How Human Connections Help to Maximize Impact for Older Workers

Posted in Thoughts & Culture

Our global labor force is aging – but not everyone is retiring. Many boomers are electing to stay at work or re-entering the workforce in new roles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the segment of U.S. workers aged 75 years and older is actually projected to grow by 96.5% in the next decade, and the same is true around the globe. Our intensifying talent crunch has made keeping these workers an area of focus – particularly in Europe and Asia where populations are aging at a quicker pace.

These labor demographics, and the presence of more workers 65 years and older, present both challenges and opportunities for companies. If businesses want to keep this demographic in the workplace they must understand how to meet their unique needs, while also leveraging their many strengths.

The Benefits of Age Diversity at Work

Age diversity brings numerous benefits to the workplace. Older employees bring with them a wealth of experience and institutional knowledge, while younger employees are often more in touch with the latest technologies and trends. The combination can foster creativity and innovation and lead to more resilience and better business results.

Some benefits of a diverse workforce include:

Broad range of skills and experiences:

Different age groups bring a greater variety of skills, experiences, and perspectives to the table. Older employees often have traditional skills and a wealth of knowledge built up over time, while younger employees are often more familiar with emerging technologies and trends. This sort of diversity, studies have found, can positively influence innovation processes within teams. Age-diverse teams also make better decisions and solve problems more effectively because they contain a wider range of perspectives and experiences.

Mentoring opportunities and knowledge transfer:

Cross-generational mentoring allows older workers to pass on their accrued experiences and wisdom. Similarly, younger employees can share knowledge and skills, such as around new technologies and trends. Older employees tend to hold a wealth of institutional knowledge that can be lost when they retire. Having a diverse age range allows for the passing of this knowledge on to younger generations.

Resilience to change:

With a mix of age groups, an organization is more likely to have experienced various industry cycles and changes, which can help in anticipating and adapting to future shifts. The combination of seasoned experience and fresh perspectives can make a company more agile and resilient.

Better representation and reputation:

A workforce that reflects the age diversity of society (and a company’s customer base) can help businesses understand and meet the needs of different demographic groups. This can enhance customer relationships and lead to better product or service design. Companies that demonstrate a commitment to diversity, including age diversity, also may enhance their reputations as inclusive employers, which can help them attract and retain talented employees.

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Misconceptions, Discrimination, and Biases about Aging Workers

Misconceptions and biases about older workers can hinder their full participation in the workplace. These include the false notions that older workers are less tech-savvy, less productive, resistant to change, unable to learn new skills, or are always on the verge of retirement.

Evidence is to the contrary. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that in jobs where experience and knowledge are important, older workers can be as productive as or even more productive than their younger counterparts. Likewise, a 2021 study by AARP found that two-thirds of older workers are interested in additional job or skills training and learning.

If they want to keep older workers, companies must actively counter misconceptions and implement policies that protect against age discrimination and promote inclusion.

Aging Workers Have Different Strengths

Aging workers bring unique strengths to the table. They often have longer experience and deeper ties with coworkers, customers, and stakeholders. Scholarship has shown aging workers also tend to have higher levels of employee engagement.

Our own recent Enboarder® research has shown that older workers are most likely to feel strongly connected to people at work – as 44% cited they have very strong connections in the workplace. That said, they are slightly less likely to say they have friendships with coworkers than younger peers – indicating there is room to expand those connections. Recognizing and utilizing the strengths of older workers can improve job satisfaction and productivity and drive better results across the organization.

But Aging Workers Also Have Different Needs

Hanging on to older workers can be a huge benefit to organizations – but organizations should also be prepared for the unique needs of this cohort.

We see many articles about millennials and Gen Z and meeting their needs – but older workers also have different income, work, flexibility, connection, and career development needs that must be considered.

Many older workers, for example, value job security and stability more than their younger counterparts and may have different income needs due to retirement planning, potential health concerns, and lifestyle changes. Some older workers continue working post-retirement, either out of financial necessity or a desire to stay active and engaged. This might include consulting work, seasonal jobs, or starting a small business. A 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that about 20% of Americans aged 65 and older were working or looking for work, reflecting the evolving needs and desires of older workers.

Enboarder’s recent pulse survey data shows that older workers across all regions are less likely to be planning to leave their jobs in the next year – in fact, a large plurality of workers (42%) between the ages of 58-75 said they plan to stay at their jobs 5 years or more.

That said, many older workers are often seeking flexible work arrangements as they transition more slowly into retirement. According to a 2019 study by the AARP, about 20% of workers over 65 are employed either part-time or in flexible job arrangements. These options allow older workers to continue earning an income while also having more time for personal interests, health, or family commitments.

Loneliness and isolation are other problems that increase as people age, so human connection is particularly key for this group. Medicare alone spends an extra $6.7 billion per year caring for socially isolated older adults, according to AARP, and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has found that healthy individuals who experience social well-being may have lower levels of interleukin-6, a chemical often found in age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

According to a 2023 Glassdoor study, employees of all ages are struggling to build meaningful connections at work, with positive mentions of “social life” decreasing by 39% since 2020. Nine in ten workers (89%) believe a sense of belonging is vital for workplace satisfaction and nearly half of all workers (49%) say a good social life has a significant impact on overall job satisfaction and mental health.

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Six Ideas for Strengthening Human Connections and Maximizing Impact for Older Workers

Strengthening human connections among older workers can help to create a better workplace for all.

Here are six ways to achieve this:

Create an inclusive company culture that values all workers regardless of age:

Recognize and celebrate age diversity in your company values, policies, and communications, and create policies that prevent age discrimination and dispel myths that lead to age biases.

Implement more effective communication strategies:

Adapt to the different communication styles and preferences of different generations by offering communication that appears in the flow of work and elevates key messages – ensuring what matters most in your organization is never missed. According to Cigna research: “workers who had the job resources of social companionship, good work-life balance, and satisfaction with communications were 53% less likely to be lonely than other employees.”

Cultivate and enable multi-generational teams:

Foster mutual respect and understanding and enable more innovative solutions by connecting workers of different ages on the same teams. This might include matrixed or virtual teams, where different generations are invited to collaborate. By deliberately creating teams with a mix of age groups, you can foster mutual respect and understanding. This diversity can also lead to more innovative solutions, as different generations bring different perspectives and experiences to the table.

Connect workers directly to one another on a personal level:

Team-building activities and social events can help foster personal connections and friendships between workers of different ages. Use networking games to break the ice and help people to connect in a human, meaningful way. Team-building activities and social events can help to foster personal connections between workers of different ages. You might also consider implementing a buddy system that pairs newer and older workers together.

Establish mentorship programs and cross-generational collaboration initiatives:

Use mentoring and buddy systems to provide a structured way for knowledge and skills to be shared across generations – ensuring continuity and limiting the loss of institutional knowledge. Older workers can share their experience and institutional knowledge, while younger workers can share their insights on new technologies and trends. Cross-generational collaboration initiatives can similarly promote shared learning and understanding.

Implement continuous learning and training programs for all age groups:

Lifelong learning should be encouraged for all workers, including training on new technologies, professional development opportunities, and education about diversity and inclusion. Make it easy for older workers to opt into and access skill-building programs.. Such programs can help to ensure that all workers, regardless of age, feel valued, capable, and engaged in their work.

Leveraging the strengths of older workers and addressing their unique needs can not only help organizations to address the talent crunch but it can also foster a more inclusive, effective, and satisfying workplace for everyone.

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