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Better mixing of generations key to a non-ageist workplace

With longer lifespans come longer working years. Workplaces have become increasingly diverse, with all age groups interacting within shared spaces.

Lim Sia Hoe, Executive Director, Centre For Seniors

With longer lifespans come longer working years. Workplaces have become increasingly diverse, with all age groups interacting within shared spaces.

Older workers find themselves communicating with and reporting to younger colleagues, who must similarly work with and learn under their older counterparts. This assimilation of a multigenerational workforce does not happen naturally; it is our innate tendency to segregate ourselves.

Growing up, many of us were taught that children are to go to school, adults are to go to work and seniors are to retire and rest. We deliberately structure our institutions categorised by age.

Family is the only truly age-integrated social institution, and even this is eroding slowly, with today’s preference for smaller, nuclear families or singlehood.

One of the more visible consequences of age segregation in the workplace is ageism. We hear stories from older workers accusing employers of not hiring or retaining them because they are less valuable or affordable than their younger colleagues.

Left unchecked, ageism threatens social cohesion and undermines productivity. We must therefore take steps to foster integration between the young and old, and create a workplace culture that celebrates its multigenerational attributes.

First and most fundamentally, we need a mindset change. Fair consideration should not be equated with same consideration. We must recognise the unique value older workers can contribute.

Many bring with them years of experience, wisdom and loyalty. These qualities should be measured differently from those we seek in younger workers.

Second, employers and supervisors must actively guard against ageism. This can be done by employing positive practices, such as having mixed-age work teams as much as possible to let both sides work together and leverage each other’s strengths.

This includes organising programmes to help themselves and their employees understand the cultural differences, in terms of management style and communication, between workers of different ages.

Employers should also introduce progressive work arrangements such as flexible working hours, which benefit all staff, not least older workers.

Third, older workers must play their role by engaging with younger colleagues and supervisors and demonstrating their value. Today, baby boomers form the demographic bulk. With their education and means, there is much they can teach those around them.

This extends beyond the workplace and into the community. In Japan, many communities are repurposing empty school classrooms as a meeting place for seniors. Often, these seniors volunteer to teach students subjects such as arts and crafts or history, with good feedback.

Lastly, we continue to need leadership from the Government, working in partnership with the unions, employers and workers, to promote intergenerational integration. We need measures to help workplaces transform and adopt better practices for employing older workers.

We require a tough stance on fair employment practices, and no age discrimination. It would be costly to assume that an integrated multigenerational workforce happens on its own. A concerted effort by all remains necessary to make this a reality.

Related topics

ageism cohesion

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