Age Diversity Is the Untapped Source for Growth Business Leaders Are Talking About

Editor’s Note: This column is spon­sored by the AARP Thought Leadership and International team. Thought Leadership and International seeks to position AARP as a global thought leader by identifying emerging trends around the world, cultivating and elevating new ideas and sparking new solutions that empower people around the world to make the most of a longer and healthier life.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re witness to the worst economic decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Last year, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund, the global economy shrunk by an astounding 4.4 percent. It is an understatement that we face a long road to recovery. Certainly, a faster vaccine rollout will hasten efforts, boosting confidence and reducing uncertainty as it helps mitigate the spread of COVID-19. And as we begin to rebuild our companies, our communities and our economies, we must broaden our vision to identify all sources of growth, even those hiding in plain sight.

Age diversity is one such opportunity. In general, people are living longer, healthier lives. As a result, the four- and five-generation workforce is a reality—one that is not lost on executives. In a survey of nearly 6,000 employers across the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), 83 percent of global executives recognized that a multigenerational workforce is key to business growth and success.

Apparently, they have come to the same understanding that new research from the OECD, AARP and World Economic Forum reveals. That research found that multigenerational teams perform better, lead to greater worker satisfaction and produce greater revenue for companies. Yet, age is conspicuously absent from a large percentage of diversity and inclusion policies.

This needs to change. It is estimated that building multigenerational workforces and giving older employees greater opportunities to work would raise GDP per capita by 19 percent over the next three decades.

Living, Learning and Earning Longer

In 2019, AARP, in collaboration with the OECD and World Economic Forum, established the Living, Learning, and Earning Longer initiative. This learning collaborative of private-sector executives sought to identify the policies and practices that support a multigenerational workforce and develop new research on their implications for corporate bottom lines.

Today, we have grown our learning collaborative to 53 companies, representing more than 2 million employees and more than $1 trillion in revenue. The collaborative has informed groundbreaking new research, including the recent OECD report, Promoting an Age-Inclusive Workforce: Living, Learning and Earning Longer. This report presents a business case for embracing greater age diversity at the workplace and it debunks several myths about generational differences in work performance, attitudes and motivations toward work.

Specifically, the report urges employers to act on three fronts to make the most of age-inclusive workforces. First, employers must attract and retain talent of all ages. This means eliminating age bias in recruitment practices and encouraging age-diverse cultures where all workers feel comfortable and appreciated, regardless of age. Underscoring the importance of such practices, studies show that age discrimination against those ages 50 and older cost the United States economy $850 billion in 2018 alone.

‘Employers must develop, maintain and expand employee skills throughout their careers.’

Second, employers must ensure a good working environment and a healthy working life. Making work attractive to all workers no matter what life-cycle stage they have reached will ensure engaged, healthy, and skilled workforces. This includes flexible working options to prevent burnout, manage family responsibilities, and engage in learning. It also includes well-being programs, which offer a blend of financial, physical and social/emotional programs, alongside other lifestyle and fitness offerings.

Third, employers must develop, maintain and expand employee skills throughout their careers. A range of practices are available to effectively promote continuous development while at work, including mid-life career reviews, training opportunities, mentoring and coaching.

Growing with Age

To complement the OECD report, AARP also developed the digital learning platform Growing with Age, an online, interactive tool designed for executives to better understand the impact of age diversity and inclusion on a firm’s overall performance.

These research-based products bring to light five key points and findings regarding the multigenerational workforce:

  • Organizational resilience. Inclusion of age, gender, race, sexuality and ability can strengthen business resilience to provide a competitive advantage.
  • Productivity. Mixed-aged teams generate a productivity ripple effect, when considering such factors as institutional knowledge transfer, mentoring, talent development and reduced turnover.
  • Market potential. Employee age diversity unlocks greater market opportunities, better reflecting the diversity of a heterogeneous customer base.
  • Innovation. Intergenerational teams are a source for game-changing innovation. Analysis by the German Economic Institute found that each increase in the variance of workforce age increases the likelihood of achieving a product or process innovation by 1.5 percent.
  • Global economy. Raising the employment levels of workers older than age 50 to match countries with the highest participation of ages 50 and older workers would increase GDP across OECD countries by $10.3 trillion—offsetting the economic loss if older workers’ employment levels were to remain stagnant.

Moving Forward

Rebuilding our economy will require coordinated effort by the public sector and private industry. Yet beyond the obvious challenges, there is a clear opportunity for employers to proactively explore untapped sources of growth. This includes workforce composition. With people living and working longer, employers are managing up to five generations at work on any given day. 

It’s time to embrace age diversity and inclusion. It’s good for people. It’s good across generations. It’s even better for business.

For more information, visit AARP's Growing With Age website.

Jeffrey Gullo is a senior international advisor at AARP. He leads the global workforce initiative, “Living, Learning and Earning Longer,” a collaboration between AARP, OECD and the World Economic Forum.