Get Reworked Podcast: The Benefits of the Multi-Generational Workforce
Our workplaces hit a milestone in recent years: it was the first time on record that five generations shared the workplace. While there's been no shortage of articles on the needs and desires of individual generations, not much has been paid to the benefits the mix of generations produces — both for individuals and organizations.
In this episode of Get Reworked, Ramsey Alwin, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging, discusses the many benefits of an age-diverse workplace and the high cost of letting ageism go unchecked.
Listen: Get Reworked Full Episode List
"Eight out of 10 workers over 50 feel they've experienced ageism in the workforce, and the analysis is $850 billion a year are being lost due to the ageism that is found in the workplace.
So when it comes to HR leaders, there's so much they can do that goes well above and beyond the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, the current law that says anyone over 40 cannot be discriminated against. And that's a law, and it's a low bar," said Ramsey.
Highlights of the conversation include:
- The benefits of having multiple generations in the workplace.
- What we can learn from New Zealand and Iceland about building age-inclusive workforces.
- How HR leaders can best promote age diversity in hiring and retention.
- The outsized impact layoffs has on older workers.
- How we should rethink careers as longevity increases.
Plus, host Siobhan Fagan talks with Ramsey about the differences in advocating for change at the government level rather than the organizational level, what retirement means if we live till 150 and AARP marketing practices. Listen in for more.
Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Send it to [email protected].
- Ramsey on the NCOA website
- National Council on Aging
- OECD Report: Promoting an Age-Inclusive Workforce: Living, Learning and Earning Longer
- Yale Study on impacts of ageism on health: Harmful Effects of Ageism on Older Persons' Health
- Reworked article: Worker Shortage? Tell That to the 'Older Workers'
Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity
Ramsey Alwin: As technology and automation addresses some of the rote tasks, what's leftover? Change management, collaboration, creativity — these are skills that cannot be microwaved. They truly require time and experience to cultivate. And that's what you can find in the older worker. And so a workplace that recognizes and values that experience and that wisdom is going to find that it can bring that into conversations about innovation, into conversations about new products and services and offerings.
And interestingly enough, Boston Consulting Group did an analysis in regard to diversity in the workplace, and they found the most age diverse, as well as gender and race diverse, companies did end up resulting in having the highest innovation rates, the highest productivity rates and then ultimately, being the most profitable.
Siobhan Fagan: You just heard from Ramsey Alwin. Ramsey is the president and CEO of the National Council on Aging, and we brought her here today to talk about our aging workforce.
We are all working in places that have multiple generations working in one office, and Ramsey is here to break some stereotypes and discuss equitable aging for all.
On top of being the president and CEO of the National Council on Aging, she is an executive committee member of the UN NGO Committee on Aging. She's a seasoned economic policy strategic planning executive, a former leader of AARP and brings a wealth of experience to this conversation.
I can't wait to bring her on. So let's Get Reworked.
Welcome to the podcast, Ramsey.
Ramsey: Well, thanks so much for having me.
Generational Variety in the Workplace, Pros and Cons
Siobhan: So I am so excited to be speaking with you today about this topic. It is one that has only grown in relevance as our population continues to age. And so I was hoping that we could just sort of set the stage for putting the aging population in the workplace today.
We've got five generations working in a lot of workplaces. And I'm wondering what the positives and negatives are of having so many generations interacting together in one roof?
Ramsey: I'm so glad you asked. I mean, the gift of longevity really is incredible when you think about the medical and technological breakthroughs. And the researchers that are looking at these issues have looked at the demographic trends. And it's quite staggering. I mean, not only are they multi-generation today in the workforce, but this is the trend to continue, the average 10-year-old today is likely to live to be at least 100. And of course, when you look at the economics of it, working for 30 years doesn't necessarily add up to retirement for an additional 30 years.
So this is the new normal, five generations in the workforce working together. And the OECD released a study a few years ago, it's called Promoting an Age-Inclusive Workforce: Living, Learning and Earning Longer, which estimates that really building the capacity of companies to make the most of that multi generational workforce and giving older employees opportunities to bring their change management, their creativity, their collaboration, all those life-learned skills into the workplace can actually be a boon to GDP.
