We are living in an age when the U.S. population is becoming increasingly older. Research suggests that this reality will lead to an increase in older workers who have the potential to offer additional value in the workplace and beyond.
One way to gain a deeper appreciation for the need to embrace an age-diverse workplace is through the lens of a system’s principle called requisite variety. This systems principle holds that it is necessary for organizations to basically be as complex and as flexible as the environment in which it is embedded demands. Or, as John Dabell in his article, The Law of Requisite Variety, expressed it, “If a system is to be able to deal successfully with the diversity of challenges that its environment produces, then it needs to have a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems thrown up by the environment.”
For employers, requisite variety related to an older workforce is important in two ways. First, research suggests when managers in organizations value and embrace age-diversity and inclusion by creating intergenerational teams, productivity tends to increase for both younger and older workers. Further, older workers often bring perspectives to the table that increase organizational flexibility and insights. As an example, older workers who often have more developed interpersonal skills may offer different solutions for dealing with difficult customers or clients.
AARP Public Policy Institute examined five organizations with age-diverse, inclusive workplaces and then identified a few important trends as a result of these strategic efforts. Not only did such efforts lead to better employee engagement and productivity, but it helped with profitability as well. In addition, the inclusion of older workers more accurately reflected changing customer and client demographics. As a more age-diverse workplace reflects an organization’s customer or client base, then the potential for a growing “repertoire of responses” is more likely. When your organization mirrors the demographics of your environment, you also have the potential to increase trust through greater understanding.
Adapting to Changes
If your organization isn’t already age-diverse and inclusive, you might want to start by taking a hard look at your external environment. How will the trend toward an older population affect your business? Does your workforce mirror your customer or client base?
Next, look at some of your current organizational diversity efforts. Do you have a strong age-diversity component? How does your organization make sure that older workers are respected, included, and valued in your organization? Do you provide older workers nearing retirement with the opportunity to shift into transition roles such as mentoring or consulting? Are you open to providing part-time or flexible work options rather than fulltime or nothing when employees are nearing retirement? Do older workers feel valued and included? Do younger workers and managers think of older workers as assets or do they tend to see older workers as ‘out-of-touch’? These are important questions to answer before taking the next important step in building an age-diverse and inclusive environment.