The ageing workforce dilemma

bdailyWe all know the statistics, on the one hand we are heading towards an increasingly ageing population whilst the figures also show that by 2025 Generation Y will be making up 75% of the workforce. The combination of increased health and an increasingly uncertain economic outlook which leads ageing Baby Boomers to stay in employment longer suggests that there could be potential for intergenerational conflict.

Young managers looking to advance their careers into senior management roles are coming into potential conflict with older colleagues who, for a variety of reasons, are limiting the number of top management positions available, effectively blocking the promotion pipeline.

The current generation of 57 year olds are no longer looking towards retirement. They are as fit as they were in their 50s, are full of energy and expertise and, their pension positions often do not allow them the luxury of retirement. HR managers are now faced with the challenge of retaining and motivating young managers to stay for the long haul, whilst developing strategies to ensure that vital intellectual capital is valued, retained and protected.

Organisations wanting to retain senior managers need to find an effective way to marry the transfer of corporate DNA and knowledge with the new ideas and energy of the next generation of managers. Whilst filling some junior management roles – even on a temporary basis – with those managers who have reached “retirement age” makes perfect sense, it presents a set of very different challenges for the newly appointed (and often much younger) senior management.

Chief among these challenges is how to manage an older and more experienced worker when you are a young and less experienced manager. It is an issue that is often described as ‘inverting the natural order’. Some young and very talented senior managers talk about the dilemma they sometimes face when having to manage someone who has much more experience and who is also old enough to be their parent. Equally, older workers can find it difficult to take orders from younger and less experienced colleagues. While the generational divide can be less of an issue in Europe and North America, in many countries across Asia there is a cultural deference to age which needs to be addressed.

However, if deference to age can be coupled with new ideas feeding off experience, the combination can be powerful and propel a company into a new phase of growth.

As people need and want to work longer, and governments need people to work longer due to the high costs of funding retirement pensions, organisations are going to have to manage the issues attendant on integrating different generations of employees. There is no quick and easy fix but instead of highlighting intergenerational conflict, focusing positively on a shared experience among the generations can ensure that the most successful organisations will be those who can harness the power of experience with the vibrancy of youth.

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