And the OECD analysis is if all OECD countries were to embrace some of the really progressive workforce policies of countries like New Zealand and Iceland, there could be a 19% increase in GDP over the next three decades. Just incredible when you think about the real economic impact of harnessing that experience that wisdom and cross-pollinating among the many generations in the workforce today.
Embracing Progressive Workforce Policies: Lessons From New Zealand and Iceland
Siobhan: You mentioned New Zealand and Iceland, and I'm wondering if there are any lessons that we can take away or any broader lessons that organizations could learn for how to actually tap into the wealth that they have among this diverse aging population?
Ramsey: Well, absolutely. I mean, first and foremost, eliminating ageist practices and policies are critical.
We've come a long way in the U.S. in terms of retiring the concept of a mandatory retirement age that's no longer legal for most employers, with very few exceptions, but still ageism is insidious. And it can come in many different forms from she's too young to lead the organization to he's too old to learn the new technology.
But when those ages practices come to bear in terms of the workplace, when it comes to hiring and retention and promotion, it can be quite damaging, because it doesn't allow us to look at the natural talents of individuals.
But countries like New Zealand and Iceland have been very proactive, with policies around eliminating ageism, and actually creating a landscape in which employers can flourish with innovative practices around mentor / mentee relationships, leveraging employee resource groups that cross-pollinate the different talents that the generations bring into the workplace, to make sure that everyone can bring all their assets to bear. And so they're really some great examples.
And in New Zealand, they have the highest labor force participation of those 55 and older, because their policies have been so progressive and inclusive, to ensure workers midlife and later in life, get the skill building and skill refresh needed.
I think it's also interesting to note in New Zealand, that labor force participation is so robust among women, and among women midlife and later in life as well. And so there's interesting points of intersectionality, when we start to look at what an inclusive, diverse and equitable workforce practice can be, and the nuances of ageism, sexism, and even racism, can really come into play and prevent us from being able to tap into the full potential of the workforce. If we do not address them head on and make sure our policies are inclusive.
Siobhan: Obviously, in these examples that you're sharing, you're looking at governmental involvement in changing these policies. And I know that you are, personally in your role as president of National Council on Aging, advocating for those policy changes.
But before that can take place, what can individual organizations do? Or what should they be looking to do? You mentioned opening access to skills building mentor / mentee relationships, are there other things that they could take the initiative on before it actually becomes law?
Ramsey: Well, recognizing the value of experience is number one, when we look at experienced workers, and where they thrive, there are uniquely human skills they bring to the workplace, and it's because of the experiences they have acquired over a lifetime.
And they really are critical skills as technology and automation addresses some of the rote tasks, what's leftover: change, management, collaboration, creativity, these are skills that cannot be microwaved. They truly require time and experience to cultivate. And that's what you can find in the older worker. And so a workplace that recognizes and values that experience and that wisdom is going to find that it can bring that into conversations about innovation, into conversations about new products and services and offerings.
And interestingly enough, Boston Consulting Group did an analysis in regard to diversity in the workplace, and they found the most age diverse, as well as gender and race diverse, companies did end up resulting in having the highest innovation rates, the highest productivity rates, and then ultimately, being the most profitable.
Stereotypes Hurt Every Generation
Siobhan: Do you think that there are any specific stereotypes about older workers that are particularly damaging?
I can think of a few offhand that I always see, and I'm gonna self identify, I am part of Gen X. And I often hear about how people my age and older don't know how to use technology because we weren't brought up as digital natives.
Can you think of any other examples that are particularly damaging in workplaces that we need to move past?
Ramsey: Sure, well, I mean, when you look at the different generations, there is that inclination to stereotype. When really, it's important to zoom out and recognize each generation has experienced key milestones and events that shape their experience. But the story doesn't end there.
There are unique aspects of navigating those experiences. So broad brush stereotypes, when it comes to each generation really won't play out when you begin to unpackage an individual's ability in the workplace to contribute.
