One of the consequences of older people staying longer in paid work is that workforces are more likely to be comprised of people of different ages. Are mixed-age workforces a good or a bad thing for business and what views do employers hold on this? Research among New Zealand employers produced an extremely high response that mixed-age workforces are good for business and this applied to organisations of different sizes and in different areas of the economy.
Advantages of a mixed age workforce
The most frequently quoted advantage was the mix of experience and skill levels, along with the mix of stability and initiative (and technical knowledge) which a mixed age workforce can provide. Employers interviewed saw mixed age workforces as a blend of “loyalty and vibrancy”, as an opportunity for old and young to share experiences and learn from each other. This gives a wider range of perspectives in the work of the organisation and reflects the diversity of society as a whole.
An advantage is that older workers are able to mentor younger workers.
(It provides) a mix of knowledge and skills. Younger staff motivate older staff to increase learning to stay ahead. Older staff become resources and mentors to younger staff.
There are also advantages from the customer relations perspective.
Allows us to match clients and their needs with people that understand them/are best suited to working with them.
Several employees mentioned the steadying influence of older workers as opposed to the emotional volatility of the young.
Seniors have a calming influence and provide stability. They can help younger workers, especially those who have failed school. Older workers make a difference by being there and just saying “this is how we do things”.
Only a few of the employers brought up any drawbacks to mixed age workforces. These centered mainly on possible difficulties arising from the differing attitudes of Gen Y and Gen X, as against the baby-boomers and older people. Younger people tend to be more au fait with new technology and older people may resent this. On their part, younger workers may see their older colleagues as a barrier to their promotion – a fear that could increase the longer that older workers stay on. However, any potential drawbacks, suggested the employers, could be managed with better communication, better consultation, and flexibility in work roles.
I was reminded of the findings of my research when I read the Centre for Ageing Better’s work chapter in their recent report The State of Ageing 2020.  Their question, thinking about the post-covid world, was Could older and younger workers working together hold the key to the economic recovery?
Quoting OECD analysis, their conclusion was that mixed age workforces could be a key contributor as firms seek to boost their productivity. They found that, not only are older workers just as productive at work as any other age group, but also that. having older workers in a team is associated with increased productivity of co-workers around them, particularly younger colleagues.
The effects of having people over 50 in the workforce are to boost productivity through their lower job turnover, greater management experience and greater general work experience. Greater productivity gains mean higher wages for everyone. Rather than being in competition, different age groups working together can help both businesses and individuals.
Given these advantages, the report poses another question – Are individuals, employers and the economy ready to embrace multigenerational teams? They conclude that the benefits depend on an environment which supports people to stay in work for longer.
Dr Judith. A Davey
 Research I carried out with the help of the Institute of Management, published by the Institute of Policy Studies in 2008 – Workforce Ageing – An issue for Employers. Quotes in italics are from interviews associated with this project.
 Centre for Ageing Better, London, 2020.