Are you letting your biggest asset walk out of your business?


As organisations gear up for the Fourth Industrial Revolution - the world of automation, artificial intelligence and robotics - paradoxically digital skills may be less important than market knowledge, client empathy and relationship management. Feed all that “human intelligence”, including intellectual capital and street smarts, into the new world of data and analysis and you are more likely to build a more sustainable business.

Yet while planning for the future of work, too many companies are letting their most valuable assets walk out the door into the arms of nimbler, smaller businesses - or worse, their competitor that embraces the skills and experience of older professionals.

Lack of intergenerational respect is hampering business growth

Older and younger office workers tend to have strikingly different - and largely negative - views of each other, according to a new survey of over 1,000 business professionals. Here’s some harmful perceptions millennials have about older workers:

  • 52 percent believe they are too rigid or set in their ways.

  • 44 percent think they aren’t as skilled in using technology.

  • 36 percent say they are less interested in training than their younger colleagues.

For as long as these types of negative stereotypes persist, of older workers having a fixed-mindset rather than a growth-mindset, potential for innovation in the workplace is stunted.

Don’t wait for labour shortage to occur

According to an issues paper on the silver economy by APEC, workforce planning for the ageing population is one of the most pressing challenges facing its member economies. It suggests that a new way of thinking is required to address the issues of labour shortage, re-skilling and flexible workplaces. People need to be encouraged to work longer and plan better for the future, while businesses need to embrace the changing demographic of their workforce.

Your older staff are your biggest asset

Here’s a reminder of the many invaluable traits of the unsung heroes in a successful business. Older people:

  • Have better people, communication and prioritisation skills which can help your business achieve its goals more efficiently.

  • Have larger networks and deep relationships with others in your business, your industry, and the wider society.

  • Greater ‘crystallised intelligence’, the ability to use learned knowledge and experience, which continues to grow, as we build more knowledge and experience.

  • Have pride in their advanced skills and experience and are willing to mentor more inexperienced staff.

  • Are calmer, more in control of their emotions.

  • Often have a greater sense of well-being. Several happiness research studies have shown that self-reported well-being increases after middle-age, which helps create a more positive working environment.

How do you incorporate the changing needs of your older employees into your workforce strategy?

The results from Full Time Lives’ Transition Readiness’ survey highlight that, of our key ingredients for full-time living, respondents scored lowest for planning their daily lifestyle and finding purpose. Half the women scored lowest when it comes to getting serious about planning for life after full time work. This lack of planning is clearly one of the reasons that the majority of older women do not accrue enough savings for a comfortable retirement.  

As life expectancy and the working lives of Australians continue to extend, here’s 10 ways that employers can be more supportive of their ageing workforce:

  1. Train your business leaders in how to manage a workforce in the age of the ‘100 year life’ including:

    • The importance of not making assumptions about what your staff want when they reach “a certain age”.

    • Recognition that people in their 50s, 60s & 70s are not all the same. Some may want flexibility, some want to ramp up their careers especially after they are freed of carer responsibilities, others may want to reinvent themselves with new careers or fuller lives outside of work.

  2. Drive inter-generational and cross-functional mentoring programs across your workforce.

  3. Offer flexible working arrangements including working hours, number of days and employment structures to help them manage their carer responsibilities (either of parents or children) or achieve better work/life balance. More time to explore can bring fresh perspectives and innovative thinking to work.

  4. Offer a range of development opportunities including:

    • New vocational and technical skills.

    • Ways to help them build confidence so learning and reinventing themselves becomes easier.

    • Help them recognise their strengths, skills and value so they can adapt more easily to changing circumstances like involuntary redundancy.

    • How to adapt to change and uncertainty

  5. Allow them to explore how they can use their skills, experience and passion in new ways, such as within your greater community. This not only helps them make a better transition to retirement but helps you achieve your corporate social responsibility goals.

  6. Run an alumni program to keep your most loyal staff members involved in your business - they are likely to still care about your business and their ex-colleagues so can become some of your most powerful advocates.

  7. Check that your recruitment and internal job transfer practices have no structural disadvantage or unconscious bias against older candidates.

  8. Check that your training programs cater to experienced workers that want growth and renewal too.

  9. Go beyond offering standard superannuation seminars to educate your staff more broadly on the importance of lifestyle planning as they transition to retirement.

  10. Ask your Employee Assistance Program provider if it offers support to staff who are planning their transition away from full-time work.

Undoubtedly, you know the cost of recruiting and training a new hire in the early stages of their career. Have you also measured the hard cost to your business when you let your biggest assets walk out the door? Get the edge on your competitors and help cultivate a diverse, wise and innovative labour force by stamping out ageist attitudes and assumptions.

Natalie Yan-Chatonsky