So we have to sort of begin to distance ourselves from the easy yet damaging inclination to stereotype just based on generations. And you can see this when it comes to more experienced workers, maybe the baby boomers, silent generation stereotypes around technology, and a willingness to learn an inclination to use technology and the efficiencies that it can provide.
Now to the contrary, during the pandemic, in particular, we saw workers of all ages, but in particularly older adults, were a very quick study with Zoom and Google meetups and Facebook Live, just really pivoting on a dime, to stay connected to loved ones, and to continue to work using those technology tools.
So I do think there's a lot of work to do to bust some of those unproductive, negative stereotypes that are in play for each generation. When it comes to millennials, their assumptions about digital natives and what that means for their desires and aspirations, that are also unproductive in teasing out some of the thoughtful strategic thinking and critical thinking skills millennials can bring given how worldly they are in light of being so well aware of world events in ways that other generations weren't privy to, because the social media tools weren't there.
Siobhan: Thank you for actually sort of broadening that scope, that it is across all generations, because I'm now thinking of the price that millennials are paying for their association with avocado toast for the rest of their lives. I mean.
How Layoffs Impact Older Workers
Siobhan: So we're recording this at a time when there are a lot of companies in the tech industry, particularly in the midst of layoffs, which are always hard, and it's affecting huge quantities of the workforce. But what we often see in cases like this, is that they go to some of the highest level people first, in part because they are often the most highly paid. What do you think of this? And what are we losing out by pinpointing these people?
Ramsey: Well, the precarity of the moment in terms of labor force trends and economic trends is concerning for all generations, no doubt about that. And where we go from here, in terms of a deeper recession is absolutely concerning. And all the more reason for individuals of all ages, but especially experienced workers to really lean into the skill refreshes and the skill building and the lifelong learning that's so required to ensure your resilience when those job transitions happen.
Additionally, it's so important to cultivate those networks, the vast networks as well as the close deep connections, because those are important touch points as we face transitions that can help us ensure we rebound as quickly as possible.
But when it comes to employers making the tough decisions, furloughs and layoffs, we have seen traditionally, experienced workers can be first on the chopping block. And then of course, we know from Bureau of Labor Statistics, how challenging it is for older workers to get back into the workforce, highly likely to come back at half or a third of their previous wages, and how challenging it is to get over the hurdle because of some of the ageist practices among hiring supervisors.
What I would say to employers is it really is an inflection point to think about the future of work, and the skills that need to be prioritized in light of the acceleration of technology, really allowing those rote tasks to be automated. And so when you reflect on what are the skills you need, and you think about the types of workers that best come to the table with those critical thinking, creative collaboration skills, I do think experienced workers rise to the top.
I'd also share the caveat that you're best served by a completely age diverse workforce, ultimately. But I would encourage employers to think about how they can retain those skills, but in a more flexible manner. Many experienced workers are looking and have appreciated during the pandemic, the flexibility of part time, and work from home and consulting opportunities that allow them to bring their wisdom and maybe forego some of the tasks they don't enjoy doing.
So I think that competitive employers will be thoughtful about ensuring age diversity among their workforce as they move forward, thoughtful employers will recognize the demographic trends and the market segment that is the 50+ and the $9 trillion in which that market segment consumes and the need to have a workforce that's reflective of those consumers so they can really tap into that market opportunity.
Underrated | Overrated With Ramsey Alwin
Siobhan: So Ramsey you just shared so much to unpack in there that I would love to get to and I am going to shortly, but I was hoping that we could take a little break now for a segment that we like to call underrated, overrated on the podcast.
With it, I will put forward three different topics to you. And you can tell me if they're underrated or overrated, or none of the above, and share a little bit about why you think so are you willing to play?
Ramsey: Love to. Let's go for it.
Siobhan: Excellent. So earlier I mentioned that you are advocating as part of your role to change some of the laws in the country about the aging population. So first up in underrated, overrated is testifying before Senate.
Ramsey: Well, it was certainly an incredible moment for me, professionally and personally. But overall, I'd say overrated. I mean, it's a great opportunity to inform those who represent us in Congress about the impact of current public policies and the need to really evolve and modernize. And as advocates, we always want to inform those debates and legislation.
