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07.07.16Age Matters: Age as workplace asset

Age matters. It matters when we’re young, yearning to be older. It matters enough when we’re older to lie about it or make up sayings like “30 is the new 20” when really 30 IS 30. Age not only matters in our personal lives, but also in our professional lives. Despite laws designed to protect against age discrimination in the workplace, our perceptions of age have important implications for how we interact with and value our employees and peers in the workplace.

And it happens on both ends of the spectrum. Young employees are considered “green”. The assumption? They know nothing. Fortunately, that assumption is false. While the young employee may not be well-versed in a particular company’s culture or dynamics, young professionals typically know far more than nothing. In fact, due to economic and educational shifts over the past few decades, chances are that young professionals come into the field knowing a ton about best practices and research in the field. What they lack in “hands-on” experience they typically make up for in education. That education is an asset that can be used to spur fresh thought, creativity, innovation, and efficiency.

On the other end of the spectrum, older employees are too often considered obsolete. They’re assumed to be less technologically savvy, less efficient, and more stuck in their “old” ways. But, aside from experience, “older” employees often have a ton of other assets they bring to the workplace. For instance, they likely have real experience with change management and impressive personal communication and relationship-building skills.

Undoubtedly, these skills and competencies suggested above are generalizations. Not all newbies are tech savvy or efficient. Not all old-timers are wise relationship builders. The point here is not to map our workplace skills by age demographics. Rather, the point is to highlight that people from all ages and backgrounds have unique and valuable skills that can be utilized as assets when we chose to look at people from a strengths-based perspective.

When you’re working to build an inclusive team, consider these tips:

 

  1. Create working teams with a mix of experience. The varying levels of experience often lead to opportunities for organic mentoring and diversity of thought in problem-conceptualization and problem-solving.
  2. Determine strengths. Encourage members of teams to take the time to assess their areas of strength and weakness. Sharing these strengths and weaknesses with the team allow members to see how they fit together like a puzzle and complement each other.
  3. Provide opportunities for professional development. None of us knows everything, despite our age or how long we’ve been in the field. Provide an opportunity for professional development on a wide range of topics allowing people from all demographics and backgrounds to gain additional training on the issues most relevant and useful to them.
  4. Develop voluntary in-house mentorship programs. Guarantee you that both the “mentee” and the “mentor” will learn a thing or two from each other as long as they’re open-minded during the process.

 

These suggestions are the tip of the iceberg. Get creative and build your own age-inclusive organization!

 

Have other recommendations… share them with us in the comments section!

 

Dr. Kandace Forrester is a co-founding, managing partner, and contributing author for PROJECT EDQUITY.

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