Workplaces for the Ages

Posted Wednesday, January 9th, 2013| Comments (7) rule
Here’s to a clearer picture of an age-friendly company
Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, PhD
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Phone: 617.552.4033

Since 2005, when the oldest Baby Boomers turned 60, business leaders have been having interesting conversations about how to leverage the talent of today’s multigenerational workforce. In the course of these conversations, many business leaders say they want their organizations to become more “age-friendly.” However, when they attempt to describe how their newly age-friendly organizations will look, the picture is often fuzzy.

Let’s ring in the new year with some clarity about what it means for a company to be age-friendly and how best to get there. A good place to start is with the following three strategies:

  1. Age-specific. The needs and priorities of employees vary with age, generation, life stage, and career stage. Companies can develop resources or programs to suit. For example, employees who are middle-aged and older may be caring for family members who have Alzheimer’s disease. Organizing brown-bag lunches where these employees can share information and support one another could be an appropriate corporate service.
  2. Age-neutral. A number of employee supports are appropriate across age groups. For instance, employees of virtually all ages and career stages want access to flexible work options. Their reasons may vary with age, however (just as people have a variety of reasons for needing sidewalk ramps).
  3. Valuing age diversity. Recognizing that work groups are likely to include people of various ages, employers may take steps to ensure that age diversity within the work culture is viewed as an asset. Posting features about employees of different ages on an internal company Web site can break down stereotypes and promote constructive business interactions.

It’s up to employers to decide which strategies fit their organizations best. Employers should then design programs and policies to affirm (or make more visible) their commitment to an age-friendly workplace. One example is a bidirectional mentoring program, in which junior and senior employees are equally likely to serve as mentors. Another example is a creative approach to phased retirement.

Now that we have sketched a roadmap to an age-friendly workplace, we can envision the destination. What do we want to see if our workplaces become age-friendly? What will such workplaces look like?

The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College promotes the quality of employment for people of all ages, across their careers. We also pay attention to the interaction between people’s experience of work and the quality of their lives at home. Thus we want to help employers create and sustain workplaces that offer:

  • fair compensation and benefits (to employees of all ages and specifically for employees at different ages)
  • meaningful work assignments (to employees of all ages and all career stages)
  • constructive relationships (with people of all ages)
  • choices that create flexibility in the time and place of work (for employees of all ages and at all life stages)
  • a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture (for employees of all ages and all generations)
  • appropriate opportunities for learning and career development (to employees at all career stages)
  • support for health and wellness (for employees of all ages)
  • resources that enhance engagement in work (for employees at all ages and career stages)

Does this picture match the destination you have in mind for your organization?

7 responses to “Workplaces for the Ages”

  1. Helen Dennis says:

    Great piece Marcie. The clarity on what age friendly actually means is very helpful. It is reassuring to know that businesses want to leverage this multigenertional work force and see it as an important element that affects their bottom line. Hopefully these efforts will diminish ageism in the work place.

  2. More people here are getting hired who are older, but it isn’t because that’s what the employer wants. The younger people are moving west to find better paying jobs which is creating a skill shortage.

    Still, the idea persists. The older worker over 50, is not typically a company’s first choice.

  3. Karem says:

    The younger people are moving west to find better paying jobs which is creating a skill shortage.

  4. I agree that an age-friendly workplace is one that works across generations and that benefits targeted to one age group are likely to benefit other groups in the workplace. Flexibility is a very good example of this.
    I think we also need to factor in life stages as well as age, and in particular, focus on transition points where people can be more vulnerable. Examples would be moving into parenthood, becoming a carer of an older relative, transitioning to retirement, or moving into study combined with work and so on. Workplaces which cannot support seamless transitions are unlikely to be employee-friendly, let alone age-friendly.

  5. Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes says:

    A number of great ideas posted. The intersection of life stage and age is very consistent with our center’s idea of the ‘prism of age.’ I think it could be very effective for employers to begin to identify a range of important transition points that may affect employees’ career decisions and their employment experiences. If any of you are interested in pursuing this as a separate blog, please contact me at the Center.

  6. Good article, Marcie
    I’m particularly interested in the transition stage of life of company leaders in the later years of their careers. I believe that society is missing out on not giving more importance to the “wisdom of the elders” as they tranisition out of their careers. This group of leaders need to be encouraged to reconnect with their inner passions which led them to their leadership successes. In so doing they may find ways to reinvigorage those passions so that the “new stage of life” will be as great as their working career. A workplace
    “for the ages” should include programs to help leaders with this transition. See: (From the Workplace to the World.

  7. Kirissa says:

    I find this to be interesting and if all businesses would accommodate the workplace according to the age of the employees I think it would help immensely. Furthermore, as Helen state is may even help “diminish ageism” which would be great for every generation.