Why age-friendly workplaces? Our population is getting older. At first, this may sound bad. That’s because we tend to think that older equals lesser. Instead, we’d argue that older really equals different. As we age, we have different skills, different abilities, different strengths and weaknesses.

Some good things only come with age, for example, qualities needed in the workplace. Older workers bring skills, relationships and knowledge that only come with years of experience. Age-friendly, intergenerational teams can get the best of all worlds.

There has been a lot said about the differences between generations. We live and work in a very age-segregated time. Our schooling, our marketing, and our media can all work to set generations against each other. It takes an effort to overcome this.

Older adults make an impact

A recent project investigated how to engage older adults and take advantage of this resource. Second Acts for Stronger Families was created by The Alliance for Stronger Families & Communities and Encore.org, and evaluated by Joining Vision & Action. The campaign aimed to mobilize older adults in support of the missions of social good organizations in the Alliance.

Participating organizations recruited their own 50+ adult for the three-year, part-time fellowship. The job of these Second Acts Fellows was to expand the organization’s capacity to leverage 50+ talent. Depending on the organization, this could entail a range of things, from programmatic changes to changes in organizational culture.

At the end of the project, it was clear that there is great potential for organizations that intentionally develop programs that engage older adults. Successes included:

  • Increased number of volunteers and increased volunteer engagement
  • Improved employee and volunteer retention, through internal cultural changes and programs redesign
  • Positive response from people served by older volunteers, who saw them as living examples of success
  • Deepened ties within the community through the connections of older volunteers
  • Improved communication between older and younger staff, and changes in attitude to favor older adults’ contributions

Age-friendly workplaces take an effort

Reaching these outcomes was not simple, however. Results varied, depending greatly on the organization’s ability to take advantage of the fellow’s contributions. Some clear lessons emerged for organizations that would like to expand their talent pool to include older adults.

Organizational buy-in is key. Leadership and staff have to believe in the value of engaging older adults. This takes time and effort. Top-down directives may not be enough. Direct experience between generations was crucial to success. Organizations that deliberately set up conversations involving people from all generations were able to break down barriers and dispel stereotypes.

Having someone older on staff can broaden perspective and reach in the community. For instance, successful Second Act Fellows were able to tap new, local resources for volunteers. Many organizations were not considering older volunteers and their needs, leaving this resource untapped. The perspective and connections of older adults can increase an organization’s capacity.

Cultural change is necessary to engage older adults. Not all organizations are age-friendly. Organizations have to be intentional in making this change. Human resource policies may need updating. Internal communications and marketing material may need to be re-written. Organizations need a plan and leadership dedicated to following it. This can be difficult, especially in light of the tight budgets and turnover that nonprofits face.

Recruitment is key. It takes time to find the right person to help with an initiative that involves cultural shift. Successful organizations took the time to really dig into their networks and find people with the right talents, and with a familiarity and affinity for the mission.

The next steps forward

Of course, the first step to accessing the potential of the 50+ workforce is to hire them, but it does not end there. Organizations also need to create an age-friendly culture and this can be complicated. Fortunately, this campaign produced a bit of a road map. The Alliance for Stronger Families and Communities created a toolkit for other organizations to follow, based on the outcomes of the project. (The toolkit can be found here.)

There is tremendous potential in engaging older adults, which more and more organizations are realizing. Campaigns like this are helping us understand what this will take. It may not be simple, but it is worth it.

Want to learn more about the case for intergenerational workplaces? Check out our page on age-friendly workplaces. Changing the Narrative can also come to you. To set up a presentation or get more information, contact us.

Sara Breindel, Changing the Narrative Blogger