What’s Age Got to Do With It?

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” —George Orwell

In Clash of the Generations (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2017), Valerie M. Grubb writes that by 2020, 25 percent of the U.S. labor force will be older than age 55– and many are not planning to retire anytime soon. Consequently, the workplace might be characterized by a clash of generations that will require a new and innovative management approach and an age-diverse culture.

    There are benefits of an age-diverse workforce, including improved productivity (“Engaging a Multi-Generational Workforce: Practical Advice for Government Managers,” Spring Summer 2011, IBM Center for the Business of Government, http://bit.ly/2glzwHj). What is the state of your workforce? To answer that, Grubb advises a thorough consideration of the following:

  • What leadership capabilities will be needed to motivate and engage your workforce in five years? Is your current employee base developing the necessary skill sets needed to achieve those future leadership requirements?
  • What other skill sets are missing, and how will your organization develop those skills? How is succession planning being addressed?
  • Do you have a critical employee population retiring in five to 10 years? Are you taking the steps now to bridge any skills gaps that may result when those people leave your organization?
  • Do you have a formal recognition program that rewards getting along with coworkers of all ages? If so, is that program “age blind,” or does it tend to recognize one age group the most? What can you do to ensure that workers of all ages are equally valued?
  • How can older workers’ skill sets be retooled and Millennial and Gen X employees be prepared to fill any skills gaps? How will your organization maintain momentum in innovation over the long term?
  • What changes to your organization’s work environment will be needed to achieve its mission now and in the future?

Managing in the new workplace reality means prioritizing the creation of a culture of inclusion that supports innovation from employees of any age.