Article: The two faces of ageism: Embracing the power of age diversity in today’s workforce

Talent Management

The two faces of ageism: Embracing the power of age diversity in today’s workforce

Ageism is one of the last 'acceptable' biases. But in super-aging societies, it's no longer possible to justify age discrimination. We've made our workforces diverse in so many other ways - what about age?
The two faces of ageism: Embracing the power of age diversity in today’s workforce

Asia is now ageing faster than any other region, with various markets attaining or approaching super-aged status. While countries like Japan, South Korea, and Singapore have expanded their social policies to quell the impacts of this demographic transition, it is worth noting that key employee groups within their existing talent pools aspire to continue engaging in meaningful work. 

Take Singapore and South Korea for instance: 3 in 4 older workers in Singapore have no intention of retiring before they turn 65, according to the city-state’s manpower ministry. Similarly, a recent government survey in South Korea showed that nearly 70% of older workers want to continue working. However, they face employability challenges around age discrimination and the threat of skills obsolescence. 

Younger workers across Asia face similar obstacles. Some graduates across Singapore and South Korea, for instance, have experienced prolonged periods of joblessness in 2022. For those who are employed, the past three years of virtual working making it even harder for them to adapt to the current work environment or translate academic skills into employment skills.

The Singapore Government has launched upskilling initiatives such as SkillsFuture to alleviate these employability challenges. Firms are also becoming more open to employing and retaining older workers. In Japan, nearly 40% of businesses are now letting employees work past the age of 70. Yet generational differences within the workforce present new challenges. 

Ageist labels like ‘baby boomers’ and ‘Gen Zs’ have arisen and become synonymous with words like ‘resistant to change’ and ‘entitled’, creating professional fault lines that hinder the growth of a multigenerational workforce. To avoid the pitfalls of workplace ageism, employers must foster an environment that appreciates the experiences and differences across all age groups and ensure that every individual is well-equipped to enter and thrive in the workforce.

Respecting differing needs across generations

Understanding what employees want and supporting them in their decision-making are keys to creating an integrated and sustainable workplace. Beyond pay and bonus, job security, flexible work and health benefits are key factors employees consider when evaluating current or future roles. In fact, a WTW survey found that 68% of local employees in Singapore will remain with their employer for the next two years if given the right benefit package, while 71% would move to a new job if their benefits package does not meet their needs. 

However, many employers are struggling to align their benefits programmes with what their employees are looking for. This misalignment boils down to different objectives around benefits provisions: employers prioritise business resilience and providing core benefits that support universal, unchanging needs, whilst employees see benefits as solutions to their day-to-day needs. 

In Singapore, employees aged 40 and above prioritise retirement planning as the key benefit they seek from employers; while employees aged 27 and below prioritise mental health benefits in their benefits programmes. As their workforce’s needs become more diverse, employers must recognise that a one-size-fit-all approach is no longer viable if they wish to retain talent. 

Employers should keep their ears close to the ground and develop flexible solutions that balance between employees’ evolving needs and their business priorities. One way to do so is to grant employees more autonomy to select benefits that are most aligned with their priorities. For example, they could give younger employees the option to take up enhanced mental health coverage that expands access to counselling services and psychiatric care; or customisable financial benefits like life insurance and retirement funds to support older workers’ long-term financial wellbeing needs.

Preparing multi-generational workers for the evolving workplace

If managing a multigenerational workforce already came with its challenges, they were only exacerbated by Covid-19. The pandemic challenged long-held assumptions of how workplaces should function, and employees now have newfound expectations of the office experience. Yet our survey shows that less than half (44%) of employers are expecting and prepared for changing work conditions, while only one-third (39%) are expecting and prepared for more digitalisation and automation.

If employers do not recognise the changing dynamics of work, multi-generational employees will be increasingly challenged by the lack of necessary skillsets to technological developments and a new working culture.

This will not only fail to dispel negative stereotypes, but enhance the two sides of ageism.

To truly support all employee age groups, employers must place talent at the centre of their transformation. Here are some ways to get started:

Redesign jobs: Technology has completely reshaped work, workers, and companies. With the pandemic accelerating digital adoption, employers should reconsider the optimal allocation of tasks across various job roles between employees, non-employees, and new technologies.  

Invest in equitable upskilling: Working with a multi-generational workforce means that employers should commit resources to support employees in their career and skills development. This can range from digital upskilling opportunities for older employees to soft skills trainings around negotiation techniques and critical thinking for younger employees. 

Enable flexible work: Many Gen Z employees began their careers during the pandemic and have adapted to the hybrid working model. Yet less than one-third of APAC companies are currently reviewing flexible work and caregiving arrangements. Flexible working extends beyond just working from home: for roles where remote working is not possible, employers can also consider flexible locations, such as allowing employees to work in company branches closer to home. 

Strengthen listening strategy: Every employee, whether young or old, wants to be heard. By listening and developing a deeper understanding of their expectations and preference, companies can better support employees to achieve long term well-being and efficiency at the workplace. 

In the rush to implement employee anti-discrimination training, companies often forget to tackle these biases on a wider scale. You can’t force someone to think a certain way, but you can help every employee feel that their uniqueness is appreciated, their needs are met, and they are empowered to thrive in the evolving workplace. Only then can we foster greater understanding and collaboration in the workforce and create a single team where ‘age’ empowers instead of discriminates. 

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Topics: Talent Management, Compensation & Benefits, Diversity

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