Article: Embracing age diversity: A strategic approach with tech and empathy at its core


Embracing age diversity: A strategic approach with tech and empathy at its core

Challenging stereotypes, fostering continuous learning, prioritising user-friendly interfaces, and embracing feedback pave the way to effectively unite generations within organisations, recommended by Sara Yik and Loo Leap Han.
Embracing age diversity: A strategic approach with tech and empathy at its core

The world is standing on the cusp of a monumental demographic shift - over the next three decades, the population of those aged 65 and above is poised to double, surging from 761 million in 2021 to a staggering 1.6 billion by the year 2050. This sweeping transformation isn't limited to certain regions—it's a global phenomenon, also encompassing the major economies, such as the United States, Europe, India, Japan, China and Southeast Asia. By 2050, according to the latest United Nations projections, one in four individuals will belong to this age group.

But what does this demographic trend entail? Traditionally, a youthful population has been seen as the driving force behind economic growth, providing a large and productive workforce. And the rapid ageing of societies has sparked concerns about the future trajectory of the global economy. Research indicates that as a population ages, the rate of income growth tends to slow down. Yet, there's mounting evidence suggesting that by prioritising the well-being and engagement of the older population, countries might not only counter the economic challenges posed by ageing but also potentially turn them into opportunities.

So, the burning question is: Are we approaching an era of subdued economic growth, or can ageing societies innovate and adapt to sustain robust economies? To find the answer, we invited Sara Yik, Chief Human Capital Officer at the Singapore Institute of Management, and Loo Leap Han, Head of People at Infinity Logistics and Transport, to our recent Big Questions session, where we deliberated on 'The Future of Work In An Ageing Society'.

Age diversity: A catalyst for innovation

In Southeast Asia, the approach to age diversity within workplaces is in a state of evolution, demonstrating an increasing awareness of its significance. Many organisations in this region are giving higher priority to inclusivity and recognising the value that a multi-generational workforce brings. Sara Yik underscored the importance of cultivating awareness within organisations concerning age diversity. This entails fostering an understanding of the advantages that a diverse age range can offer, encompassing a mix of experience, fresh perspectives, innovation, and enhanced problem-solving capabilities.

She emphasised, "Companies need to proactively introduce age-inclusive policies, training programs, and mentorship initiatives to bridge the generation gap, encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing across various age groups. Creating a culture that appreciates and respects individuals of all ages enables organisations to tap into the collective wisdom and experiences of their workforce, ultimately driving productivity and innovation."

Echoing this sentiment, Loo Leap Han provided insights into how his industry addresses the needs of an ageing workforce. He illustrated how in the logistics and transport business, spanning multiple offices across Asia, they place significant emphasis on heightening awareness regarding age diversity within their workforce. "This awareness holds paramount importance for us as it guides our actions and decisions. We take deliberate steps to ensure that age is never a hindrance, especially in our customer-facing roles and services. We acknowledge the necessity of adapting to new generations, not only in terms of technology but also in understanding evolving customer preferences and the digital shift in documentation processes," he shared.

Strategic workforce evolution: Nurturing career shifts

Navigating career transitions, especially for older employees seeking roles aligning with their evolving needs and abilities, is a crucial aspect of Human Resources (HR) strategy. The Head of People at Infinity Logistics and Transport shed light on the approach that may facilitate easy transitions within organisations: 

1. Leverage diverse workforce: Acknowledge the diversity within the organisation. 

2. Recognise unique skill sets: Recognise that extensive experience cultivates a distinct and valuable skill set over time.

3. Identify transferable skills: Actively identify and harness transferable skills gained from the assigned role.

4. Facilitate role transitions: Enable seasoned employees to transition into coaching and mentoring roles, focusing on the younger generation of workforce.

5. Tailor training programs: Develop customised training programs to equip individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge for their new roles.

6. Ensure role suitability: Consider each employee's background, education, and years of experience to ensure a suitable fit for the transitioned role.

7. Encourage exploration of opportunities: Encourage employees, particularly older ones, to explore and apply for new opportunities within the organisation that align with their experience and skills.

8. Appreciate employee value: Appreciate and recognise the value that existing employees bring to the organisation, appreciating their expertise and contributions.

9. Develop phased retirement program: Work on creating a phased retirement program that acknowledges and utilises the experiences and insights of older employees, supporting a smooth and valuable transition even after their active work years.

On the other hand, Sara Yik presented a strategic framework encapsulated in the acronym 'DASH+', highlighting the importance of Digital Fluency, Agility and Adaptability, Systematic Thinking, Human Capital optimisation, and Leadership. She elaborated on how a comprehensive approach is essential for facilitating effective career changes among older employees.

  • D: Signifies Digital Fluency, focusing on enhancing technological skills to help them adapt to evolving tech-driven roles. 
  • A: Underscores Agility and Adaptability, calling for a flexible work culture with tailored training and mentorship to facilitate seamless transitions. 
  • S: Represents Systematic Thinking, advocating for a structured evaluation of backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets to recommend suitable roles. 
  • H: Places the spotlight on Human Capital optimisation, valuing the wealth of experience older employees bring and enhancing it through mentorship and leadership opportunities. 
  • +: underscores Leadership, encouraging them to guide and mentor.

