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How Much Does Age Matter and What Business Can Do About It

With four generations now working side by side, and the aging of Baby Boomers, it's easy for employers to want to group employees and make assumption about age cohorts and what they want. But, this strategy couldn't be more wrong.

In a recent presentation to Human Resources IQ titled "More Than Meets the Eye", Kathy Lynch, Director of Employer Engagement at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work, discussed just how much people of the same generation have in common ... or don't.

"Chronological age doesn't say it all," explains Lynch. "The key is: what are your employees looking for in their jobs? Just knowing their age or generation may not tell you much. You may think you know a lot more about them than you really do because age may not predict life stage or career stage." As an illustration of strategies to examine how different dimensions of age in the workplace can act as a facilitator or barrier to talent management, Lynch's presentation highlighted key findings from the Center's Age & Generations Study (2008):

  • Early career employees believe they have more wellness, health and safety protections, though significantly fewer opportunities for meaningful work.
  • Mid career employees, on the contrary, believe they have fewer wellness, health and safety protections, though significantly more opportunities for meaningful work, provisions for employment security and workplace flexibility.
  • Late career employees, by contrast, believe they have more opportunities for meaningful work than early or mid career employees, and believe they have more attractive compensation and benefits, and more of a culture of respect. However, late career employees place less emphasis on promotion of constructive relationships at the workplace and provisions for employment security than the other two groups.

Clearly, not all employees are the same. But how are employers responding? Nearly 40% of employers responding to the Center's (2009) Talent Management Study currently admit a sense of age and/or economic pressure. However, nearly 70% do not know how old their workers are, and an even greater number—practically 80%—have not analyzed projected retirement rates. So what can be done? Leading edge adaptations build new awareness of age diversity through understanding that life stage, career stage, and dimensions of age can help you target an organization's HR practices. In practice this means offering the appropriate benefits and programs for your employees, i.e., development opportunities, work/family and flexibility options and phases retirement options.

—Chad Minnich, Associate Director of Marketing & Communications at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work.

View Presentation Online Here »

Kathy Lynch is Director of Employer Engagement at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. In her role, Lynch works in partnership with decision-makers at the workplace to ensure that their voice is evident throughout all phases of the Center's research. Lynch brings to her role over a decade of experience in Employer Partnerships and University based research and project management. Lynch's content expertise spans the work/life and diversity fields, and quality employment for the multigenerational workforce.