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The HR challenges of an ageing workforce via @hrmagazine and @DrKPritchard

by on February 17, 2016

HR Magazine has just published this article on the challenges of an ageing workforce. It features commentary from a number of key players in this area including Ros Altmann (pensions minister), Anna Dixon (chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better), Rachael Saunders (Business in the Community), Dianah Worman (diversity adviser at CIPD),  Ann Brown (HR director at Nationwide), Lynda Gratton (professor of management practice at London Business School), Paul Deemer (head of diversity and inclusion at NHS Employers) and my co-blogger and research collaborator Katrina Pritchard (senior lecturer at The Open University).

It covers a number of aspects to this topic, reiterating the complexity of the challenge, for example:

  • the extent to which people want (or need) to work for longer in their lives highlights the extent to which we cannot generalise about those over 50 as their work preferences and aptitude, as well as their financial status, will vary;
  • the effects of changing demographics, specifically the extent to which an ageing population represents a pool of untapped talent or a source of intergenerational conflict;
  • how to escalate age to the top of the HR agenda;
  • the extent to which an older workforce requires special arrangments to accommodate their working needs or whether these are in fact good practices that benefit workers of all ages;
  • and the contribution of flexible working such as the (new to me) phrase ‘part-tirement’ to describe the stage when people have not stopped work altogether but have cut down.

The article also cites our paper Baby Boomers and the Lost Generation and I want to highlight here Katrina’s observations about generational labels as these so often dominate discussions of the ageing workforce.

Pritchard explains that often generational labels are used to describe qualities that have always historically been associated with people of a certain age, allowing age discrimination to slip under the radar. “What happens is generational characteristics and age characteristics get conflated and people get confused,” she says. “There is concern about how age and generation labels are used. We have a particular concern that generational stereotypes allow people to get around age discrimination legislation. So when you say ‘Gen Y is lazy’ what you’re actually saying is ‘I believe all people aged 20 to 24 are lazy’, which is actually age discrimination.”

She adds: “What tends to happen is that people talk about millennials as the young people. So the labels are used carelessly and a generation stereotype is applied to young people. And actually we’ve always thought of young people as a bit more reckless, so are they actually any different to young people 50 years ago?”

The article reports Lynda Gratton agreeing with Katrina’s description of generations as something of a ‘fad’ and that this has lead us to “completely overestimate the challenges of intergenerational working”. So this is encouraging for those of us who have been arguing for some time that generational stereotypes are unhelpful.

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