Our latest Employment advice article Dave Deruytter explains why age diversity is so important in the workplace.
Are you on the “30 under 30” list of successful people worldwide?
In the heyday of DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) in the world, but the aspect of “ageism” deserves to be properly addressed too. Race and gender are getting most of the attention in DEI, other aspects, including age, are only addressed in the periphery.
People are living longer all the time.
The legal retirement age is on the rise.
Due attention is warranted for the older generation of workers too.
Even more so given the raging “War for talent”.
Big Tech companies particularly, the FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google), are competing to have the youngest average employee age in their companies. The same is broadly true for the Chinese version of FAANG, BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent). The average age of all their employees is under or around 30 years young.
Jumping to conclusions, one could say, if those extremely successful companies are run on, or by, the younger generation, why bother too much about the older employees? Particularly because those productive youngsters are often even cheaper labour than the older ones.
The business world is increasingly dominated by technology.
The world of technology is changing ever more rapidly.
Young STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and IT graduates are increasingly more valuable for FAANG and BAT companies and for their future.
Still, as a lot of money is owned by the 45-plus generation, there may be a mismatch when it comes to selling the resulting products of Big Tech to them. Younger people may better understand the new technology, but to sell it to, or have it used by, an older generation, it is typically important to be able to look at the technology, or its solution, from the user’s perspective, taking into consideration their knowledge and experience.
Of course the debate about “ageism” should be about much more than only the value of older workers for Big Tech companies.
Their extensive experience is equally extremely useful socially, not only to coach the youngsters to a happy stable life, but just as much to add maturity and balance to a company and the direction it wants to go in. Whereas youngsters may easily produce 50 ideas for improvement, the older employees are extremely efficient at prioritising those ideas using a “low effort, high impact” approach. They have seen or experienced a lot, which speeds up the making of such choices substantially.
Furthermore, everyone, at whatever age, needs interesting intellectual or physical activities to stay healthy. Thus, as people are living on average until 80, businesses cannot just simply tell them at 50, “We will have to let you go”. Neither is it helpful to tease that generation with questions like “Aren’t you too quickly tired to keep up with such a stressful job?”. Businesses can create a win-win by helping their older employees to evolve within or even outside the company. Newcomers love to see the leavers being treated well because they too will leave one day. On top of that, it may be very costly to find and to keep many young white ravens, whereas motivated older sheep with four good legs may run many more miles.
One thing is clear: the interest – the love – needs to come from both sides. Older workers should keep on learning, changing and taking on new challenges. At the same time, they should keep their curiosity and drive to help get the desired results for the company. Last but not least, they should understand that salary is linked to added value for the company, not merely expertise and experience.
The world has changed greatly on the side of older employees compared to ten years ago. Back then, in Belgium, a 58-year-old worker had only two more years to go before retirement. Granted, that was early retirement, but the vast majority of employees retired at that age of 60 in those days. Today the retirement age in Belgium is 67, with less options to take early retirement and definitely not at 60 any more. For employees and employers alike, it is quite different to have two years to go, versus nine years, before retirement. Two years you can cover with a coaching role or another project, nine years means learning, changing, adapting and taking on one or a few more new challenges.
This world needs just as many “60 over 60” rankings as “30 under 30” ones. Who are the 60 best performing “60 plus” people worldwide?
Anyway, Mark Zuckerberg is in his late thirties, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are in their late forties and Jeff Bezos is in his late fifties. Even Elon Musk of Tesla turned 50 recently. And, no surprise, they are all getting older, year by year, just like everyone else.
In politics, age seems to matter much less: President Joe Biden is nearing 80.
For royalty, age seems even to be of no importance at all. Queen Elizabeth is over 95. The same can be said about many religious leaders.
On top of that, in the old days, the village head was indeed the village elder. This was because they had seen most village problems or upheavals pass by, getting solved or at least dealt with.
In conclusion, let us also fully embrace age diversity. Like any type of diversity, it should lead to better business, social and societal results.