Age Diversity in the Workplace: Myths, Debunked

In a virtual world, age seems invisible. This makes age diversity in the workplace appear seamless (i.e., difficult to discern the exact age of a given colleague).

However, with the transparency of our digital work environments (Zoom calls, LinkedIn profiles, etc.), many of us who have been business professionals for some time can divulge decades of experience with younger employees.

At some companies, age diversity is often embraced, with Millennials and Gen Zers working side by side with Gen Xers and even Baby Boomers. At other orgs, younger talent is prioritized while older members of the workforce are essentially discarded.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act was specifically designed to ensure equal opportunity around hiring, promotions, raises, compensation, and other job-related benefits for employees 40 and older in the United States.

That said, there are still instances today in which companies show a clear preference for employing and promoting younger workers.

In short, this is a mistake on part of these businesses. Why? Because AARP research shows an age-diverse workforce leads to greater sharing of knowledge. This benefits all employees, especially members of younger age groups who can learn new skill sets.

benefits of a diverse workforce

Benefits of age diversity in the workforce: 3 myths around older professionals, debunked

With that in mind, we wanted to debunk three myths related to older workers — notably, ones around their supposed lack of innovation and worsening performance as they age.

Myth #1: Older professionals’ work suffers due to poor skill sets.

A recent Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience study found older workers’ productivity and cognitive performance to be more consistent than that of their younger counterparts.

Per the report, older workers (especially those age 55 and up) who lac in “modern” skill sets “can learn high-tech skills if they are given the opportunity and incentive to do so,” and that “it’s a real mistake to assume that ‘old’ and ‘tech’ are opposites.”

Just as your org likely offers internal talent development options to younger members of your workforce and, in general, prioritizes employee engagement among young workers, it’s important to remember the same opportunities should be afforded to older employees.

Once trained in new areas, employees of all ages can excel with new types of work and roles.

That includes more mature members of your company, many of whom are eager to broaden their expertise and even take on new positions later in life (and can thrive in said positions just as well as younger employees).

lever 2022 state of dei report

Myth #2: Even in a ‘down’ jobs market, older workers aren’t worth hiring.

Within industries where qualified candidates are scarce but in high demand, employers are exploring creative ways to encourage older workers to stay, HR Executive’s Carol Patton wrote.

Not only does their institutional knowledge and experience offer value, per Carol, but older workers’ ability to mentor and train fledgling recruits and ‘green’ employees deepens their usefulness.

Industries like healthcare are finding a talent shortage, as many members of their staff approach retirement age.

For example, St. Luke’s Health System has addressed just such a challenge by being “open and flexible with any employee who would like to return or stay,” St. Luke’s Senior Director of Talent Management Sarah Sorgi related to HR Executive.

While companies in all sectors have to deal with high employee turnover rates from time to time, implementing approaches like this can help alleviate the loss of top-performing, experienced workers.

What’s more, it ensures critical business objectives and KPIs can still be realized, even when internal SMEs leave their roles.

dei survey report employers care about diversity

Myth #3: It’s laborious to train older workers who reenter the workforce.

Older workers who have taken time off from their career to raise children or care for aging or ill family members offer a multitude of benefits as they return to the marketplace.

These skills vary widely: from knowing how to manage stress and navigate uncertainty, to employing a big-picture viewpoint in their day-to-day work.

Offering a culture of continuous learning and development will help bridge generational skills gaps, including and especially for older workers who decide to change careers or reenter the workforce.

As European Commission VP for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Šuica shared in a Q&A with the World Economic Forum, bringing older workers onboard offers many pros for businesses today.

“While reskilling at any age is becoming a reality for many, the contribution that older workers can make in this effort is not yet sufficiently tapped,” Dubravka noted.

“By mentoring and guiding younger colleagues, older workers can pass on their expertise and knowledge while transitioning into new roles themselves.”

Download our special report on diversity and inclusion initiatives implemented at companies across the globe today and how employees view their own orgs’ efforts around DEI.

dei report

Further reading