The power of knowledge transfer

Younger workforce are highly focused on learning and growth opportunities, particularly Generation Z employees who engage with 50 per cent more learning content compared to their peers. An impressive 76 per cent of them believe that learning is a crucial factor for success. To groom future leaders within your organisation, it's vital to provide opportunities for them to learn from experienced employees and senior leadership. Companies should also increasingly prioritise internal development and mobility. 

According to a LinkedIn report, internal hiring has seen a 19 per cent increase since 2019. Additionally, employees offered opportunities for internal mobility tend to stay twice as long compared to those who aren't promoted internally. When bringing in new hires, it's beneficial to facilitate knowledge sharing opportunities to prepare them for potential internal job advancements. Allowing new hires to share their knowledge and learn from their colleagues not only cultivates connections but also contributes to a skilled workforce.

The Head of People at Infinity Logistics and Transport further elaborated on this, emphasising the importance of effectively leveraging the skills and knowledge of senior employees within the organisation. He said, the key lies in: 

  • Prioritising a seamless knowledge transfer program. 
  • Ensuring a smooth transition of knowledge from seniors to newer team members. Documentation to highlight and preserve invaluable insights. 
  • Knowledge sharing sessions and collaborations across different generations are instrumental in tapping into the wisdom of senior employees and integrating it into various projects and operations. 
  • Tailored training and structured management programs are indispensable for passing on their wealth of expertise. 

“By comprehending their strengths and experiences, roles and functions can be aligned to optimise their contributions, ultimately benefiting the entire company. This approach not only recognises their invaluable expertise but also enriches the organisational knowledge base, fostering continuous growth,” added Loo Leap Han.

Enhancing feedback culture: Wisdom from age-driven responses

When considering effective feedback models for older employees, the study conducted by Wang, Burlacu, Truxillo, James, and Yao (2015) provides valuable insights. The researchers investigated 623 Chinese employees in a manufacturing firm to assess the role of age in perceiving and reacting to feedback. Specifically, they analysed two dimensions associated with feedback: Social Awareness, which pertains to utilising feedback to comprehend others' perspectives and sensitivity to them, and Utility, indicating the belief in feedback's usefulness for goal achievement.

The study revealed that older employees tend to have a higher feedback orientation regarding social awareness but a lower feedback orientation regarding utility compared to their younger counterparts. This aligns with the Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (SST), suggesting that older workers are more likely to use feedback to grasp others' perceptions of themselves and to enhance the quality of their social relationships. Conversely, younger employees are more inclined to leverage feedback to enhance performance and advance their careers.

The Chief Human Capital Officer at the Singapore Institute of Management stressed the importance of recognising feedback as a reciprocal process that fosters growth and development for both the individual and the organisation. Sara highlighted the necessity of “constructive and regular feedback sessions, providing a platform for older employees to openly share their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions. By nurturing a feedback culture that values their insights, organisations can effectively address the challenges older employees might face and acknowledge their significant contributions,” she stated. 

In addition, Sara advocated for tailoring feedback to align with the experience and expertise of older employees. “Acknowledging the wealth of knowledge they possess, feedback should not only highlight areas for improvement but also acknowledge their strengths and suggest ways to leverage them effectively within the organisation. This approach instils a sense of value and motivation, encouraging their continued dedication and growth. Implementing a mentorship model can significantly enhance feedback dynamics. Pairing older employees with younger colleagues in a mentorship capacity allows for knowledge sharing and mutual feedback, enriching the workplace through intergenerational exchange and fostering a culture of continuous learning and understanding across different age groups,” she added. 

Modern work practices: Encouraging age-inclusive adaptation

In today's rapidly evolving workplace landscape, convincing the older generation to embrace and adapt to new ways of working is a critical challenge that businesses must address effectively. To encourage older generations to adapt to modern work practices, consider the following key approaches by Loo Leap Han. 

1. Challenge stereotypes - Challenge stereotypes about older workers struggling with technology, but remember at the same time, many older individuals are tech-savvy and welcome new ways of working.

2. Provide learning opportunities- Offer opportunities for older employees to enhance their technical knowledge and skills. Encourage continuous learning and provide resources for upskilling. 

3. Ensure user-friendly digital platforms - Get platforms that are easy to use and navigate. The easier your platform is to use, the quicker it will be adopted. 

4. Personalise the experience - Embrace personalisation of the digital platform to cater to individual preferences and needs. Personalise the system for different groups and individuals to reduce 'information overload. 

5. Provide comprehensive introduction: Offer a thorough introduction to the digital workplace, especially for older team members. Detailed step-by-step explanations can help older individuals navigate the platform effectively.

6. Continuously evolve and seek feedback: Regularly update and improve the digital platform in line with business growth and changing needs. Seek continuous input on the platform's performance and adapt based on feedback. 

7. Utilise interactive engagement- Use online quizzes, polls, and discussion forums to engage and gather feedback from employees regarding the digital platform.

“By debunking stereotypes, providing learning opportunities, ensuring user-friendly interfaces, and seeking continuous feedback, organisations can effectively bridge the generational gap and facilitate smooth adaptation to modern work practices,” said Loo Leap Han. 

To learn more from leaders about some of the burning questions in today’s world of work, stay tuned to People Matters' Big Question series on LinkedIn.

Read full story

Topics: Diversity, Technology, Culture, #BigQuestions, #HRTech, #HRCommunity

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?