Written by Lim Sia Hoe.
Integrating a Multi-generational Workforce
With longer lifespans comes longer working
years. Workplaces have become increasingly age diverse with workers from all
age groups interacting together in shared spaces. Older workers find themselves
communicating and increasingly reporting to younger colleagues, while young
workers similarly have to work with and learn under their older counterparts.
This assimilation of a
multi-generational workforce does not come about naturally. Conversely, it is
more to our innate tendency to segregate ourselves. Growing up, many of us were
taught to accept that children are to go to school, adults are to go to work,
and seniors are to retire and rest. We deliberately structure our institutions
to categorise by age. Family is perhaps the only truly age integrated social
institution, and even then it is slowly eroding with today’s preference for
smaller nuclear families or singlehood.
One of the more visible consequences of
age segregation at the workplace is ageism. We often hear bitter stories by
older workers accusing employers of not hiring or not retaining them because
they are not as valuable or as affordable as their younger colleagues. Left
unchecked, ageism threatens social cohesion and undermines overall
productivity. We must therefore take proactive steps to foster integration between
the young and old, and create a workplace culture that celebrates its
How can we do it?
First and most fundamentally, we need a
mindset change. Fair consideration should not be equated with same
consideration. We must recognize the unique value that older workers can
contribute to the workplace. Many bring with them years of experience, wisdom,
loyalty and dependability. These qualities should be recognised and measured in
a different manner from the qualities that we look for in a younger worker.
Second, employers and supervisors have
to actively guard against ageism by employing positive practices. This includes
having in place mixed-age work teams as much as possible to allow both sides to
work together and leverage each other’s strengths. This also includes
organizing programmes to help themselves and their staff understand the
cultural differences in terms of management styles and communications between
workers of different age groups. Of course, employers should also introduce
progressive work arrangements such as flexible working hours, which serve to
benefit all staff, not least older workers.
Third, older workers must certainly
play their role too. They should be pro-active in engaging the younger
colleagues and supervisors and demonstrating their value. Today, baby boomers
form the demographic bulk. With their education and means, there is much they
can teach those around them. And this extends beyond the workplace and into the
communities. In Japan, many communities are re-purposing empty school
classrooms to be meeting place for seniors. Often, these seniors volunteer to
teach students on subjects like arts & crafts, or history, with good
Lastly, we continue to need strong
leadership from the Government to work in partnership with the unions,
employers, and workers, to promote intergenerational integration. We need
measures to help workplaces transform and adopt better practices in relation to
employing older workers. At the same time, we require a tough stance on fair
employment practices, and non-age discrimination.
It is good to remind ourselves that integrating a multi-generational
workforce does not come about on its own. Indeed, it would be costly to assume
so. A concerted effort by all sides remains necessary to make this a reality.