The vast majority of leaders have woken up to the benefits of workplace diversity but while firms often focus their initiatives on gender or race, there’s one factor which regularly goes neglected – age.
“Many areas of the workforce overlook the benefits of an age diverse workforce,” says Michelle Gibbings, a leadership expert and executive mentor who’s worked with a variety of financial giants, including Westpac, AMP and CBA.
According to Gibbings, leaders are often compelled to hire people who are similar to them so, regardless of whether a business is run by a millennial or a baby boomer, a lack of age diversity can quickly become apparent.
“Similarity makes a person feel comfortable,” Gibbings explains. “However, when you hire people like yourself, you are filling the team or work group with people who have similar backgrounds, experiences and thought processes.”
This homogeneity, she warns, can negatively impact how decisions are made.
“The more alike people are, the more likely they are to think along the same lines and therefore there is less room for debate, discernment and disagreement,” she tells Insurance Business, pointing to research from Kellogg University which shows that diverse teams make better decisions.
“That diversity is not just about gender or ethnicity, it includes age, experience and backgrounds,” says Gibbings. “The diverse groups outperform more homogeneous groups not because of an influx of new ideas, but because the diversity triggers more careful processing of the information that’s discussed.”
However, even firms that have managed to create an age-diverse workforce may still be underutilising the potential benefits – but there are ways to better leverage skills from employees of all ages.
“Research conducted over the last 30 years shows that taking a strengths-based approach leads to greater work satisfaction, engagement, and productivity,” says Gibbings.
According to Gibbings, leaders play a crucial role in bringing strengths to life at work – for both themselves and their team members.
“It starts with the leader understanding their own strengths and how they are best used at work,” she says. “The next step is to help team members appreciate the strengths they bring to their role, and recognise and value the strengths their colleagues bring to their roles.”
Gibbings recommends leveraging strength diagnostic tools to help with this, as they encourage conversation among team members about the diversity of skills within the team.
“This is a great activity to do as a team,” she says. “Once each person has undertaken the selected assessment you can have a conversation about how each person uses those strengths at work.
“It’s as simple as asking each team member to share back: ‘I am at my best when…’, and to describe the work environment or situation that brings out the best in them. This practice is a great way to increase understanding and the level of rapport, trust and connectedness among the team.”