Wize Moves @TheWorkPLace ‘Changing Mindsets, Changing Cultures’

Are organizations and their employees, ready, willing and able to create a multi-generational work environment that welcomes people of all age groups so they feel valued, fulfilled, and challenged?

Wize Move Society, our global online community for people over50 is creating awareness around the growing ageing population: we live longer, are healthier and more active than ever, and there is a lot of knowledge, experience, and wisdom to tap into. On the downside, living longer means building larger retirement funds or to work longer. For many of this ageing generation, it means they will be part of the workforce much longer then intended when they started working in their twenties. Are organizations ready to welcome a workforce with people of all age groups? Some organizations are already working with a very rich multi-generational workforce: sometimes 5 generations working together. 

In spite of the huge demografic changes, one in three employees feels that their employer is not doing anything to create a multigenerational work environment. In some countries this is even worse! (Source: Aegon, Retirement Readiness Survey 2020).
Research has also shown that 83% of corporate executives are aware that a multi-generational workforce is of value to their organization’s success and growth. So why is it that only 5% of employers have put concrete and effective policies in place to retain the older generation in the workplace? (Source: OECD report 2020; promoting an Age Inclusive Workforce).

Time for a meaningful and solution oriented Live Conversation with our Wize Move Society HR and DEI experts Renée van der Burg (The Netherlands), Robert Baker (UK), Mary Jane Roy (The Netherlands/Canada), Eugene Smith (South Africa) and our special guest, DEI consultant Vivian Acquah (The Netherlands). 

(Wize Move Society Live Conversation on February 28,2023)

Landscape: The Challenges of an Ageing Workforce

Renée van der Burg shared only a couple of issues, relevant for the current situation in organizations concerning the ageing workforce.

People stay active much longer and they want to contribute, they want to remain relevant and have an impact. Aegon research shows that one third of the people want to work longer. We also need to be aware that many of them need to work longer and earn or supplement their income for the increased lifespan.

We have been embracing the benefits of diversity. To be able to look at issues from different angles and different perspectives will help you as an individual, as a team and as an organization. The diversity of society should be mirrored in the internal workforce; the fact that the boomer generation is increasing in numbers in society, means that organizations should include the 50plus workforce in their diversity efforts.

Changes in the job market are also relevant; the job for life is long gone; people want more flexibility, and organizations need to adapt. Covid has played a big role in a changing mindset about work. Since many organizations are struggling at the talent market, it is important to answer this need for flexibility to attract and retain all age ranges of (potential) employees. Organizations should also be aware that the cost of recruiting and onboarding new talent until being “up-to-speed” is on average a one-year salary. Depending on country and job level this can be 1.5 -2 times their annual salary (quoting John Bersin). Focus on retaining older workers pays off.

Renée wonders if organizations are ready to except this broader workforce. Age discrimination biases are a fact of life and systems like retirement age and working hours are often too rigid to facilitate the so much needed flexibility.

  • If you bring an experienced person into a role, they move the needle a lot quicker; a lot can be achieved in a short period of time. – Eugene Smit

Robert Baker added to the conversation that there are additional reasons why companies should pay more attention to this age group. The AARP in the US predicted that the economic value of the 50plus market is going to grow to 28 trillion dollars by 2050. This market is huge and growing. It is important to approach this market in the right way; get your products and your message right. This group does not want to be marketed to as a senior but as a person!

  • The economic value of the over50 generation is huge, who does not want to be part of this trillion-dollar industry? – Robert Baker

The key challenges for organizations that need to attract and retain the 50plus workforce, is that they want to work more flexible and in more inclusive cultures; they do not want to go back into those rigid corporate structures. Interesting is that the younger generations want that flexibility as well. It will be a challenge to get younger and older workers together in cross generational teams. Older workers need to continue to upskill themselves and reverse mentoring might be helpful while upgrading our mindset and our skillsets.

Organizations also need to be aware that younger generations want more balance in work and life. They are concerned about values and the social impact of the organization. Young people are also more concerned about authenticity, diversity, inclusion and want to have an equal voice right from the start; that voice can be quite loud because of technology. This is totally different from those entering the workforce 40 years ago, who had to work their way up. There actually is a lot of similarity with the younger and older generations when looking at purpose, values, flexibility, work-life balance and more. Important is that all voices are heard, and different generations talk to each other.

  • Parkinson’s law shows that ‘work will fill the space available to it’. Flexibility actually increases productivity; it increases the output of individuals. – Eugene Smit

Beliefs, Behavior and Culture

Although we all understand the need to focus on the creation of a multi-generational work environment where everyone feels welcome, valued, fulfilled, and challenged, the reality is different.

  • Embracing diversity and inclusion in the workspace is important: the more diverse the teams, the more inspiring the conversations and the more creative the solutions. – Ingun Bol

Mary Jane Roy shared that ageism is the most widespread form of discrimination and the most highly experienced. The fact is, we are all going to experience it if we do not change mindsets and change cultures. It also has the least attention in the DEI strategies in organizations. It has become socially accepted and not usually challenged. How do we feel about older people, how do we think about older people, how do we act towards older people? We need to bust the stereotypical thinking and the myths!

