Increasing age diversity in the workplace can be a bane in terms of communication across generations and differences in cultural and social preferences. Organizations with aging employees must also contend with employee turnover. However, having a large workforce with increasing age diversity also has many benefits that are often overlooked. Age diversity in the workplace provides a larger spectrum of knowledge, values, and preferences.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF AGE DIVERSITY AT WORK
As an example of generational differences that can benefit the workplace, older employees will often fall back on their experience, while younger employees will fall back on their academic skills. This provides the workplace with a wide variety of skills and abilities. However, large age diversity in the workplace can also pose a challenge to the organization, especially in terms of communication and work styles.
While the benefits of age diversity will typically only increase to a point, and then begin to decrease, the disadvantages of age diversity will continue to increase as a workplace becomes increasingly diverse. Perhaps as a result of these limitations, it is commonly believed that age diversity among employees is a problem to be solved.
The authors of this study (Backes-Gellner & Veen, 2013) produce research findings that run contrary to many commonly held beliefs. They examine the costs, benefits, and consequences of age diversity in the workplace.
DIVERSITY OF AGE AT WORK FOSTERS A LARGER KNOWLEDGE BASE
The study determined that when employees are largely diversified in age, it naturally leads to a larger knowledge base with more varied experience. This can in turn affect overall organizational performance, as a workplace gains greater ability to deal with varying roles and tasks.
While age diversity has a considerable positive effect on the productivity of an organization, this benefit only exists when problems or tasks are not structured. Dynamic situations leave more opportunity for various voices to collaborate and innovate. When events are viewed by a diverse group of employees, differing opinions and mental models come into play which can lead to ground-breaking solutions. In these cases, the costs of an age diverse workforce pays off many times over.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
The paper has important implications, especially for countries with aging workforces, such as Japan. An aging workforce can be used to great advantage, but only if organizations are open to working creatively. It is imperative that vast age diversity not be viewed as a problem to solve, but rather as a useful tool for achieving innovation and creative solutions. This kind of knowledge can also help organizations build a more successful diversity and inclusion strategy.
Backes-Gellner, U. & Veen, S. (2013). Positive effects of ageing and age diversity in innovative companies – large-scale empirical evidence on company productivity. Human Resource Management Journal, 23(3), 279-295.