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Is Age a Part of Your Inclusion Strategy?

A man in a hard hat is holding boxes in a warehouse.

People are living longer, and there are more older people in the workforce and looking for work. The time is ripe for organizations to make age part of their diversity and inclusion strategies, noted panelists at The Future of Work for All Generations conference that AARP recently hosted in Washington, D.C.

"You do have to retire the word 'retirement,' " said Julio Portalatin, vice chairman of global professional services firm Marsh & McLennan in New York City. "It is about different stages [of work and life] now … and our ability to reskill at those points."

In fact, the Associated Press reported in June that seniors in major metropolitan areas—especially in the Northeast and around Washington, D.C.—are more likely to continue working past age 65 than those in other areas of the U.S. Those regions recovered better from the Great Recession, compared to the rest of the country, and tend to have jobs in government, finance, law and academia where seniors can work longer. The findings are based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Additionally, many Baby Boomers are embracing "unretirement"—either for monetary reasons or because they enjoy working—by reinventing themselves after trying retirement.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Employing Older Workers]

At Marsh & McLennan, Portalatin said, retirees bid to work on client projects as consultants.

"They're great at delivering [the product] because they've been doing it for decades," he noted.

Panelist Geoff Pearman, founder and managing director and principal consultant at Partners in Change consultancy in New Zealand, advocated for transition pathways for older workers to ease out of work.

"Give them a new narrative and a new way about talking" about how they would like to use their skills and experience, rather than assuming they will stop working after a certain age, he said during the panel discussion.

That might involve, for example, phased retirement, working on more project-based assignments, less fast-paced work or more-flexible schedules.

"Retirement is old, linear thinking," Pearman added, noting that some workers go into business for themselves after they supposedly "retire." He advised employers to train team leaders and managers to have inclusive, honest conversations with older workers to learn what they want to do.

[SHRM Foundation resource page: The Aging Workforce]

However, there doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency among organizations to find out what their older employees want out of work, Portalatin said. "There's a lot of talk about [being age-inclusive] but not a lot of execution. I'm concerned we're leaving the issue behind for others to solve."

Rohini Anand, senior vice president of corporate responsibility and global chief diversity officer at Sodexo, said one initiative alone won't solve the problem. Instead, companies have to change the culture. Sodexo has had success building an age-inclusive environment, she said, by:

  • Articulating a clear business case for having older workers.
  • Getting engagement and commitment from leadership. "[Age inclusivity] has to be driven from the top. It sends a strong message when leaders are engaged and making things happen. The same thing applies when you're talking about age diversity," Anand said.
  • Having clear metrics and accountability. She suggested linking performance management to some sort of diversity objective that includes age.
  • Employing a systemic, holistic strategy that addresses human capital at all ages, including age-neutral hiring and talent management, a succession plan to ensure knowledge transfer, and elimination of unconscious bias.

Portalatin advised HR professionals to regularly review the company handbook.

"Many of you would be amazed at how antiquated it is," he said. "Your goals change every year, so why shouldn't [your handbook]?"

Read this checklist for creating an age-inclusive workforce. 


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