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Fostering a multigenerational workforce

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Fostering a Multigenerational Workforce                                                                            

Al Waller: There’s an intriguing, emerging new trend involving today’s multigenerational workforce bringing an array of skills, expertise, and life experiences to the workplace. It’s interesting that researchers at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Developme – or OECD – have found that age diversity in the workplace not only improves performance and productivity but also enhances the employee experience.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health and Wealth SM. I’m your host, Al Waller. Joining me is Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of nonprofit Transamerica Institute® to discuss what a multigenerational workforce is and how employers can foster one.

Before we get started – a reminder that we would love to hear from you and learn what topics you would like us to cover or give us feedback on today’s show. Please drop me or Catherine a note at [email protected].

Catherine, can you start us off by describing what the term multigenerational workforce means?

Catherine Collinson: Today, there are four, and some experts would even argue five, generations currently in the workforce – hence the term “multigenerational.” Generation Z is the youngest generation, and many are still not yet of working age. The oldest Gen Zers are about 25 years old.

Millennials, who used to be the youngest generation in the workforce – are no longer. They are now in their mid-twenties to their early forties. Generation X is in its early forties to late fifties, and Baby Boomers are now in their late fifties to late seventies – these are the four generations that are in the workforce.

Now, as I mentioned, some experts argue about a fifth generation. That’s the Silent Generation – and the youngest of the Silent Generation are now 77-years old. And believe it or not, there are still a few that are still in the workforce.

Al Waller: When you consider all of this, it’s really quite remarkable. Think about it – the age span of today’s working population is 60-plus years.

On top of that, it encompasses a tremendous degree of diversity in terms of education, skills, and work experience. Then you throw in the fact that older workers who were born in the 1950s have very different childhoods and life experiences than those born in the early 2000s.

Just think about this other example… Workers born in the 1950s were well into their forties before the internet came online, whereas those born in the early 2000s have never lived in a world without the internet – and I think that’s pretty extraordinary.

Catherine Collinson: Al, these are terrific examples and let's just pause on that – spanning sixty years – we have a workforce with age ranges spanning sixty years. I'd like to invite our listeners to really think about all the ways that the world and the workforce have changed, especially in recent decades.

Think about societal changes, advances in technology, the knowledge-based economy. We've solved some problems over the decades, and we have some more that we're facing right now. But just think of the wide range of skills and life experience that workers are bringing to the workplace. It's really exciting.

The multigenerational workforce can promote innovation, problem solving, and productivity – and it makes for an exciting workplace for employees. Yet the power of the multigenerational workforce has not yet been fully recognized or realized by employers.

Our most recent employer survey finds that almost nine in 10 employers consider themselves to be age-friendly. When I use the term age-friendly, I mean by offering opportunities, work arrangements, and training and tools needed for workers of all ages to be successful.

So, nine in 10 employers think they're age-friendly. Our worker survey tells us otherwise. Only 65 percent of workers say their employers are age-friendly and then the percentage of workers drops among Baby Boomers. Only 59 percent of Baby Boomer workers think their employers are age-friendly.

Al Waller: Wow, talk about a major disconnect!! What measures would you recommend employers take to become more age-friendly and foster a culture of diversity, equity, as well as inclusion for their employees of all ages?

Catherine Collinson: Great question. There are emerging best practices that I hope employers will consider implementing. Based on my own team's research, I'd love to share with you some of these best practices and the extent to which employers either are or are not yet offering them. How does that sound?

Al Waller: Sounds great. Share away, Catherine. What is the first best practice you’d like to cover with us?

Catherine Collinson: A true testament of an employer’s commitment to age-friendly workplaces is communicating its philosophy. Only 34 percent of employers of for-profit companies have implemented a Diversity & Inclusion Policy Statement that specifically references “age” among other commonly referenced demographic characteristics.

Al Waller: Well, it sounds like there is room for a lot of improvement here. How about another best practice?

Catherine Collinson: The next best practice relates to an employer’s emphasis on professional growth and development. With workers potentially spending more time in the workforce over their working years – especially in today’s fast-paced environment – it’s so important that we all embrace lifelong learning and keep our job skills up to date.

According to our survey findings, fewer than six in 10 employers (58 percent) emphasize professional growth and development either a great deal or quite a bit as part of their corporate culture.

For job seekers out there, this is an important topic for you to inquire about when considering employment opportunities. Just think about an employer that you can go work for versus one that you can go work for and grow with – because they do have a commitment to your professional growth. That leads to more opportunities with that employer or someday, later on, your next employer.

Al Waller: Agreed, and I think it works both ways because I witnessed and interviewed far too many who allowed their skills to erode over the years. For instance, I'm talking about folks in the field of information technology, clinging to their legacy technology that became somewhat dated and ultimately limited in their demand, making them less marketable or promotable for that matter.

