Longevity and the changing workplace of the future — that’s the buzz right now.

And it should be.

I recently wrote a column for MarketWatch highlighting the findings of a research report by Mercer, a global consulting leader in advancing health, wealth and career, that shines a spotlight on the urgent need for businesses to get age-ready.

About that same time, I connected with Debra Whitman, AARP’s Chief Public Policy Officer at an event saluting The AARP Purpose Prize award winners, an impressive group of people age 50 and over using their life experience to create social change, at The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Her eyes lit up when I told her about my column, and she suggested I follow-up with her to learn about AARP’s collaborative, called Living, Learning and Earning Longer, to identify and share multigenerational workforce practices, which was established earlier this year.

Read on MarketWatch

In alliance with the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), AARP engaged nearly 100 global employers in discussions about the changing workforce, holding regional executive roundtables in North America, Asia, and Europe. The companies included Allianz US:AZSEY, Bank of America BAC, +1.31%, China Life Insurance LFC, +0.89%, Cisco CSCO, -0.64%, Dell Technologies DELL, +1.08%, Fujikura, Salesforce CRM, +0.93%, and Singtel SGAPY, +0.04%

The ongoing team effort is aimed at refining the business case for age diversity and highlight best practices from around the world focusing on evaluating an organization’s recruitment and retention practices, flexible work and caregiving benefits, lifelong learning and training, and assessment procedures. The report will be released at the 2021 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

This week, I interviewed Whitman to learn more about the collaboration’s findings so far and her takeaway for employers and older workers.

Here’s my conversation with Whitman:

Kerry Hannon: How can companies and employees benefit from recruiting, supporting, and retaining older workers?

Debra Whitman: Employers and governments must recognize the opportunity older workers present. Research confirms that of any age group, workers ages 50 and older are the most engaged in their jobs–that is emotionally and intellectually involved, allowing them to do their best work and to contribute to an organization’s success. For employers, a 5% increase in worker engagement can mean 3% incremental revenue growth.

Ageism and misperceptions of older adults among employers are the primary barriers older people face in remaining in or re-entering the workforce. Such barriers are prevalent across both high- and middle-income countries. It is estimated that Australia loses over AUD 10 billion ($7.2 billion) per year as a result of people staying unemployed due to age discrimination.

KH: What’s the business case for an age-friendly, multi-generational workforce?

DW: 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. Employers who take the right steps can leverage the multigenerational workforce as a key to success.

According to AARP research, seven in 10 workers say they like working with generations other than their own, and the majority agree that both younger and older workers bring a set of positive benefits that enhance the workplace environment.

Here is some of what we know about the age-diverse workplace:

• Work teams that comprise multiple generations perform better than those that do not.

• The multigenerational workforce 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.

• Older workers said they appreciate the tech know-how and creativity of younger colleagues. And younger workers said they value older workers’ wisdom and experience.

Plus, an age-diverse workforce gives companies more insight into the marketplace, including the vast segment of older consumers. Individuals age 50-plus are now fueling a multi-trillion-dollar longevity economy.

(Note: At the Washington Innovation in Longevity Summit, presented by Mary Furlong & Associates, I learned that AARP will come out with its revised analysis of the longevity economy’s size and is expected to say it’s much greater than it first believed.)

KH: How does a company’s culture affect the quality of employment for older and younger workers? Can you give me an example?

DW: An age-inclusive culture supports meaningful work and an environment of respect, inclusion, and equity for all generations, and ultimately drives better business performance.

For example, we learned at our North America Roundtable for Living, Learning and Earning Longer that The Hartford HIG, -0.75%  has nine employee resources groups (ERGs), and two of them are dedicated to generational cohorts in the workplace: “YoPros” — to represent younger employees who are earlier in their career and “MatPros” — that includes older more experienced employees.

Together, these two ERGs, which represent thousands of employees, have facilitated discussions on the topics of age and ageism over the past few months (with more than 150 people in 10 sessions). The discussions have included how ageism impacts the culture and influences how employees think about age, and have promoted the importance of age inclusion. These have been some of The Hartford’s most popular, dynamic and engaging conversations.

KH: What are some practices that are essential for an employer to invest in to support older workers?

DW: Flexible work enables employees to effectively manage their work-life responsibilities, leading to better outcomes in both spheres. Eighty-three percent of global companies reported an improvement in employee productivity after adopting flexible work policies and 61% reported a rise in profits.

Training existing employees can increase their commitment to the organization, increasing retention and saving employers the cost of hiring anew. One in four (25%) US workers age 50 and over report they would stay with their current employer longer than planned if their employer would provide and pay for more work-related training.

And minor refinements can often make a big difference. For instance, extending a parental leave policy to cover caregiving leave for any loved one — elder, partner or child — can go a long way in ensuring the offering is relevant to your workforce across life course. AARP’s Employer Pledge Action List can help employees understand the options and help companies get started.

I agree with Whitman. Given the fact that, for many people over 50, working longer for pay in some fashion is now a pillar of their retirement plan, I say every little bit helps.

While this is certainly encouraging that big companies want to get in on bandwagon to show they are visionary, in my gut it feels like that it’s still lip service, similar to the way companies tout their efforts to offer flexibility for working parents, when at the heart of it the old work styles still dominate.

So for my fellow Generation X and boomer workers, it’s still unfortunately up to you to rattle the workplace, don’t be afraid to volunteer for a new assignment that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Raise your hand. Ask for new duties. Accept assignments nobody else wants to tackle because they’re hard. It pushes you to ramp up your own learning and scares you a bit. That adrenaline is energizing.

Pick up some new skills. Sign up for a workplace development program. Add a certification in your field. Don’t be complacent. Be proactive. You’ll be staying relevant and your boss will see your effort firsthand. Everyone wins.


Kerry Hannon is the author of “Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life.” She has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for the New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among other publications.

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