For the first time in history we are seeing up to five different generations in the workplace, with the age gap between these individuals reaching up to 50 years. Ahead of the Reward Financial Engagement Forum on 15 November, Kavitha Sivasubramaniam spoke to Ali Hawker, senior evidence manager, Centre for Ageing Better, about how to engage with a multigenerational workforce, from millennials to retirees.

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What’s your involvement/experience in this area?

The Centre for Ageing Better is an independent charity working to create a society where everyone enjoys a good later life. One aspect of this is ensuring people aged 50-plus have the opportunity to be in fulfilling work that supports a good later life. Work is important financially but is also a major source of social connections. Fulfilling work that suits the individual can give a sense of purpose, and help keep people active.


We have recently launched a programme of research aimed at employers to better understand how we can make workplaces more age-friendly. This research will bring together existing published evidence and quantitative data, along with surveys and qualitative research with employers and recruiters, to find out how employers can take action that makes a positive difference to their older employees. The research will focus on three important aspects of age at work – facilitating and supporting flexible working; tackling age bias in recruitment; and managing multigenerational teams effectively.


The findings will be relevant to all employers as they take on the implications of a multigenerational workforce and seek to create a positive and inclusive working environment for people of all ages. Our previous research has shown that people of all ages want the same things – a meaningful and interesting role with social interaction, work–life balance, scope to contribute their ideas and experience, and opportunities for learning and progression. However, older workers are less likely to have access to flexibility and development opportunities.


How can employers ensure their financial benefits offering suits the needs of the vast majority of their workforce?


Income matters. However, our research shows that progression and development, autonomy and a sense of still being valued are also important for fulfilling work in later life. While of course this does include financial recognition, it is also about a culture that is inclusive, non-discriminatory and open to all, including for example supporting staff to work more flexibly.


Other benefits which could go beyond the financial include support to prepare for retirement. A recent survey conducted by the Centre for Ageing Better found that one in five adults who retired in the last five years admitted to finding it difficult, while only around half of UK workers planning to retire in the next five years are looking forward to it. Most people don’t seek advice or help to prepare for their retirement. Nearly half are headed for a ‘cliff-edge retirement’ where they work one day and stop completely the next. Of those preparing for retirement, managing their money is the biggest concern.


Pre-retirement courses can give employees the opportunity to reflect and take stock of their strengths, skills and personal attributes. They also help boost people’s sense of self-worth, and leave them feeling better equipped and confident to deal with change and future challenges.

 Ali Hawker and our other expert panellists will be answering your questions at the Reward Financial Engagement Forum in London on 15 November. To join us, click here.


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How can employers ensure their benefit communications are appropriate for the growing Generation Y workforce?


Generational labels aren’t really that helpful in this area. Our research suggests that people are broadly looking for the same kinds of things from work, and age is probably less important than health status, gender or caring responsibilities when it comes to accessing benefits and support from employers.


The most important thing is that benefits are communicated and managed in ways that are genuinely open to all, regardless of age. Evidence shows that older workers are less likely to access the same level of support than younger workers, especially in areas such as flexibility or learning and development. Older women in particular are more likely to report being overlooked for promotion or training. If employers want to retain their older workers, they need to treat them equitably and fairly.


All employees deserve to be respected and treated in the same way. Many more people are working longer, and in order to thrive in this new reality businesses need to get better not just at recruiting and retaining older workers, but engaging them.


What’s the cost to employers of not engaging with their multigenerational workforce?


The multigenerational workforce is here – not engaging with it is not an option unless employers don’t want to engage at all! Failing to create an age-friendly and inclusive workforce can leave both older and younger workers dissatisfied in their jobs, leading to loss of talented employees and entrenching divides between generations in the workforce. Successfully managing multigenerational workforces can be highly beneficial, maximising the diversity of perspectives and skills, as well as giving older employees the opportunity to pass on valued experience and skills to their younger colleagues.


With employers facing large-scale labour and skills shortages, the business case is clear. It’s estimated that for every two older workers leaving the workforce in the next decade, there will only be one school leaver to replace them. Retaining people over 50 through providing fulfilling work and an age-friendly workplace environment is good for society, good for business and, most importantly, good for people themselves.


Why should attendees come along to the conference, where you will be taking part in a panel discussion?


This discussion will challenge and disrupt the general consensus around older workers. Our ageing workforce is one of the biggest issues facing the labour market today, and without proper action, it is not only older workers who will suffer – but businesses too.


Being age friendly should be a marker of every successful organisation. Older workers are a source of highly-developed expertise and problem-solving, and have often built up years of experience, yet many employers are not making the most of this talent. With 80% of the UK’s wealth in the hands of people over 50, there is a huge opportunity for businesses to develop a workforce which better reflects and understand their customers. But businesses have yet to take age seriously as a diversity issue, and are failing to take up this opportunity because they do not know how to create age-friendly workplaces.