A lot of the work we have been doing at Duo recently has been focussed on diversity and inclusion. With all of the actions of 2020 so far, this has come even more to the forefront. Although a lot of our work has been focussed specifically around race & gender, there is often an unspoken area of diversity – age diversity, and the role of the older worker. We have previously worked with the National Careers Service on the government’s Fuller Working Lives Agenda. This agenda looks at how as the population ages, employers need to draw on the skills and experience of older workers to avoid loss of labour. It also explains how working longer can improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and bring the benefits of a multi-generational workforce to businesses.
There is no better example of someone who challenged, advocated, and became a shining example of fuller working lives, in addition to diversity across the board, than Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Ginsberg became a lifetime advocate for women’s rights, for the LGBTQ community, and more recently for older workers. In this post we are going to explore the benefits of older workers, explore some models for a change of perspective and outline ways to better utilise older workers in your business, and enhance your diversity and inclusion policies accordingly.
Do we need to re-think the working life of the older worker?
According to the Minster for Employment Alok Sharma, citing work done through the fuller working lives agenda, discovered that only 39% of people who retire did so because they wanted to. That means that a huge 61% wanted to work longer but were either unable to, or didn’t have the opportunities to.
People are, for the most part, living longer and healthier lives than ever before, and people are starting to change their view on the traditional retirement at state pension age. We are seeing more people work longer, often in more flexible formats like Non-Executive Director roles, or voluntary capacities, or in running their own businesses.
The fuller working lives agenda supports the thought process that the traditional view of just waiting out retirement, is no longer forefront of a lot of older workers minds. As humans – we seek meaning and purpose in our lives, and according to studies, having work which is meaningful provides purpose in later life and significantly improves health, wellbeing and happiness.
In an article on the age diversity forum, by Tony Williams, he writes:
“From a work perspective, you may have a career where you feel you have good choices, and/or, an enlightened employer who offers well thought out tracks than you can choose, or you may simply be very clear on your post work life plan; in which case, good on you. I’d suggest though that for many of us none of the above applies and with the absence of a statutory retirement date we may well go with the flow until the ‘NRA’ date kicks in and the pension sort of looks ok?
But are we missing a trick here; is that just a passive route to the ‘Scrap Heap’?
Whilst employers and governments really haven’t got to grips with all of this yet, that doesn’t mean as individuals we are without agency or influence over what we would like our later working lives to be and for how long. I’d humbly suggest that to start with it needs a bit of deep thinking and reflection. You may already have 30 or more years in the world of employ. You may have loved all of it, you may have hated all of it, but most likely it will have been a bit of a mixed bag.
The killer question though is ‘what do you want for the next chapter of your work life?’, and that’s probably in the context of your wider life. If you are in your fifties and in reasonably good health, you’ll have a good chance of living another 25, 30 or more years, and with good habits and ever improving medical technology, the majority of those years should be in good health too.“
Dan Sullivan, entrepreneur and founder of Strategic Coach has a different kind of longevity goal than most people – to live until he is 156, and work most of that time.
He talks about how just thinking differently about the possibilities and changing his mindset about aging has helped him feel better and more capable of achieving his goal of living to 156. In Strategic Coach, Sullivan says, “Your eyes only see and your ears only hear what your brain is looking for,” which applies directly to the mindset you need to live much longer.
So, whether you are an individual reading this, or an employer, how could you change your view on age in the workplace, provide better opportunities in line with the fuller working lives concept, and utilise the skillsets of everyone in your business to their fullest potential?
Fuller Working Lives In Practice – Ruth Bader Ginsberg A Shining Example
A perfect personification of the growth older workers can have is Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Aside from being a driving force for gender equality, Ginsberg served 27 years as a Supreme Court Judge, appointed when she was 60 years old, and continuing her tenure until her recent passing at the age of 87 years old. Let’s have a look at just some of her key accolades later in her life:
- Appointed in 1993, aged 60, Ginsberg became only the second Supreme Court female Judge and provided an example of a powerful, confident female leader. Ginsburg’s impact on empowerment didn’t stop with her generation or the next – she’s continued to energize young women. Her rise as a pop culture icon has inspired books, movies and even Halloween costumes for young girls.
- In 1993, aged 60, she wrote the majority opinion that it was unconstitutional for state schools to bar women in the US. From this ruling – all state schools now have to admit both genders equally.
- In 2007, aged 74, Ginsburg famously dissented from the Supreme Court’s decision on the pay discrimination case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co, which supported in making huge strides towards equal pay for women.
- In 2015, aged 82, Ginsberg was integral in the 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges, which allowed queer women and the rest of the LGBTQ community the right to same-sex marriages in all 50 states, ended in a 5-4 ruling. Without Ginsburg, the outcome for granting same-sex marriages in the US may have been different.
