Everyone knows the workplace is now dominated by millennials, with Generation Z close at their heels. But that doesn’t mean baby boomers (or Generation X employees, for that matter) are leaving anytime soon. In fact, older employees—even some from the silent generation—are tenaciously hanging on to their place in the workforce. And that’s a really good thing. The most productive and high-performing companies include a nice mix of employees of all age ranges, older employees included.
That’s right, hiring mature workers isn’t just about fighting ageism. It’s also great for your organization’s bottom line. Research shows that age diversity can improve organizational performance and productivity.
Organizations are stronger when they include the contributions of more seasoned employees. A blend of different ages means you get more diverse perspectives and a synergy that gives you a competitive edge. Younger workers can come up with different ideas and may push for meaningful social and environmental change. But older employees bring a wealth of experience, insight, stability and soft skills that younger people may not have developed yet.
Another reason to keep boomers and older workers on board: They might better understand the needs and wants of consumers in their same age range. And since this group holds the majority of wealth in the country, it makes good business sense to ensure your labor force matches your customer base.
You’ll have no problem attracting younger workers—after all, there are lots of them in the job market. But here are a few ways your organization can fight against ageism, avoid legal exposure, attract older employees, and make the most of a multigenerational workforce.
Stop using words that exclude older workers
When a recruiter places an ad looking for someone to join a “young, dynamic team” or laughs about a “senior moment,” that’s ageism at work (even though younger employees might not recognize it). And that’s never OK. Companies looking to recruit older workers need to avoid using words that exclude them. Instead of savvy, young or energetic, try words like motivated, dedicated and driven instead.
Rethink your recruitment marketing materials
Make sure your marketing materials for recruitment reflect the diversity your organization is seeking, including workers in the baby boomer age category. Do photos depict older people as well as younger people? People of color? Nonbinary-gender non-conforming people? Women?
Along those same lines, also be sure to consider where you recruit your employees. If you only advertise online or at local universities, you are missing out on older job candidates. Consider reaching out to newspapers, too.
Call out age as an element in your diversity and inclusion training
Specifically mention “age” in your organization’s statements about the value of diversity and inclusion. Then make sure that your policies and strategies reflect your position that age is a valued diversity element in your organization. Finally, include age in your anti-bias training.
Offer benefits that attract older workers
Gym memberships, flexible work arrangements and education topics such as retirement planning are all appealing to aging employees. You can also follow the lead of other creative American companies going above and beyond to attract older employees.
For example, CVS offers a “Snowbird” program that allows older workers—pharmacists, photo supervisors and cosmetic consultants—to transfer locations on a seasonal basis. (IBM has a similar program.) The National Institutes of Health actively recruits smart people over age 50 at job fairs and then lures them with flex schedules, telecommuting opportunities and exercise classes. Even Home Depot hires retired construction workers to advise customers on its sales floor.
Don’t just hire for skills—hire for attitude
A person’s openness to learning—not their age—is what makes them a great worker. In our rapidly changing work environment, those willing to adapt and learn new ways of doing things are the most valuable, regardless of age. An older employee who is coachable and has a great attitude and a willingness to try new things might contribute more than a talented Generation Zer who resists being trained in new skills.
At the same time, make sure your interviewers are well trained on how to assess skills and remain focused on the objectives of the job. Interviewers should understand whether a candidate’s experiences and skills—especially the soft skills acquired by many mature employees—will make them a strong candidate.
When you don’t hire a candidate, explain why
Some candidates may assume they were not hired because of their age. Therefore, be sure to follow up to tell them the reason they were not selected. This prevents all candidates from jumping to conclusions and protects you from damaging claims of age or any other bias.
Offer training programs—aka “returnships”
Returnships are internships in which retired adults with a gap in work experience are onboarded and trained during a trial period and then hired if all goes well. They are essentially a career reboot for experienced workers. The idea is getting traction in a wide range of industries, from tech companies and health care to banking and nonprofits.
Returnships are internships in which retired adults with a gap in work experience are onboarded and trained during a trial period and then hired if all goes well.
Keep in mind that returnships can benefit younger employees as much as older employees. That Gen Zer who struggles with the basics of navigating work relationships could sit in on meetings and presentations with that 70-year-old retired executive who just enrolled in the organization’s returnship program. And it’s a two-way street, because they could explain to that executive why and how to tweet, use an Instagram account for marketing, or offer lessons on navigating that state-of-the-art software that human resources just installed on their computer that they may have been resistant to use.
Intentionally form mixed-age teams for better collaboration
Give people of all ages chances to work together for common purposes. Research has shown that multigenerational teams outperform less age-diverse teams on complex decision-making tasks.
Never forget the value of older employees. They bring a perspective earned from years of hard work. Plus, they are loyal and less likely to leave your organization after you’ve spent time and money investing in them. And remember, if you don’t hire them, one of your competitors will. It’s far better to have their wisdom, experience and strong work ethic enrich your team than to miss out on good talent.
The tips in this article were excerpted from Rick Grimaldi’s new book, “FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace” (Wiley, 2021). For more information, visit www.rickgrimaldi.com.