The last few years have seen a sea of change in the business sphere.
The Great Resignation, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, led to tens of thousands of people voluntarily leaving their jobs for new pastures, causing a seismic shift in the global workforce.
The pandemic served as a major catalyst for this exodus, prompting people from a wide range of industries to profoundly re-evaluate their work and life priorities.
This re-evaluation included everything from the realization that the traditional 9-5 workday was not the only viable option to realizing flexible working was far more possible than we thought—all the way to people deciding to call it quits entirely and take early retirement.
For some, the pandemic seems like a distant memory. But, we’re still struggling to recover from the repercussions, and the mass exodus from the workforce is a looming and growing problem. Before the pandemic, the skills gap was something to keep an eye on. Today, it’s larger than ever and compounded by an ever-growing labor shortage.
Experts predict a growing talent gap in the coming decades, with a workforce deficit of at least two million below pre-pandemic forecasts.
But among these challenges, the looming recession has led to an unexpected and hopeful trend: the wholly unanticipated return of retired Baby Boomers to the workforce, aptly named the Great Unretirement.
This surge of returning talent brings about a wave of opportunity to help solve many of the issues brought on by the labor shortage and widening skills gap, and also to capitalize on the industry knowledge these people have—knowledge that was previously thought lost.
But in order to fully embrace this unexpected influx of talent and experience, we must first address the enduring obstacle of age discrimination.
Age discrimination in the workforce
Despite the willingness of older generations to return to the workforce, these professionals face a significant barrier in age discrimination.
As per the 2021 data from AARP, “78% of older workers claimed to have seen or experienced workplace age discrimination.” This bias is particularly strong in the tech sector, an industry that often wrongly associates innovation with youth.
If we want to bridge the talent gap and reap the benefits from the wealth of experience these professionals have to offer, we need to shift our perspectives on age and reframe our HR strategies—from recruitment to retention and broad knowledge-sharing.
Here’s how to overcome ageist assumptions and drive success through the power of a multi-generational workforce.
Shift your mindset: Age can be a competitive advantage
Age isn’t just a number—it’s a competitive edge. It equips organizations with a reservoir of invaluable wisdom and hard-earned experience, making it an oasis of tangible insights and knowledge.
As you work with your recruitment teams to recalibrate hiring policies, it’s also crucial to emphasize the importance of avoiding age discrimination, not only because discrimination is illegal, but because hiring older, experienced professionals is strategically beneficial.
The fight against age discrimination can be seen as far more than just a legal obligation—it can be part of a broader strategy for tapping into the wisdom and skills of experienced professionals. The benefits of this approach go beyond the immediate gains, building a stronger, more diverse, and ultimately more successful organization in the long run.
By embracing older professionals, we tap into the deep treasure trove of industry knowledge that can provide businesses with a competitive edge. They can contribute significantly to the quality of our services, customer satisfaction, and ultimately, our bottom line.
Knowledge-sharing and mentorship opportunities
Older professionals can also play a pivotal role in knowledge transfer within an organization.
Encouraging mentorship programs and reverse mentorships allows for knowledge-sharing and fostering a learning environment that benefits everyone involved.
This practice can be particularly effective in tech-oriented businesses where trends and technologies evolve rapidly. Younger professionals can benefit from their senior colleagues’ industry knowledge, experience, and insights, while older professionals can learn about emerging trends from the younger generation—making it a real win-win situation.
Experience is fundamental to success
In the rapidly evolving business landscape of today, experience and adaptability are invaluable assets.
Older professionals have been around long enough to have weathered several industry changes and economic fluctuations throughout their careers. In addition to their hard industry knowledge, their ability to adapt and respond creatively to unprecedented challenges makes them invaluable in an unpredictable market.
While it may be tempting to follow the trend of recruiting younger professionals, the potential of experienced professionals shouldn’t be underestimated. They bring to the table a rare combination of industry insights, practical wisdom, and seasoned judgment, which can significantly contribute to an organization’s success.
Cognitive diversity boosts engagement and workforce productivity
Cognitive and generational diversity can significantly boost workforce productivity and engagement. HR industry expert Josh Bersin asserts, “Age brings a sense of security and wisdom to teams, so use it to your advantage.”
Embracing the contributions and strengths of different age groups can lead to a more comprehensive understanding of market trends, customer preferences, and potential challenges.
It also promotes innovative problem-solving and decision-making processes, creating a more robust and resilient organization.
More experience can be key to great leadership
Experience often lends itself to effective and strong leadership.
Show your workforce returnees how much you value them by placing them in leadership positions or other roles where their skills are harnessed and celebrated.
Professionals who have spent years in the industry are likely to possess a nuanced understanding of organizational dynamics, market trends, and the specific challenges faced by their teams.
These qualities can make them effective leaders who can lend an experienced hand to help guide their teams toward achieving their goals.
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Older individuals are statistically more likely to stick around
Interestingly, older individuals are known to demonstrate a higher degree of company loyalty. To highlight this, studies show that companies with a workforce that includes, on average, 10 percent more professionals over the age of 50 start to see benefits. Notably, they experience a four percent lower turnover rate when compared to other, younger organizations.
This in turn leads to further benefits for companies, such as lower turnover rates and recruitment costs. Especially in an era where job-hopping is increasingly common, particularly among younger generations, this attribute is particularly valuable.
By implementing retention strategies tailored for veteran professionals, organizations can foster a loyal workforce—reducing recruitment costs and bolstering their bottom line.
A multi-generational workforce is a strong workforce
The Great Unretirement is more than just a trend: It’s a call to action for businesses worldwide to reassess their hiring practices and embrace the wealth of experience offered by older professionals.
By doing so, we can address the talent shortage and create a thriving, inclusive workforce that values and respects the contributions of all its members, regardless of age.
So, let’s challenge ageist assumptions, embrace diversity, and commit to creating an inclusive workplace where every generation can thrive and learn from one another. It starts with harnessing the wisdom and experience of older professionals and paving the way toward a brighter, more inclusive future.