Addressing Employee Needs and Wants with a Digital Workplace
The workplace is getting more and more digital – both in how we work and where we work
Maintaining a Human-Centered Approach During Digital Transformation
When it comes to digital transformation - people drive change, not technology
The Evolution of Employee Recognition
Leveraging the power of appreciation to improve the employee experience
How to Build a More Innovative and Resilient Workplace Culture
What would happen if every member of your team came to work focused on finding solutions and creating better results?
But the reality is, it is hard. And it takes time to see those changes come to fruition. And so overall, I'd say, maybe not what all the hype, make you think, it's one step in a very long journey to create the change you want to see in the world.
Siobhan: All right.
So next up, you previously held roles at AARP. And this is something that I wanted to ask about, which is AARP sending out direct mail marketing to 30-year-olds. And I'm asking for a friend. And by a friend, I mean me.
Ramsey: You know, I think it's brilliant. I think it's brilliant. Because aging well means living well. And we can't wait until the 11th hour to talk about these issues. So I think it's a really smart tactic to make sure everyone knows what they need to know to make the most of this beautiful, magnificent precious life that we have. And starting early to talk about the role of your skills and work trajectory and retirement savings and personal savings and your relationships is so critical, never mind the brand awareness and recognition.
So I think it's not a surprise that they'd have such a great name recognition because they do start early.
Siobhan: Fair enough. So for our last one in underrated or overrated, it is going to an all women's college.
Ramsey: Oh, just an amazing, amazing experience.
So I think that for women that don't even know it's an option or dismiss the option, they're really missing out on a significant window of time in which our development is happening so rapidly, and having a chance to really shore up and fortify our confidence and find our voice in the world. In a classroom full of women. Never mind eliminating the distractions.
It's just an awesome opportunity and would absolutely recommend it to anyone.
Siobhan: And Ramsey, can you give a shout out to your college here?
Ramsey: Oh, Simmons College. Now, Simmons University, definitely helped shape, my leadership style, my commitment to service and being a servant leader to make the world a better place. Go Simmons.
How HR Leaders Can Do Better to Maximize Age Diversity
Siobhan: So I want to dive back into our conversation now. And I want to pick up on some of the points that you said in the last segment, you were talking specifically about how hard it is for people once they have left the workforce at a certain age, how hard it is for them to get back in.
And so I guess I'm asking now, you talked about the creativity that's necessary in organizations to rethink how they're actually creating these roles, how they're pitching these roles, and who they're actually trying to get into their organizations to have that diversity and the age throughout their company. What can HR do, given that context, to create advertisements for roles that are going to get the right mix of people? Do you have any suggestions there?
Ramsey: Absolutely. I mean, I can't punctuate enough how insidious ageism is, I mean, AARP has done some analysis, eight out of 10 workers over 50 feel they've experienced ageism in the workforce, and the analysis is $850 billion a year are being lost due to the ageism that is found in the workplace.
So when it comes to HR leaders, there's so much they can do that goes well above and beyond the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, the current law that says anyone over 40 cannot be discriminated against. And that's a law, and it's a low bar.
So as HR leaders look to maximize age diversity, demonstrate inclusivity, they can use age neutral imagery and language in job ads and job descriptions. They can forego graduation dates or a year of birth on applications which are absolutely destructive and unnecessary.
They can forego asking prior wages, because those prior wages can pigeonhole people, both in anchoring them on lower wages, which is the case often for older women do to pay in equity over a lifetime, they may enter an opportunity with a prior wage that's well below market, when really, market rate should be the rate.
And then on the other side of the ledger, when it comes to experienced workers, sometimes sharing that prior wage can send a signal that they're not willing to take maybe a lower wage or have more flexibility.
So as HR leaders think about more inclusive practices, to attract talent: age neutral imagery, scrubbing job ads from some of that language about digital natives, and really eliminating those years of graduation and birth as well as prior wages to make sure it's just very inclusive. And they can encourage age diverse cultures where all workers feel comfortable and appreciated, regardless of their age, with employee resource groups or returnship programs that allow people mid life to come back in through an apprenticeship or internship.