Now, what are some specific types of programs that employers currently offer to promote lifelong learning?

Catherine Collinson: Let's start with job training. Fewer than half of employers – only 45 percent – offer job training. Even fewer offer professional development programs or tuition reimbursement for continuing education. I would like to point out our research finds that larger companies are much more likely to offer these types of programs than smaller companies.

Al Waller: What about programs that relate specifically to the multigenerational workforce?

Catherine Collinson: Let's talk about mentorships. Thirty-seven percent of employers have mentorship programs that are typically between older and younger employees, but fewer than one in four employers (24 percent) have mutual or what we call reverse mentorships, for example, sharing intergenerational skills and experience.

A common example of a reversementorship could be a younger employee who teaches a colleague about a new technology.

Years ago, I had the fantastic experience of getting involved in an informal mutual mentorship. It was with a digital team, and this team was writing about 401(k)s, but they didn't know about 401(k)s. I needed to get on social media – I needed to learn Twitter, but I didn't know Twitter. We worked out an arrangement where I taught them about 401(k)s so that they could write their articles, and they taught me Twitter. That's an example of a mutual mentorship. It wasn't formal, but that's exactly what it was. And it was fun.

In speaking of skills and skills transfer, another exciting attribute and best practice in the multigenerational workforce is internships. Internships are a way to bring people of all ages together to help people who are recent college graduates or just entering the workforce gain that practical knowledge and hands-on experience.

Approximately 1 in 4 employers offer internship programs. I would love to see this number higher. We have interns and internships for our team, and they just bring so much to our team, our culture, and how we work together. It's really exciting to see them grow their skills and embark on their careers.

Approximately the same number (1 in 4 employers) have what are called “returnships”. Returnships are internships for people who are returning to the workforce. These could be stay-at-home mom and dads, veterans, and even retirees.

Internships and returnships are other great ways to foster a multigenerational workforce.

The last thing I'd like to touch on in this whole context of growth and development is training programs. Relatively few employers have training programs that address generational differences and help prevent age discrimination. Even fewer employers have multigenerational Employee Resource Groups or ERGs.

Al Waller: Well, it appears that alternative work arrangements could be applicable to a multigenerational workforce, right? I mean, given the course of the pandemic, employers implemented remote working, and flexible schedules overnight – based on worker demand, it does seem like they're here to stay, right?

Catherine Collinson: Well, I sure hope so. I'm so glad that you asked because alternative work arrangements are indeed a best practice for a multigenerational workforce. The pandemic has been so difficult in so many ways, but there has been a silver lining – that is, it has created exciting new work arrangements and opportunities and potentially a more inclusive workforce.

The added flexibility of alternative work arrangements lends itself to people who might otherwise have been unable to work. For example, students, stay-at-home moms and dads, caregivers, people with mobility or transportation limitations, even those transitioning to retirement. In short, alternative work arrangements can be helpful to workers at all stages of life.

I want to share some good news here. According to our survey findings, nine in 10 employers (92%) offer one or more types of alternative work arrangements. The most commonly cited are flexible schedules, followed by the ability to adjust work hours as needed and the ability to work remotely.

Al Waller: That's really encouraging, Catherine. As referenced, during my career in the field of human resources management, I knew a number of people who – due to family responsibilities – simply had to give up their employment because they just didn't have some of these options available to them. So, this is really good news here.

You mentioned caregivers – what sort of presence do they make up in the workforce?

Catherine Collinson: Al, I'm so glad you asked the question, and you may be surprised by what our research has found. We know the number of family caregivers is growing with increases in longevity, as well as the aging of the Baby Boomer population (those who are retired). But the extent to which workers are also serving as caregivers could be elusive to employers – let me share with you the numbers.

Almost four in 10 workers (38 percent) are either currently caregivers or have been a caregiver in the past. There are some surprising generational differences. There are some widespread perceptions – or rather misperceptions – that caregiving is limited to older workers. That is not what our research finds. We see a high prevalence of caregivers across generations among Gen Z, Gen X, and Baby Boomers – and the prevalence is highest among Millennials.

Now across generations, many caregivers have had to make adjustments to their employment situation as a result of their caregiving responsibilities – the most common being missing days of work. But at the far other end of the spectrum, some workers have had to give up their employment altogether.

I think it's really important to put a spotlight on this. They are caregiving out of a labor of love, but it could be harmful to their own careers, their own employment, and their long-term financial situation and ability to save for retirement and afford their own care.

This is a really big issue for workers, but I need to point out, this is also an issue for employers. It could lead to productivity issues, absenteeism, and even their ability to retain valuable employees.

Al Waller: Well, again, I've witnessed these challenges firsthand for both employees and employers. Your heart really goes out to everyone because each side is basically between that proverbial rock and a hard place. So then, to what extent are employers implementing programs to support caregiving employees?

