A few months ago, I was invited onto Clement Manyatela’s morning show on 702 to discuss a very topical and divisive subject: Ageism in the workplace – are the oldies too old and stuck in their ways, and are the youngsters too hip and disrespectful?
When I joined Mint Group as the HR Manager almost a decade ago, we were a “young” company, not dissimilar to every other IT company around. The median age of thirty-three at the time meant a significant portion of our employees were millennials. My first diversity priority at that time was gender, so the age of our Minties was never really a consideration because we were determined to grow our business and get more women into technology. What we did do was scrap our mandatory retirement policy to retain talent and made a concerted effort to focus on attracting talent across all demographics.
The shifting workforce
Fast forward to 2022. Mint Group SA has quadrupled in size, and our median age across the business is now just shy of thirty-nine. Today, our youngest Mintie is twenty-two and we have 3 Minties turning sixty before the end of the year. I believe this is a significant factor in Mint’s culture of inclusivity, diversity, and authenticity.
Our “more life-experienced” Minties have a lot of professional hours under their belt, and they have seen it all. They provide mentorship opportunities as well as the heft of silver streaks for those clients who still attach knowledge to age. We have twenty-five Minties who are fifty or older, and this is a great group of people to learn from and learn with.
And then we have our “freshest” Minties who bring with them completely new perspectives, unfettered enthusiasm, and a vast expanse of learning and growth opportunities. We have 30 under-thirties at Mint Group, and their energy and enthusiasm are palpable. These are Minties who have only known life online and many of them are only just starting out in their careers in technology.
Synergy across age groups
Bringing these two groups together in projects, on teams, and in the organization has provided Mint with a depth of life experience and an expanse of professional exposure that makes for a rich and engaging culture. Problem-solving becomes an entirely different experience when employees across age groups collaborate, and it is fascinating to observe what solutions are proposed and utilized in the end.
There is a lot to be said about the Human Library concept pioneered in Scandinavian countries ~ instead of taking a book out, you book time with a person different from you and enjoy the experience of learning and challenging your own beliefs and attitude. Working with a diversely aged workforce can become a similar opportunity for learning and growing.
Having three or more generations in the workplace is an invaluable asset to your organization, and it can be turned into an impactful tool in creating and maintaining an inclusive and diverse culture. Holding back younger employees from leadership because they’re not yet experienced enough, or they don’t have enough miles on their CV is short-sighted and will certainly reinforce their views that management is archaic, and one can only become a leader when you’re “old”. Not everyone is prepared to wait seventy-three years for a promotion!
Viewing older employees as automatic leaders also puts undue pressure on them to perform in a role that they are not just comfortable in. Plotting career paths that allow for technical specialization to be equal to leadership aspiration ensures longevity in career paths within your organization. The key is to view the individuals beyond their age and embrace the value the individual is bringing to the organization.
Mint’s three points for combatting ageism in the workplace are:
1 – Don’t stereotype! Old people aren’t all stuck in their ways and young people aren’t all determined to break every rule in sight. Give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt and engage with them without prejudice – you’ll be surprised by how human and relatable they are.
2 – Provide support. One of the biggest contributing factors to ageism in the workplace stems from fear. Older people fear being replaced, and therefore unvalued, and young people fear being unheard, and therefore unacknowledged. The leadership team should actively practice inclusion and recognition within their teams to allay these fears and establish a micro-culture of recognition and appreciation.
3 – Visibility is key. When people feel seen (and heard) they are more like to see and hear those around them. Giving different employees opportunities to share their stories and/or experience outside of a formal work context humanizes them and makes colleagues more relatable and approachable.
An age-diverse workforce can become a powerful asset to an organization in terms of skills, inclusivity, and talent management. I challenge you to address your ageist stereotypes and embrace this opportunity for diversity.