Older workers key to rebuilding G20 economies: report

Between 2000 and 2022, the average retirement age among Canadians climbed from 61.6 to 64.6, the highest it’s been since 1982, according to data from Statistics Canada.

The agency’s June 2023 labour force survey found 22 per cent of Canadians aged 55 to 59 were either partially or completely retired. The same was true of 45 per cent of those aged 60 to 64 and 81 per cent of those aged 65 to 69. Roughly nine in 10 Canadians aged 70 and older had retired.

For a range of reasons, baby boomers remain a vital force in today’s workplace. They make meaningful contributions in a wide range of industries at every level. But are younger workers benefiting from the opportunity to work with these more seasoned colleagues? And are employers taking full advantage of the unique benefits of a multigenerational workforce that brings such diverse perspectives together?

Read: How employers can alleviate labour challenges by supporting older workers who want to stay on the job

Few human resources leaders would answer either question with a resounding yes. Remote working has made it more difficult to prioritize leadership development and knowledge-sharing programs — but there’s more to the story.

The four generations that make up today’s workforce — baby boomers, generation X, millennials and generation Z — have profoundly different opinions about the role that work should play in their lives, the kind of relationship they want with employers and what constitutes fair compensation. The present state of Canada’s economy doesn’t help — the cost of living, household debt and rising interest rates hit differently for each generation.

Broadly speaking, boomers and gen-Xers display the most conventional attitudes toward work. By comparison, gen-Zers’ perspective has been informed by the further digitization of the economy and workplace, by their experiences working from home during the pandemic and by social media’s spread of new, unconventional messages from their peers about the nature of work. In one recent TikTok post, a young woman argued that health benefits are a human right and shouldn’t be considered part of her compensation.

Read: A fifth of older employees experiencing deliberate exclusion at work: survey

All young professionals question the nature of work, but what’s different about gen-Zers is they’re having those conversations inside social media bubbles that reinforce unrealistic expectations.

Employers who want to leverage the advantages that come with this diversity of opinion have a unique opportunity in the next few years, while boomers continue to be a meaningful part of the workforce. It will require a concerted effort to bring workers of all ages together, both in person and virtually — those bubbles aren’t going to burst themselves.

Here are seven suggestions for employers to consider:

  1. Promote networking

While networking is something of a lost art post-pandemic, associations like the Canadian Pension & Benefits Institute — which promotes industry networking as part of its mandate — are a big help. There are similar groups in virtually every industry.

  1. Build a mentoring program

It’s important to include traditional mentoring (more experienced workers helping their less experienced colleagues) and reverse mentoring (vice versa). This is an emerging best practice that boosts the value proposition for both parties. By promoting and redefining mentoring in this way, employers send a positive signal to all employees by acknowledging the value they bring to the table.

  1. Formalize knowledge sharing

When presenting breakfast or lunch sessions with expert speakers, employers can record them to make them available on-demand to employees. Companies can also invite employees to write blog posts on topics that will benefit their colleagues.

  1. Know your audience

Adult learning theory teaches that people have communications preferences. An employer’s ability to cater to as many of these preferences as possible will go a long way toward making employees of all ages feel engaged.

  1. Attract and retain talent of all ages

Far too often, older workers are dismissed and without careful consideration of how their experience can be better leveraged.

  1. Accommodate a variety of working styles

For employers that prioritize working onsite, it’s important to meet employees’ needs in the workplace. Conversely, employers that don’t prioritize in-person work can take advantage of remote working as a talent attraction and retention tool.

  1. Celebrate age diversity

Employers can make age diversity a talking point for leaders and align their commitment to a multigenerational workforce with their diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. They can also consider implementing a no-tolerance policy for ageism in the workplace.

Fundamentally, the multigenerational workforce is best understood as a DEI issue. It’s one of many DEI priorities that can make an organization more productive and the future of work more hospitable.

Read: Older workers key to rebuilding G20 economies: report