8 ways to become an age friendly workplace

Why having an age friendly workplace is crucial to your business

By Jonas Bladt Hansen, 17. December 2018

While the workforce is growing older and older, there seems to be an insatiable demand for young people with high tech skills. Ironically, the more things are being “digitized”, the less a differentiator it becomes. Over time, the human element will remain the single most important differentiator for organizations.

When Airbnb’s CEO Brian Cheskey decided he needed some expertise to grow his business, he did not look for the next bigshot within the tech industry. He decided to hire a person in his 50’s – Chip Conley – to become Airbnbs Head of Hospitality and Strategy. Together, they created magic results.

How young and old can learn from each other

In this blog post, I will share my thoughts on how organizations can create an age diverse workplace, where younger and older generations thrive and learn from each other.  

A PWC study shows that only 8 percent of organizations include age in their diversity and inclusion policy. And another study revealed that 87 % of U.K. employers don’t check whether their people managers hire workers older than themselves. Of the 13 % of employers that did measure it, over half found that managers don’t hire people older than themselves.

You always want to be able to have that kind of tension where you have people that have seen it before and you have some new and fresh ideas, and you’re trying to blend those two together – that’s when you get real disruptive innovation

Aaron Levie, Millenial & Founder of Box Inc.

Younger and older employees can achieve great things together. Younger people often bring new ideas to the table. They challenge the status quo. Older people are good at recognizing patterns and make good judgement calls. A study also indicates that older people are better at making choices that lead to long term gains, while younger people make choices that lead to immediate rewards.

8 ways to become an age friendly workplace

Here are some ideas to consider when designing an age friendly workplace and that helps create a learning culture.

1. Use data to understand your workforce

Get some basic knowledge to figure out, what you should focus on.

What’s the age split in your organization?
How age diverse are your teams?How many people could you expect to lose to retirement in the coming years?
What roles do they fill?
Have you identified predecessors for the most important management roles?
What capabilities will you have to replace?What client and industry relationships would your company be at risk losing?What kind of core beliefs/core cultural traits do you want your older generations to learn the younger generations?

2. Use an Organizational Network Analysis

One way to get some of the data mentioned above is to do an Organizational Network Analysis (ONA).  An ONA shows the informal structures in your organization and helps you identify key people related to change & culture.

An ONA gives you an overview of:
– Who is working with whom
– Who are the key persons – and bottlenecks
– Who would be the real change agents
– The degree of silos
– Professional and social relationships across teams

You can read more about the ONA here

3. Phased retirement options

In the US, 60 percent leave for retirement due to health problems or acquired disabilities. 22 percent leave to care for a family member or spouse. Offering phased retirement options could make it easier for people to stay longer.

4. Reversed mentoring

Let younger employees coach baby boomers in becoming tech savyy. And let older employees help younger generations “connect the dots” in the workplace. You can either orchestrate a mentoring program or encourage people to do it.

5. Job swap or job shadowing

Let people from younger and older generations follow each other during a couple of workdays
to understand each others ways of working. For instance, it can be hard to transfer the knowledge about how to work with a client. You need to see and feel it in order to really understand.

6. Describe critical incidents

Ask your people about the most critical incidents and how they solved them. Use that knowledge in your training and onboarding programs.

7. Dilemma sessions

Work out some every day dilemmas your colleagues face and let them vote on how they would solve them. It works best when people are in a room together to discuss the outcome afterwards. It is my experience that these sessions offer great learning opportunities.

8. Evaluate learning, relearning and unlearning opportunities

Today, unlearning old ‘rules’ and learning new ones are crucial. Customer needs change fast, partly because the digital evolution. And this challenges our current ways of working. That’s why it’s important that people know what they need to unlearn and learn and have the opportunity to do so.

Our “Pizza tool” can be used to identify learning and relearning activities in conversations with employees.

Organizations face the biggest knowledge transfer in history. Collaboration between young and old will become crucial. It’s not only a matter of staying up to date in the digital world. It’s also about retaining your core culture. Last but not least, you want young and old to work together – and if you get that right, they can create magic together. I hope you can use some of the ideas and tools to create a workplace where that magic happens!

Do you need input on how to get started?
Take a look at at our categorized toolbox here
– it’s all free

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