Catherine Collinson: The good news is that most employers are doing something, but the not-so-good news is they are not doing enough…yet. The most commonly cited program offered among employers is unpaid leave of absence and that’s at 37 percent of employers.

Relatively few employers offer things like a paid leave of absence, online resources for caregivers, an employee assistant program, referrals and discounts to backup care, or something I think is important – very few employers offer training for managers about how to handle situations with caregiving employees.

Al Waller: I think that's such a great point – the empathy factor needs to certainly be front and center. Really, as the Baby Boomer generation grows older, there's no doubt that caregiving is going to continue to expand and be an issue of importance for both employers and employees.

It really goes without saying, that it's in everyone's best interest for employers to step up in their support for caregiving employees versus potentially losing them. When employees don't feel valued or their needs met, they do tend to vote with their feet.

Now, I'd like to pursue another dimension of the multigenerational workforce and that's the persistency or at least a perception of ageism in the workplace. Let's face it, historically older workers have tended to be overlooked by employers in their employee recruiting and retention efforts.

So, it seems to me that an all-important aspect of a multigenerational workforce is recognizing the wisdom and values of our older workers.

Catherine Collinson: For me, this is a huge issue and an area of opportunity. With increases in longevity, workers want and need to work longer to save and prepare for a secure retirement. And they can only be successful if they have support from employers.

Our research finds glimmers of hope. For example, almost 6 in 10 employers say they gave either a great deal or quite a bit of consideration to job applicants, age 50 and older, during the pandemic. And more than 8 in 10 employers agree they are supportive of their employees working past age 65.

But is this real or is this just lip service? For me – the jury is still out. There's some academic research out there based on evidence that suggests that employers are not as open to older workers as they might think they are – just the same as they’re not as age-friendly as they might think they are.

Al Waller: Unfortunately, I'm inclined to agree with you and almost really afraid to ask – what kind of data did your recent research uncover on this?

Catherine Collinson: I'd like to share a recent study led by University of California Irvine. This study has found that the use of ageist language in job ads discourages applications from older workers – and in the case of this study, older workers are those ages 40 and up. Quoting the study’s co-author, David Neumark, UCI Distinguished Professor of economics and codirector of the Center for Population, Inequality and Policy, David states, “This practice has roughly as large an impact on the hiring of older workers as direct age discrimination practices.”

That's heavy…that these subtleties – and it could even be unconscious on the part of employers, the way they write job ads – could actually encourage potentially younger applicants and discourage older job applicants. It raises the question – how does an employer create an age-friendly job ad so that the job resonates for applicants of all ages?

So, even though that's a bit of a discouraging note, I do want to share with you some exciting news on the other hand. This relates to a project that my team and I have been working on for several years.

Transamerica Institute has collaborated with University of Iowa's College of Public Health on an initiative in the state of Colorado. It's called Age-Inclusive Management Strategies or AIMS Colorado. The response among Colorado’s state government and local employers has been tremendous. They recognize the value and wisdom of older workers and the opportunity they present in terms of enriching the lives of Coloradoans and the success of their overall economy.

If you want to learn more about this project, please visit our website at transmericainstitute.org/AIMS.

Al Waller: Well, count me in Catherine! That sounds terrific – with companies getting a better handle on succession planning in terms of knowledge transfer to ensure they don't miss the boat or miss a beat losing valued and veteran expertise.

Do you have any final thoughts before we wrap things up today?

Catherine Collinson: For all the employers out there who are listening, I hope this episode of ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth inspires you to learn more about the multigenerational workforce and best practices – and even better, may encourage you to implement some best practices.

For all of the people in the workforce who are out there listening, I hope this conversation has been enlightening for you, especially so you can be on the lookout for these best practices with your current employer, as well as take them into consideration for future employers. After all, you are the multigenerational workforce!

Al Waller: Could not have said it better myself. Thank you so much again, Catherine. This has really been illuminating.

I’d like to remind everyone of our recent podcasts on the importance of green spaces, the health benefits of dance, and transitioning to retirement.

If you have ideas for future episodes, comments, or feedback, please email me or Catherine at [email protected]. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast so you don’t miss upcoming episodes.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about health and wellness, employment, financial literacy, longevity, and retirement. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org/podcast.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Catherine Collinson is the founding president and CEO of nonprofit Transamerica Institute and its Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, and she is a champion for Americans who are at risk of not achieving a financially secure retirement. With two decades of retirement industry-related experience, Catherine is a nationally recognized voice on workforce, aging, and retirement trends. She was named a 2018 Influencer in Aging by PBS’ Next Avenue. In 2016, she was honored with a Hero Award from Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) for her tireless efforts in helping improve retirement security among women.