Editors Note: This is a guest post written by Heidi Holmes, Managing Director of Adage.com.au – Australia’s leading job board for mature age workers. Her opinions are her own.
Spoilt, lazy, flippant, needy, disloyal.
As a Gen Y employee, these are some of the first assumptions an employer could potentially make about me if I were to go to a job interview tomorrow.
While we are acutely aware that age discrimination and negative stereotyping does exist in Australia, it is not fair to assume that only older people experience this. For most of us, in either our career or general life, we will be faced with other peoples’ biases. Unfortunately it is a fact of life.
Putting personal biases and stereotyping aside, how can we ensure as a nation we are proactively engaging with all segments of the community who are willing and able to make a productive contribution?
Through my own experiences with Adage.com.au, it has become more apparent for the need to commercialise the benefits mature age workers bring to the table. Mature workers will reward you with loyalty, reliability, IP, knowledge and lower employee turnover. Yet these benefits seem to only resonate with a few employers. Many chose to focus their attention to building a younger workforce and in the process neglect the mature worker in their recruitment and retention strategies.
There is no doubt that the past decade has seen employers take a frantic flight to youth, often at the expense of mature workers. The rationale: Gen Y, despite some of the negative stereotypes I mentioned at the beginning, are viewed as tech savvy, energetic, cheap and more malleable to taking on a company’s way of doing things.
However, as this younger workforce has matured, organisations have come to realise, as just like any other generation, they present their own challenges in continuing to keep them motivated and managing them effectively.
For the first time in history an employee today could potentially be working with colleagues from four different generations
While this does present some organisational management issues, it also presents a number of opportunities.
Whether you are Gen Y, Gen X or a Baby Boomer, the fact remains that we are all intertwined. It is naïve to assume that Gen Y or X are ignorant or disinterested in the plight faced by many mature workers – some are actually their parents. Many have also benefited from working directly with older workers who may have mentored them or guided them in their careers. Yet this is a phenomenon rarely discussed or celebrated.
Inevitably, what will drive employers to change and embrace mature workers, is a tangible commercial benefit, which I believe is achievable through a coordinated intergenerational approach.
Productivity and leadership: articulating the connection
In the most recent Productivity Pulse report released by Ernst & Young in early May, Australian workers said they could be up to 21% more productive every day if they could change just one or two things at work.
After a period of cost cutting and restructuring, employers can no longer rely on these methods to improve productivity as there is simply little left to cut. The next wave of productivity improvement will need to be driven by innovative initiatives focussed on people and processes.
The Australian Institute of Management’s recent Skills Gap Report, found that despite a ‘two-speed’ economy, and an overwhelming number of organisations restructuring their workforce in the past couple of years, 77% of Australian organisations still reported a skills gap.
However, what is interesting is where these ‘skills’ were lacking. It was not in the area of vocational skills but rather middle management and leadership filling the top two spots.
If we cross-reference and compare these results to the EY report an interesting story begins to develop. EY found that the least productive workers (dubbed the lost souls) who tend to be junior employees aged between 25 and 34 and have been with a company less than three years, are the most disengaged workers wasting up to one and a half hours a day. Their disengagement is attributed to poor people management and a failure to take personal responsibility, suggesting a need for better engagement and leadership from middle management.
However, these are the very skills identified by employers as the hardest to find, so there is no wonder junior employees are floundering.
The Mature Age Workforce
Who better to provide guidance and leadership than those who have the ability, gained from hard experience, to make good decisions when information is limited, have the capacity to stand back and evaluate a situation based on the issues at hand; and, possess the ability to cut through ‘noise’ and focus on the things that really matter?
All of these skills can be used to guide younger employees in their careers and provide them with a source of teaching that can’t be accessed at university or via an online course.
Unfortunately more often than not the employer makes the assumption that culturally in the workplace, young and old do not work efficiently together.
Yet research has shown that younger generations, particularly Gen Y share similar values to older generations such as sense of community and loyalty to friends and family. There is a willingness to want to learn and work closer with older, more experienced managers and colleagues.
Not surprisingly a respectful organisation is a productive one. In order to better facilitate communication and interaction between more junior and more senior employees, organisations need to invest in a number of people strategies.
The Power of Mentoring
One of the least expensive and most effective strategies organisations can deploy is mentoring. Studies show that there is a positive correlation between a positive mentoring experience and an increase in productivity, employee retention and job satisfaction.
When generations work together in strategic, business-related activities such as mentoring, everyone benefits.
Organisations that choose to embrace an age diverse workforce will be rewarded with lower employee turnover, more engaged and motivated workers, a sustainable talent pipeline and effective knowledge management.
If we can demonstrate to employers that mature age workers are the key to unlocking future productivity gains with their younger workers, we will eventually see the mature workforce embraced rather than ignored.
Heidi Holmes is the Managing Director of Adage.com.au a mature age job search site and online community for jobseekers aged 45-plus. If you would like to find out more about the benefits of mature workers please contact Heidi directly at Heidi@adage.com.au.