As the number of over 50s in the workforce increases and amid a skills shortage in many sectors, is it time for employers to consider age diversity training, asks Lucie Mitchell?
Many organisations are now made up of four generations of people working together, and the over 50s currently account for nearly a third of the UK workforce. It’s therefore vital that employers develop age-friendly workplaces or risk falling behind their competitors.
Yet research in 2018 by the Centre for Ageing Better found that 24% of employers admit they are unprepared for the rising number of older workers, while one in five have faced challenges with managing age diversity at work, and just 33% provide support, training or guidance on age diversity for managers.
One reason for this may be because, despite being a protected characteristic, awareness of age diversity in the workplace is still relatively low.
“We need to equip managers with skills on how to successfully manage age diversity,” remarks Dessy Ohanians, managing director of Certificate and Corporate Programmes at London School of Business and Finance. “Historically we have put a lot of attention on the benefits of racial and gender diversity, but now age diversity has become an equally important factor when considering recruitment practices and policies.”
Although still regarded as a relatively recent concept, age diversity training can be an important tool in helping to challenge age stereotypes, raise awareness and effectively manage an age diverse workforce.
“Age diversity training is essential in helping managers to understand and deal with the changing demographics of the workforce now and in future,” says Steve Butler, CEO of Punter Southall Aspire and author of a book on age diversity in the workplace. “Training can help employers create an age-inclusive culture where age isn’t a barrier to success, and this will help them to recruit and retain the best talent.”
Age diversity training enables organisations to focus on the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workplace in terms of age, adds Paula Whelan, head of diversity and inclusion at RightTrack Learning. “As well as raising awareness of how different generations learn and interact, it explores what constitutes age discrimination, how it plays out in the workplace and its impact. Typical training sessions would interactively explore legislation and workplace policies, using case studies and scenarios to focus on how they apply in practice.”
Patrick Thomson, senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, says that, if well designed and effectively delivered, training can reduce age stereotypes and team conflicts, as well as enhance innovation.
“Evidence suggests that training can be effective in reducing biased practices, especially if it is more focused on behaviour change than attitude change; presented as voluntary rather than mandatory; and face-to-face and interactive rather than done through online courses.”
Some large organisations have already taken innovative approaches to multi-generational working. For instance, Sodexo developed a board game, called the GenMatch game, designed to help staff engage with the different characteristics of each generation in the organisation. It also implemented a Generations Employee Network, which delivers a number of initiatives that support different life stages, such as preparing for retirement.
Raj Jones, diversity and inclusion manager at Sodexo UK & Ireland, says their approach is broader than training as they also focus on awareness raising and education. “For us, this has had a positive contribution to our organisation’s success, which can be evidenced through increased engagement and performance as well as contributing to understanding the needs of our customers and clients.”
Similarly, Aviva has introduced a mid-life MOT for their employees aged over 45 and appointed an internal recruitment champion for older workers.
Yet, while there are some organisations already making strides, specific age diversity training is still not as prevalent as other types of diversity and inclusion training and not many studies have been carried out to assess its effectiveness.
However, where age diversity policies have already been implemented, there are reports of higher staff satisfaction rates, lower staff turnover rates, and increased productivity rates, remarks Ohanians, who believes that age diversity training will increase in popularity as organisations start to realise the benefits it can bring.
“Age diversity awareness and management will become a core skill expected from leaders of the future,” she comments. “Training managers on how to capitalise on the skills of a diverse workforce will become a standard module in leadership and management programmes. Businesses will be able to measure the tangible impact inclusive practices will have on their bottom-line and will become advocates for age diversity and training.”
Butler adds that employers need to consider the challenges of age diversity, but also embrace the opportunities. “Forward-thinking employers have the chance to turn the changing demographics into a positive for the business, harnessing and embracing the different skills, experiences and attitudes of each generation. Age diversity training is essential to do this, and I believe it will become much more commonplace in the future.”