Changing demographics are creating a workplace that is more age diverse than ever before. Just look around: from post-millennials to baby boomers, more and more generations are working side by side.

This is a trend to celebrate. Employers who take the right steps can leverage the multi-generational workforce as a key to success.

But few have grasped the opportunity in their reach.

A path to prosperity

Here is some of what we know about the age-diverse workplace of the future, based on research and experience:

  • Work teams that comprise multiple generations perform better than those that do not.
  • An age-diverse workforce gives companies more insight into the marketplace, including the vast segment of older consumers. Individuals 50-plus are now fueling a multi-trillion-dollar longevity economy.
  • The multi-generational workforce yields a stronger pipeline of talent. It also improves workforce continuity, stability and retention of intellectual capital.
  • A growing number of organizations find an age-diverse workforce boosts their bottom line, based on greater engagement and performance.
  • Seven out of 10 adults enjoy working with people from other generations, according to an AARP survey. Older workers appreciate the tech know-how and creativity of younger colleagues. And younger workers value older workers’ wisdom and experience.
Older workers are seen as teachers, allow others to consider different perspectives, and make the workplace more productive
A majority of younger workers enjoy working with older colleagues because they value their wisdom and experience.
Image: AARP

The transformation is just getting started

By the middle of this century, adults age 60 and over will represent 22% of the world's population – double their share today. And a great many are staying in the labor force.

In fact, people ages 55 to 64 represent 64% of the labor market among OECD countries – an 8% increase from just a decade before. More people want or need to work in their later years. In addition to financial benefits, many older workers relish the social aspect of their jobs and take pleasure in contributing.

The vast number of aging cohorts guarantees age diversity will remain a significant fact of work life. We may think of millennials as youthful pacesetters, but in just 11 years, millennials will start to turn 50. And, already in the United States, they represent the largest generation in the labor force.

Employers must be mindful

To take advantage of the multi-generational workforce, executives need to think creatively about talent – how to value it, where to find it, how to unleash it and how to keep it. Fostering a climate of respect and fairness for all – including opportunities for meaningful work and skills development – is crucial.

Policies affecting recruitment, assessment, retention, compensation, life-long learning, health and wellness and retirement all need to be age- and stage- inclusive to strengthen the whole enterprise.

Caregiving for a loved one is a perfect example. Today, more than 20 million employees in the United States are struggling with two full-time jobs: caring for a family member or friend inside the home, and earning a living outside the home. While the average U.S. caregiver is a woman in her 40s, policies that support caregivers help all generations of workers. AARP’s research found one in four family caregivers in America is a millennial.

Employers can help themselves by reviewing their approach to training and development, ensuring everyone gets opportunities to contribute, no matter their stage or age. “Returnship” programs that broaden the options for people starting a new life chapter, such as after parenting, or former retirees who wish to resume working, are among the ways to keep critical skills in an organization.

Such policies are increasingly needed, because the workplace of the future will place a premium on learning and adapting. Noted future of work strategist Heather McGowan recently analyzed the top skills identified by the World Economic Forum, skills workers need to thrive in the near future. She found many of these skills peak later in life – underscoring the benefits of age diversity. These include complex problem solving, critical thinking, people management, coordination with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision making.

It's time for leadership on age diversity in the workplace

At AARP, we recently held a summit on the Future of Work for All Generations, where we heard how companies as varied as Morgan Stanley, Sodexo, BlackRock, Marsh & McLennan and Samsung are embracing workforce policies around the world to meet the future. We heard from leaders like Morgan Stanley Global’s Peg Sullivan, who underscored the importance of inclusion – and giving employees of all ages sense of belonging – when building an age-diverse workforce. And Julio Portalatin of Marsh & McLennan Companies discussed the importance of education and reskilling. These are just two ideas from a rich, day-long conversation.

But more leadership is needed.

Making the most of age diversity will require a much broader buy-in from employers. Openness to new ideas and, importantly, a rejection of ageist stereotypes are needed to seize this opportunity.

The vision of a high-performing, age-diverse workplace is still being refined, and we need to learn more – and we are encouraging business leaders to get engaged and take action. AARP has teamed up with the World Economic Forum and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in an effort called “Living, Learning and Earning Longer.” Over the next two years, we will further establish the business case for age diversity and highlight best practices from around the world. In addition to extensive research, we are engaging 50 employers and knowledge partners from across the globe to develop insights based on workshops, site visits and case studies. This work will culminate with the release of a digital learning platform at the 2021 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. (Employer participation is vital to program’s success. To join us, visit www.aarpinternational.org/llel.)

We are also encouraging companies to sign the AARP Employer Pledge to help change the conversation and make your own organization a model of age-inclusive policies. Our Pledge Action List lays out specific recommendations, such as including age as an element in your strategies for diversity and inclusion as well as offering flexible work options.

We can’t alter demographic trends – and the multi-generational workforce is inevitable. If employers adapt, if they are intentional, if they are holistic in their approach, the multi-generational workforce will bring great prosperity.

But the opportunity of age diversity could be lost if companies proceed with business as usual.