New Study Debunks Age Bias in the Workplace. What Does That Mean for Your Business?
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Over the past couple of years, we’ve all heard lots of talk about the rise of millennials (or even younger generations) in the workplace and how they’re pushing out older employees. I know older folks who feel discouraged about their abilities, and I also know many millennials who are confidently stepping up into new roles. I've seen the reverse, albeit less often.
Recently, Addison Group published a survey of more than 1,000 full- and part-time employees, debunking some of the more popular misconceptions about the role of age in the workplace. It found that 90-plus percent of employees are satisfied with the diversity of age ranges in their workplace, while 79 percent reported they’d take a job at a company where the workforce skewed older, and 75 percent would take a job at a company where it skewed younger.
Here’s what this information about how employees view other generations at work means for your business.
It’s okay (and actually good) to hire people from different age groups.
The stats above demonstrate the lack of concern that most people have with diversity in age groups at the office. It’s also important to understand how people from different age groups bring unique skills to your company’s table. The same Addison Group research found that Gen Z and millennial workers were most appreciated for their tech-savviness. Gen-Xers were most appreciated for their work ethic, and baby boomers most for their leadership. These are generalizations, of course. Many boomers are also often technically skilled. But the general point stands: People from different age groups bring unique attributes to the table, and that’s to your company’s benefit.
I remember in one of my first jobs, the person I learned the most from wasn’t my younger boss, or even the senior executives I talked with, but a middle-aged manager. He gave me valuable personal advice about developing confidence, recommending I go out to a restaurant and eat by myself without a distraction to become more comfortable in my own skin. I took him up on the idea, and it’s proved very useful.
More recently, I ran a project where an intern on our team was assigned to more menial work. She came to me with a creative suggestion to connect a few software tools in order to more quickly capture our users’s email addresses. We ended up implementing her idea, and it worked splendidly.
In both these situations, I enjoyed working with diverse age groups and learned quite a bit from unexpected sources.
Be conscious of your own biases when screening for candidates.
I know too many baby boomers who are excellent leaders, quick learners and have kept up to date with the latest technology, only to get passed over for a job because of age. Some entrepreneurs don’t want to hire older people because they think they’ll have to pay a higher salary. That's a needless worry. Plenty of boomers are willing to earn just as much as their much younger peers, even if it’s less than they made at higher-profile jobs decades ago.
It’s one thing to say you’re considering all ages for roles at your company, and another entirely to verify you’re checking your unconscious biases, such as a belief that younger people perform more quickly, or that you get along best with people close to your own age. By doing so, you can instead focus on the aspects of candidates that really matter, like work ethic, personality type and skill sets.
Related: Ageism and the Gender-Pay Gap
Be thoughtful about age-based favoritism.
The Addison Group survey found that 45 percent of respondents believe millennials receive preferential treatment at work. That's still a significant number, despite the fact that the majority of people say preferential treatment isn't happening. However, it doesn’t eliminate valid concerns that older generations might have about being replaced. I have heard that concern voiced time and again, and have been in roles where I’m even a bit nervous about being replaced by someone younger. A workplace where older employees think the younger ones are being favored can turn toxic quickly.
In the research, 49 percent of respondents said millennials are the largest segment of their workplace, compared to 43 percent who said it was Gen X. Given the large numbers of millennials in the workforce, older generations might suppose that each new company initiative or process is targeted at appeasing those younger workers.
The reality is that changes in your company should benefit everyone, not simply one segment of your workforce. As a leader, it’s important to make sure you’re not only implementing changes for your younger employees. Furthermore, you should consider the messaging around workplace changes. Are they painting an accurate picture of how they benefit everyone, or are they susceptible to being misinterpreted by older workers?
By bringing together employees of all ages and thoughtfully creating a company culture that’s conducive to everyone doing their best work, you will be setting your business up for long-term success.