Emily Merritt, Director of Intergenerational Initiatives for the Alliance for Strong Families
and Communities

Millennials and baby boomers: These two generations have taken center stage as their massive numbers permeate all aspects of society. This demographic shift has undoubtedly captured the attention of employers across the nation.

More than one-in-three American workers today are millennials (adults ages 19 to 35), and in 2016 surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce. At the same time, there are more people over age 50 in the workforce than ever.

Despite the monumental opportunity to unite all generations for the greater good, often these generations are unfairly pitted against each other. Do hiring managers prioritize the tech-savvy millennial? Or go with the deeply experienced boomer? While both generations undeniably bring great value, there is well-documented evidence of ageism and discrimination towards
older workers.

Ageism can be seen as “a systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people (individuals or groups) on the basis of their age” and manifests at both individual and institutional levels. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receives more than 20,000 new cases a year filed by people alleging violations of the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The need for employers to face this discrimination is so important to maintaining organizational resilience. With that in mind, practical strategies for employers to build a robust, intergenerational workforce include:

Raising awareness of biases. To strengthen workforces, we must be aware of the challenges, biases, gaps and opportunities as they relate to developing a diverse workforce. Try utilizing statistics, current events and personal stories to acknowledge how biases negatively influence
an organization.

Facilitating open dialogue among staff. Don’t be afraid to engage your staff in conversations around topics that impact their work and environment. Find ways to create safe conversations that invite, encourage, and engage all voices, respect various viewpoints and get people talking about their experiences.

Providing ongoing diversity education that includes age. Want to open dialogue about intergenerational challenges? Invite local experts and speakers to talk on issues related to diversity and inclusion. Start a diversity-themed book club, or use media (videos, movies, music, social, etc.) to watch, listen or reflect upon topics as a group and facilitate talkbacks. Identify a routine schedule and method for delivering ongoing education opportunities at
your organization.

Exploring alternative employment options. Organizational leaders and human resource managers need to explore nontraditional employment models that could be particularly desirable to older generations including part-time or fellow positions, or unique roles that allow for transitions from work to retirement.

Utilizing intergenerational/mentoring models. Consider pairing older and younger workers in supportive relationships where they can talk and learn from each other. Identify ways for older, experienced employees to successfully transfer their knowledge to other employees.

By capitalizing on the experience of older workers while integrating incoming generations, organizations can establish a firm cultural foundation of diversity, cooperation and inclusion that will sustain performance for years to come.

Visit the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities to learn more about our intergenerational initiative. Seeking assistance with an intergenerational workplace issue? Contact FEI and ask about consultation and training options.