Ultimately, though, I mean, they really, they need to hire people of all ages, so they can see and feel appreciated.
How Individuals Can Fight Ageism in Their Organization
Siobhan: Can I ask what individuals can do? I mean, you mentioned the employee resource group, say you're in an organization and you want to encourage that sense of inclusion across the board. What specifically related to ageism, could an individual do in an organization?
Ramsey: Well, I think there are many different opportunities to open up the conversation. There are some great books out there by authors, such as Ashton Applewhite that really delve into the challenging implications of ageism. And those types of book clubs and conversation starters can go a long way in opening up the dialogue so that people understand not only the words that are ageist, but the mindsets that are ageist, and can become comfortable calling each other out in a way that allows everyone to move forward and beginning to dissolve some of those ageist beliefs.
And frankly, it's not just disruptive to the workplace and the profitability, but it's also damaging for our own health. There's a researcher Becca Levy at Yale that's done the analysis that these negative stereotypes that we all hold, when it comes to aging, can actually shave years off our life expectancy, 7 1/2 years off our life expectancy, because we begin to adopt the idea that it's inevitable that will decline. It's inevitable that aging is a negative experience. And so it actually has negative health consequences.
Siobhan: That's fascinating. And I am definitely going to find that study and link to it in our text of this interview. So thank you for sharing that Ramsey.
I want to bring it back to a point that you actually started off with, which was that you said that a 10-year-old today could very well live to 100. Scientists are now thinking that the first person to live to 150 is alive today. Given that reality, what three concrete steps would you say that organizations can take to prepare for that aging workforce?
Ramsey: It's amazing, isn't it? I have a 10-year-old. So I just think about what her life is going to look like as she goes through her educational experience and then enters the workplace. And it's going to be so much different.
I mean, we've evolved from a three stage life of spend time focused on your educational achievements, to work, and then enjoy retirement. With this added number of years and this added life to those years, it's more so this nonlinear multistage life that we're all navigating. So it's really quite incredible.
And I think there's a lot of opportunity. This longevity dividend can really be harnessed to advance all of our experiences and quality of life. But it's so important that employers use age inclusive language in job ads and internal communications, that employers hire mature workers and create worker appreciation and retention programs that include them, because we're all going to have to, and many of us want to work longer.
And then third, we need to enshrine in these inclusive practices, just a very thoughtful approach to the organization's fabric and culture, so it becomes second nature, that we raise the consciousness of all of us, so that we recognize ageism, for what it is and work to eradicate it.
The goal should really be inclusivity to be the norm when it comes to how we do business.
A Longer Life Can Mean More Career Diversity and Opportunity
Siobhan: How does your 10-year-old feel about living to 100?
Ramsey: Well, we have those conversations, and she's intrigued by the aspect of many different careers. It's a beautiful thing. It just opens one up to not think about one straight line experience, but instead, the opportunity to dabble as an artist and then an astronaut and then a teacher and then a mom. And it's just really magical to see how she thinks about the different dimensions of having a long healthy life, and all that she can experience as a result.
Siobhan: It really is amazing about how it opens up so many vistas as opposed to like you have to go down this one career path and you're set for life. So it's an exciting future, I'm excited for her.
Ramsey, thank you so much for all of this and for such an informative discussion. If our listeners want to find out more about you and your work online, where is the best place for them to find you.
Siobhan: Thank you so much. Ramsey.
Ramsey: Thank you.
Siobhan: If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, I'm all ears. Please drop me a line at [email protected]. Additionally, if you liked what you heard, post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. Please share Get Reworked with anyone you think might benefit from these types of conversations. Find us at reworked.co. And finally, follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well. Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with me, and I'll see you next time.
About the Author
Siobhan is the editor in chief of Reworked, the premier publication covering the r/evolution of work published by Simpler Media Group, Inc. Siobhan leads the site's content strategy, with a focus on the transformation of the workplace.