Leveraging the Mature Workforce

aging workforce

As the world’s population is growing and ageing, the landscape of managing people resources is fast changing. The employed populations are diversifying as more women are joining the workforce, physical boundaries are diminishing on account of technology and the nature of work and workers’ expectations are continuously evolving. One key part of this evolution is the rise in the number of mature workers who are at the center of these changes, and strategies to harness their talents are essential for any organization moving forward.

Did you know that as per research data put together by HBR on the older and more mature workforce, the people who are 65 today have about the same risk of mortality or serious illness as those who were in their mid-50’s a generation ago.And the percentage of the population over age 65 who are at serious risk of mortality or life-threatening illness will grow by only about 16% between now and 2035. What this means is that with better health and life span predictions, the older employees are here to stay showing no signs of slowing down. And any employer who wants to engage a skilled, motivated, and disciplined workforce cannot afford to ignore them.

And yet, these workers are being ignored to some extent and this is due to apprehensions on the side of the employers mostly. One key reason for this is thatyounger managers have difficulty perceiving a work culture where they are managing a team member who is much older and more experienced than they are. It is important for managers to overcome this perception; finding the best candidate is about matching the right competencies, values and attitude, irrespective of age. Secondly motivators for older employees are very different. They aren’t as fearful of being fired (they’re already at retirement age) and they have less interest in fast promotions or a big payouts.

But it’s up to supervisors to change that and manage the dynamics of the relationship with older employees more effectively. There should be a clear expectation setting done on exactly how the talent &experience of the older employees can be utilized for achieving business goals and also pointing out their own roles and responsibilities for goalsetting & creating employee accountability.

Another thing which can be done by managers is to appreciate and applaud the contribution and experience of this employee set . While this is an important motivator for any employee, its even more so for the older age group employees. Research also suggests that putting older and young workers together helps both groups perform better. They make good allies in part because of their similar interests, but because of their different stages of life, they are less competitive with each other than workers in the same age cohort might be. That means that they are more likely to help each other and to form good teams.

The bottom line is that companies looking to leverage the strengths of the older workforce for overcoming the war for talent and driving business results must focus on increasing engagement for this section of the workforce ,as having an older mature set of employees not only provides resources who can hit the ground running and don’t need too much job training but they also are a perfect complement to the younger employee set creating optimal team synergies.

What are the answers to the ‘Diversity Challenge’?

women leaders

We at Catalyst are an all-women organization (at least as of now), and hence writing about women in leadership in the Indian Corporate space (or the lack of it!) is a topic close to heart. Recently, the Confederation of Indian Industry released a report indicating that women comprise only 16 percent of junior managers, four percent of middle and senior managers and a mere one percent of organizational leaders. Thus, while women are adequately represented in the Indian workforce at large, they remain barely present in managerial positions. This is inspite of ‘diversity in workforce’ being the buzz word of a number of corporates in the recent past.

There is no denying that women bring a lot of value to table especially in today’s world of collaboration and innovation. Many studies have indicated that women prefer a collaborative and inclusive decision making process, they are more flexible and empathetic and have better interpersonal skills compared to men. They also are great at multi-tasking and masters of opportunity management, making them valuable resources especially at the top.  Then why is it that women hit the ‘glass ceiling’? And what would it take to  retain them in the long run?

It is a popularly held misconception that a flexible and supportive work environment is enough to keep a woman employee engaged and loyal. While there is no denying that flexibility that accounts for a woman’s home responsibilities is critical to help her hang on to a job, to keep her engaged and drive performance would require much more.

Constant challenges and an opportunity to learn is a critical factor. Women typically tend to excel in fields that interest them from within and challenges their latent creativity and problem solving ability.

An open work culture which allows women to express ideas and question norms is another critical factor. Women love to explore and reinvent and a non-threatening work environment allows them to prosper.

Lastly, a participative team environment which allows them to indulge their nurturing self and build consensus allows them to be at their best. Women are excellent networkers and work cultures that value this skill tends to motivate them more.

Some popular steps taken by corporates are diversity training at the workplace, onsite daycare facilities and flexible schedules for women, changing the hiring strategy to a more diversity focused one and creating affinity groups at work to share common issues and learnings. However, a more proactive and deeper intervention is required if one is truly committed to a diverse workforce –

  1. Make the diversity initiative transparent – Progress on diversity initiatives should be shared on a continuous basis so as to create seriousness and commitment at all levels and departments.
  2. Relook your performance review system – Review metrics may have been created in the image of those who are already successful thus perpetuating an existing form on male dominant leadership. This may need a relook if you want more women managers at the top.
  3. Encourage participation in outside networks – this is especially important to expand the perceptions and knowledge of existing key decision makers.
  4. Very importantly, diversity as an initiative should not just stay with HR but should move into the ambit of business leaders just like any other important business initiative.

Doing the above is not easy. Diversity is a commitment which runs throughout the organization, starting at the top, and engaging professional (men and women) throughout their careers. This is what creates a real competitive advantage.