There is greater age diversity in the jobs market than ever. That offers opportunities and challenges. Even though young people (15 to 30 years old) and older people (over 50s) are the most likely to lose their jobs in a crisis, the economy is booming despite the corona pandemic. As a result, the demand for workers is strong, which in turn is driving an increase in age diversity in the workplace.
This can lead to friction between the young and the old, which is often due to differences in culture and perceptions. In its fresh-off-the-press Age Diversity Charter (click here, Dutch only), the Social and Economic Council (SER) advises employers to develop ‘age-conscious policies’ so that they not only manage age diversity properly but also take advantage of its potential added value.
The obstacles that young and old people experience in the workplace are different. The issues for young people are mainly in the following areas:
- the match between education and the jobs market is poor: the skills that students acquire often do not match employers’ requirements;
- discrimination, particularly on grounds of age, gender and migrant origins;
- insecure employment: flexible or temporary contracts or freelance status mean that young people lack protection against dismissal;
- discrepancies in training opportunities: there is less willingness to invest in the education and training of workers on flexible and temporary contracts;
- gender differences;
- work-related pressure: prolonged and heavy work-related pressure often leads to absenteeism, particularly in combination with problematic relationships with older colleagues, lack of support and an authoritarian supervisor;
- underutilisation of schemes: many employers and employees are unfamiliar with incentives to stimulate labour participation among young people.
Those over 50, on the other hand, encounter problems in the following areas:
- perceptions and discrimination: negative perceptions, for example notions that over-55s are too expensive, less productive, more likely to get sick and less willing to go on training courses, make them unpopular job applicants. This is where they experience the most discrimination;
- too little attention is paid to sustainable employability: there is more focus on ‘relief measures’ such as workload reduction than on incentive measures such as development;
- less investment in training and education;
- friction with younger colleagues: some older employees want to work longer, which younger colleagues perceive to be an obstacle to their own growth opportunities;
- underutilisation of schemes: there are no incentive schemes for increasing participation in the jobs market among older people.
Age-conscious organisational policy
The SER advises employers to pursue an active age-conscious organisational policy, divided into age-related phases, each with its own specific policy. There has to be leeway for differences between individuals in terms of ambition, knowledge, skills, experience and fitness, and they must not be linked to prejudices and perceptions about the various age groups. Promoting cooperation between older and younger employees can also increase sustainable employability, health, vitality and motivation. These things ultimately boost profits.
The SER suggests the following problem-solving approaches:
- put the spotlight on age diversity and set smart objectives;
- improve perceptions through education, discussion, using role models and anti-discrimination policies;
- make changes to the way staff are recruited and selected, from taking due care when drafting vacancy announcements to conducting exit interviews;
- use mentoring, which allows knowledge to be exchanged between the two generations so that older employees become more employable while at the same time transferring their knowledge and thus ensuring that it is retained within the organisation;
- promote dialogue and encounters;
- invest in training and lifelong development;
- organise timetables and the division of responsibilities flexibly. This will increase productivity while reducing absenteeism;
- invest in sustainable employability;
- consider having a generation pact or an alternative to it; and
- put the available schemes to good use.
Roles for works councils and staff networks
Based on their role and statutory powers, works councils can be an important driver in promoting diversity and inclusion within companies. So-called ‘employee networks’ are becoming increasingly common, especially at larger companies and organisations. They draw attention to important issues, provide information about them and advise the HR department or the management. This produces useful information for effective staff policies.
The SER does note, however, that works councils and employee networks often fail to cooperate in practice. It sees room for improvement in this area, especially through sounding boards, applying works councils’ statutory powers to meet employee needs that surface through employee networks, and by including representatives of employee networks in works council committees so that they have access to works council facilities.