Generation Bias: What is it? And how to overcome it
Out of all the aspects of diversity and inclusion preoccupying our minds, generational or age diversity is likely last on the priority list and the biases around it are often overlooked. Yet, this diversity can be critical to the prosperity of organisations, creating a strong competitive advantage for companies that intentionally embrace it. Each generation features distinctive characteristics, values, needs, communication preferences, and working styles, as well as, of course, similarities to each other.
As companies race to create teams that are used to working in fast-paced, changing and digitalised environments, older workers often get overlooked. But why is it so? Given ample research showing that older employees bring significant value to the organisations, why are they not a focus of recruiting efforts? Even worse, why do they frequently end up at the bottom of the hiring pools? The answer is simple — it is due to bias. We all have biases in one way or another, including age-based biases, which should be debunked and not perpetuated.
Bias 1: Older workers are not tech-savvy and are not willing to change that
Unlike Generation Z, reputed to be digital natives (practically born with an electronic device in their hands) or Millennials, who were early technology adopters, older workers – who started their careers long before the internet came into existence – are believed to be intimidated by and resistant against technology. However, a 2021 study conducted by YouGov shows that British seniors (60+) have become increasingly more digital since the pandemic started with almost half (44%) of those aged 60+ reporting more digital behaviours over the last year. Despite not having grown up with electronics, older workers have been embracing technology and are open to upskilling as needed.
Bias 2: Older employees are not motivated by reporting to younger managers
With the rise of Generation X and Millennial management, many older workers are reporting to managers who are younger than they are. In their book, Managing the Older Worker, Peter Cappelli and Bill Novelli suggest that some younger managers may feel an imposter syndrome supervising employees with greater experience than they have. Indeed, discomfort likely flows both ways for any new situation – it may be difficult at first for an older subordinate to accept directions from someone much younger and for a younger manager to supervise someone who may be older than their parents.
While older workers need to be open to using modern working styles and tools, even if some of the old ways were effective — they often are that way naturally without any prodding. Sometimes they may benefit from a little coaching but often they’ll absorb the tips readily. And younger managers need to feel empowered to manage a worker who may be older than their parents and be open to their input which might offer solutions. They eventually often appreciate the expertise of the older worker and see it rather as valuable and not as bossy.
Encouraging mutual respect and positive relations between the older employee and younger manager, and modelling leadership frameworks against age-based biases, will help to eliminate potential resentment and elevate comfort levels from both sides.
Bias 3: Older collaborators are not a good long-term investment as they are too close to retirement
With a life expectancy that keeps increasing, the notion of retiring around age 65 is no longer the norm. This is reflected in social welfare systems around the world. In the UK specifically, there will be a phased increase in the State Pension age. The age will extend to 67 by 2028 according to Age UK and is expected to continue increasing in the near future.
The global population is projected to reach 9.9 billion in 2050, and approximately 21% or 2.1 billion of these individuals will be over the age of 60. Many of these people will choose to continue working well past the traditional retirement age for various reasons: financial need, enjoyment of work, wanting to stay intellectually engaged and to accomplish more through work, or for the social interactions a workplace can provide. They continue wanting to grow and contribute in meaningful ways, often motivated by wanting to bolster their legacy.
How to implement a more age-diverse hiring approach?
To capitalise on the many benefits that older workers bring to organisations and to facilitate the infrastructure of age-diverse teams, employers should seek to eradicate ageist hiring practices and a biased organisational mindset.
Below are a few tips on how that can be accomplished:
- Review your organisation’s recruiting materials on the website and in job postings by making your recruiting message and images more inclusive of all ages.
- Reassess how and where you recruit by determining ways you can expand your reach by researching where older candidates tend to search for job opportunities.
- Take a fresh look at your DEI materials to see if they contain any information on generational diversity. If it is not the case, readapt them.
- Use DEI tools (such as the new online DEI Assessment Model launched by the ACC Foundation, ACC and Ethisphere) to set realistic benchmarks and measure the company’s efforts in this area.
- Assemble age-diverse interview panels to create a more welcoming interview environment for your older candidates.
- Train your HR teams to be mindful of the language used with older candidates, so it is not offensive and educate them about generational discrimination.
- Look into offering benefits that typically appeal to older employees such as complementary health care benefits, additional training and educational programs, and flexible work arrangements.
This is your opportunity. Creating hiring practices that are inclusive of all generations and working to eliminate age-related biases will benefit employers and society as whole, and may even create a switch from the Great Resignation to the Great Invigoration, who knows!
With special thanks to Jane Howard-Martin, Connie Almond, Jennifer N. Jones and Meyling Ly Ortiz at Toyota Motor for their valuable contributions to this article.