As part of ‘Champion Age Diversity Day’, we are very pleased to welcome a guest article from Tony Williams. Tony has had a forty year corporate career across a number of industries, including hospitality, retail, consulting, telecommunications and financial services, and in a number of functions, but primarily project and programme management.  Prior to concluding his corporate career, Tony led the creation of the Midlife Forum in Barclays plc. Tony now offers his services as an experienced coach and is working on a number of other personal projects.

I asked Tony to share his thoughts re some of the challenges, and bias, towards age diversity. With an engaging style, this article is succinct, and really hits home some of the bias that exists in the working environment. But it also highlights opportunities missed by organisations, to retain talent that will add significant value in crisis.

Steve Anderson | CEO | The Age Diversity Forum

Tony Williams

Emptying the waiting room?

For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘waiting room’ in a business context, it’s a lovely euphemism to describe the status of colleagues who have reached a nadir in their careers, are typically of a certain age and are either waiting for the pension pot to be good enough (not great at the moment unless you’re a rare bird on a final salary scheme) to call it a day and / or praying to a particular god to get caught up in the latest resizing, right sizing, re-aligning, re-focusing project / programme; or whatever other term is being used to justify saying goodbye to people we just don’t need (want?) anymore.

So, what’s that got to do with Age Diversity? Stick with me……

Let’s face the reality here. Many businesses have to right size, right now, or they will cease to be economic entities; otherwise they’d have to call it a day and all the jobs would go. Unpalatable, difficult, but nevertheless true. No government can afford to keep the supply side going for an extended period of time. Apple probably could, but that’s another story.

But for the focus of this, let’s concentrate on two aspects of the current crisis; the loss of jobs from businesses that are likely to survive and medium-term economic recovery.

Here’s the thing; it makes sense for businesses to do two things which share a moral principle; firstly, retain those employees who are productive today, and who will form the core of the future business; and secondly when things start to recover, recruit to fit the skill bill, but also those with the real need (family, children, mortgage?). You can’t ask those questions, but the answers are not hard to intuit. What’s the moral? Doing the right thing for the business, but with humanity as a compass.

So, what’s the problem?

Well like it or not, ageism, as in bias against older workers, is probably one of the most insidious ‘isms’ yet to be fully addressed by statute, policy and business culture. With an ageing population and thus an ageing workforce, more people will be leaving than joining. In a recession, which we are pretty much certain to enter, emptying the waiting room sounds like a pretty good thing. Smaller economy requires a smaller workforce, chop off the older end; job done!

Not so great for those who are not financially or psychologically prepared to leave the work force, but surely that’s a small price to pay to ensure those who really need the work to be brought back into paid employ as quickly as possible? In the short term maybe; it’s pragmatic.

But does such an approach legitimise open season on ageism, when we know a number of key things about population demographics, economics and older (I hate that term) workers:

  • we know that we are pretty much all living longer and healthier lives than in the whole of human history
  • we know that staying in gainful employment contributes to longevity and well-being
  • we know it has benefits to the state (reduced health care costs, more tax and NI, better private pension provision)
  • we know it has benefits to the economy (consumption is higher)
  • and we know it has benefits to companies (reliability, loyalty, life skills)

And don’t forget that many older customers have significant assets, income and perhaps most importantly, time to enjoy those things; they are a prime market for many businesses, so having colleagues in the business who reflect that market is a bit of a no-brainer. Shame that many CX designers don’t have those insights. But that’s yet another story.

In the short term I think we all understand that the waiting room is likely to be emptied to a large extent, voluntarily or involuntarily. But as we look forward to economic recovery around the world, and it will happen in some form, let’s work in disbanding the concept of the organisational waiting room and put it in its rightful place, where we really are going to catch the last train with a single ticket.

There is a hard-nosed economic business case, for retaining colleagues for longer (as long as they are productive) in the workforce than we presently do, so let’s not lose that in the situation we currently find ourselves in……..and anyway, it’s simply the right thing to do; period.