Despite all of this, Ginsberg repeatedly experienced age discrimination, particularly during her tenure as a Supreme Court judge. This started in her late 60s, during President Bill Clinton’s administration where she faced a lot of pressure to retire so that a Democrat could replace her. Twenty years later, when she expressed concerns about President Trump, he tweeted back that Ginsberg’s “mind is shot”, essentially suggesting because of her age she could no longer do her job.
So why didn’t Ginsberg step down? She simply loved her work, and said she would continue until she felt like she couldn’t anymore – she didn’t want to put a timeline on herself. You only have to look at some of her accolades to know that she was a passionate, invested and brilliant woman. Her nickname, the “Notorious RGB,” reflects her lifetime of advocacy for women and members of the LGBTQ community. Most recently, she also became one of the only leaders in the US who truly stood up for the rights of older workers.
She famously said, when asked by CNN in 2018 when she planed to retire:“I’m now 85. My senior colleague Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90. So, I think I have about at least five more years.”
Fuller Working Lives – The Benefits of Recruiting & Retraining Older Workers
The benefits of recruiting and retraining older workers are vast, and if Ginsberg is anything to go by, your business could be significantly missing out if you are underestimating the performance contribution this generation of your workforce can have.
More often than not the one key benefit that older workers have is experience. Whether this is skill based, life based, or simply just having been in an industry for a while to witness change and development, this experience is invaluable. The below are some areas that you could benefit from the experience of an older worker:
It is likely that someone more experienced has performed a role at different levels, in different situations and within varying parameters. There is nothing more frustrating than being trained in something by someone who has very little experience with it, or has never actually done the job themselves. You can utilise someone’s experience across the training function, from training delivery to input into continuous improvement strategies or writing of training and processes.
Similar to the benefits with training, when seeking out a mentor most people are looking for someone who has “been round the block” so to speak, and has experienced both the ups and downs to be able to mentor, advise and challenge you from a place of experience. Mentoring, when employed correctly in a business, can be a game changer to people’s performance and motivation levels, and for the mentor themselves they often get just as much satisfaction and personal growth out of the process as the person they are mentoring.
We always want to put our best foot forward when working with clients, and often someone with more experience and who has worked with a range of clients and projects is the best fit for this. Whether this is client facing in interacting with a client directly, or whether this is looking at the client experience and standards in the business to improve delivery, an older worker with more experience adds invaluable knowledge and perspective.
There may seem to be a missing gap on this list – leadership. The reason we haven’t identified this as a separate element is that this is often the one area that most businesses get right when it comes to older workers. If you have had a more traditional stepping stone career and reached the top level of a business often older workers are embraced at leadership level for the knowledge and experience they bring. The challenge is more apparent in workers who aren’t in leadership, where maybe they have had more of an established career at one level and aren’t interested in hierarchical progression, but are still motivated, engaged and passionate about personal growth on a more horizontal scale.
A point to note on the above – what we aren’t saying is that any of these roles can’t be done by younger people effectively, we are just highlighting some of the benefits brought to the table by having more senior people in the business, and areas they would add a lot of additional value to.
What Steps Can You Take To Ensure You Benefit From a Diverse Generational Workplace?
When we think about age discrimination, or discrimination in general, we often forget about the courage it takes for people to have to demand their human and legal rights to remain in the workplace.
- Look at the diversity of your project teams and departments. Diversity across the board on projects, or departments is essential. People that are very similar typically think in the same way. If you just put a team full of 20 somethings, or just a team full of 60 somethings, it increases the chances of everyone thinking in a similar way – when you mix the team to include a variety of generations (in addition to other classes like gender and race) – that is when the magic happens. All of a sudden you see people talking and thinking in a different way, with perspectives they could never have got without the variation.
- Offer similar levels of flexibility to older workers as you would to those that are studying, or in their child rearing ages. Often we see businesses offer great flexibility around maternity or paternity, or around people studying alongside work, but this flexibility is less apparent for older workers. Often the older workers in your business have other challenges – aging parents who may need additional support, grandchildren, health concerns – it is important to offer flexibility to your workforce across the board where needed, but equally not assume it is needed just based on someone’s stage of life.
- Take time to understand career aspirations. This goes for any generation in your workforce, but sometimes we can make presumptions about older workers, assuming that as they approach retirement age they don’t want additional responsibility or growth – some will, some won’t – but it is important to take the time to understand aspirations at every level and work stage.
Diversity is important at every level, but it should never be done as just a tick box exercise – it should always be about adding value to the work experiences of team members, and delivering the strategic aims of your business. If you are looking at how you can manage fuller working lives within your business, the key is to step back from your business and really look at:
- Are you fully identifying and utilising the strengths of each individual in your team?
- Do you have diversity of age ranges in your business?
- Are you creating teams that are diverse and multigenerational with different perspectives and experiences?
- Are you making assumptions about the motivations of your older workers as they approach retirement?
- Are you fully utilising the experience and knowledge of your older workers?
For more information around how you can enhance your diversity and inclusion strategies, or in particular, work around the government’s fuller working lives agenda, please get in touch to find out more about the work we have been doing.