you’re finding it difficult to keep 50-plus employees motivated and engaged, the team at WiseForce Advisors can help. We assist human resources departments and managers in attracting and managing mature talent and ensuring high productivity levels. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn about how our Corporate Awareness Sessions, Age Management Readiness Questionnaire and other services can help you.