  • We cannot let age define us! – Mary Jane Roy

According to Eugene Smit ageism, bias, prejudice, stereotyping are all behaviors that stem from very deep beliefs. Organizations also develop beliefs. What is the organizations belief in terms of the 50plus employees and how does that effect their practices? Beliefs are developed over time and become unconscious and automatic and not deliberately thought through. If organizations do not have a culture of psychological safety, that allows people to share with complete honesty and openness, inclusivity does not exist, and diversity is useless.

So, what is the organizational culture and how does that culture impact the broader delivery and performance. The Psychological Safety Model shows that if organizations have high standards and high social safety, then you have a high performance and learning zone, where people can learn and perform at their best. If you drop the psychological safety in a high standard environment, you get an anxiety zone. Anxiety and fear bring people into their defensive space; their unthinking, autopilot reaction. This does not help organizations to change. Ageism and biases need to thrive in an environment that opens for them, by ensuring that the culture allows people to thrive, to think, to be completely honest, and to take ownership of things that have gone wrong. This is easy to say but difficult to implement.

Guest speaker Vivian Acquah shared how technology, and more specifically, Virtual Reality (VR) changes the traditional perception on ageing, on ageism, on unconscious behavior. VR can be an added value to see and experience things from a different perspective; it offers people the opportunity to walk in the another person’s shoes. Experience it as a by-stander or as the main character; experience the micro aggression between people of different age groups and especially experience behavior that is very subtle. You can experience your own unconscious bias and become your own bias teacher to change it; it may even unlock empathy.

Vivian quoted Barack Obama who mentioned there is an empathy deficit. In the workplace there is a lack of empathy if we only look at the situation from our own lens instead of looking at it from someone else’s perspective. When people start looking from another’s perspective, they begin to understand how others perceive the situation and this helps them better understand the world of the other. By really experiencing it themselves, by becoming aware of their own behavior, people start changing their behavior. Vivian strongly believes that change starts with the individual person, so we need to tap into our own behavior first. That will bring change to the team and organizations. People bring their own journey, their own experiences to the workplace. By using VR, they can accelerate changing behavior, changing mindset, and therefor changing cultures of organizations.

  • People are naturally inclined to think they are less biased than anyone else, naturally inclined to think their values are right and ignore or reject anything that challenges their beliefs. We must overcome these challenges; it is not only about changing organizational culture but also about changing individual beliefs. – Eugene Smith

 Mary Jane Roy shared what qualities are most important in HR and leadership’s approach to discern what the over50’s needs are in their career development, human skills like curiosity, open mindset, courage. Having courageous conversations with those later in their career, without judgement and with respect to ensure that change starts to happen. Organizations really need to embrace the human skills of their employees: active listening, creating a psychological safe environment, having courageous conversations, creating an environment where we embrace and support different generations, where people of all generations feel at home; creating together with the employees a real DEI culture. 

Changing Mindsets, Changing Cultures: What can we do?

In breakout rooms all participants shared their experiences from different perspectives and in different roles: as an HR leader, a DEI expert, a business owner, an employee, trainer, or coach. The experience, the knowledge, and the facts all lead to specific recommendations for the over50 employees and for organizations looking at our theme: ‘Changing Mindsets, Changing Cultures’.

 Employees changing mindsets, changing believes:

  • Each individual needs to take responsibility for their own journey and for their situation. Organizations and government can play their part, but it starts with the decision that change starts with us.
  • Over50 employees need to be aware of their own knowledge, experience and wisdom and the value it can bring to organizations and teams.
  • Employees need to be aware of their own unconscious mindset and behavior when it comes to stereotyping and bias on age.

Employees changing behavior, changing culture:

  • Be curious about changing situations, be flexible and develop a mindset of positive change.
  • Embrace diversity in general and more specifically on age.
  • Be an advocate for the older employees and actively contribute to conversations about needed changes at the workplace; Communicate expectations, suggestions, ideas about the next phase of your life.
  • Be open to education and learning and be open to learn from older and younger team members and colleagues.
  • Seek coaching when needed and contribute to mentoring programs for younger and older employees (reverse mentoring).

Organizations changing mindsets, changing believes:

  • Define a business case to showcase the need of “changing Mindsets, Changing Cultures’
  • The organization and executives need to decide that the organization and all employees will benefit from the creation of an inclusive and diverse workforce: an organizational approach is needed to implement and sustain new policies, processes, procedures, etc.
  • Make it visible in internal and external communication, that a multi-generational approach is part of the culture.

 Organizations changing systems:

  • Re-design systems with a focus to retain or recruit the over50 employee: e.g. performance measurement, promotion and learning opportunities and recruitment procedures.
  • Create a psychologically safe environment where people are invited to share, participate, and communicate.

Organizations changing behavior, changing cultures:

  • Create awareness around ageism, stereotyping, biases, and work on consciously changing behavior.
  • Offer mentoring programs (reverse mentoring) and / or buddy systems.
  • Support employees to embrace change.
  • Offer continuous learning opportunities to employees of all age groups.
  • Offer safe spaces for employees-only, to meet, share what they experience.
  • Offer more flexibility: part-time options, location choice, redefine or re-assign tasks.
  • Do research on age difference in the workspace, e.g. younger versus older in management roles, vulnerability of older managers vs younger ones feeling more threatened.
  • Listen to older workers and their changing perspective on work. Purpose and values becoming more important than career and income.
  • Value the experience, knowledge, and wisdom the older generation has to offer.


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