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When asset managers talk about intergenerational transfer, they are typically referring to how wealth is handed down from one generation to the next. But given the fact that more and more people are working longer, focusing on the intergenerational transfer of skills within the context of the workplace is as important—if not more—for long-term wealth transfer and economic stability.

To promote workplace practices that encourage older workers to stay in the workforce and transfer their knowledge to younger workers, the Columbia University Robert N. Butler Aging Center runs The Age Smart Employer initiative and awards program.

The Age Smart Employer program has collected over a hundred examples of employers, both big and small, for profit and non-profit, across a variety of industries, who are actively managing multiple generations at work. As a result, the program has learned a couple of key lessons:

  • Age-smart employers have an inclusive mindset. They see their employees as people first, and value whatever they bring to the table. By embracing their multigenerational workplace as an opportunity, these leaders use innovation, flexibility and creative talent management to stay ahead. They also realize that hiring, retaining and using older workers strategically can solve a variety of pressing problems business owners face.
  • Age-smart strategies directly support and utilize the talents of older workers, but these strategies benefit all workers. Age-smart strategies have helped employers lower costs, boost productivity, spark new business, and better align their products and services with New York City’s booming older adult consumer market.

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When asset managers talk about intergenerational transfer, they are typically referring to how wealth is handed down from one generation to the next. But given the fact that more and more people are working longer, focusing on the intergenerational transfer of skills within the context of the workplace is as important—if not more—for long-term wealth transfer and economic stability.

Why is this the case? For one, many older people work for family-owned or -controlled businesses. These businesses are at the heart of the small business sector, which in turn, is the economic engine for many communities. According to an article in the April 2015 Harvard Business Review titled “Leadership Lessons from Great Family Businesses,” family-owned or -controlled businesses “account for an estimated 80% of companies worldwide” and “employ 60% of workers and create 78% of new jobs” in the US.  Family members own significant equity in a third of the S&P 500. Yet, most family-owned or -controlled businesses struggle to survive over the long term, in large part because of “poor talent management,” according to the article.

Issues of intergenerational dynamics are also a big concern in the non-profit sector, which employs the third largest workforce among U.S. industries, behind only retail trade and manufacturing, according to the John Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies.  Yet, two-thirds of non-profit leaders expect to leave their jobs in the next few years and 66% of nonprofits have no succession plan for senior leadership.

All too often, employers are banking on their leaders working longer. In part, this reflects the fact that workers are indeed living and working longer than ever before. For example, in New York City, 18% of the workforce, or roughly 700,000 workers, are over the age of 50.  Research shows that employees, businesses, and the economy all benefit by having people stay in the workforce beyond the traditional retirement years. On the other hand, the younger generation (commonly called the Millennials or Gen Y) already outnumber Baby Boomers in the workforce, and are set to be the majority of all workers by 2020. They are hungry for career development experiences, and are less likely, as a group, to “pay their dues.”  While Generation X, which is sandwiched between the two, is ready to take on leadership roles, this generation is half the size of the Boomers, leaving a demographic hole in the pipeline that the Millennials could fill, if they are properly prepared.

To promote workplace practices that encourage older workers to stay in the workforce and transfer their knowledge to younger workers, the Columbia University Robert N. Butler Aging Center runs The Age Smart Employer initiative and awards program.  I serve as a judge for the Award.

The initiative is unique in several respects: it is local (because the issues of aging are to a great extent community-based); and it is not focused on one generation alone but rather on intergenerational dynamics.

The Age Smart Employer program has collected over a hundred examples of employers, both big and small, for profit and non-profit, across a variety of industries, who are actively managing multiple generations at work. As a result, the program has learned a couple of key lessons:

  1. Age-smart employers have an inclusive mindset. They see their employees as people first, and value whatever they bring to the table. By embracing their multigenerational workplace as an opportunity, these leaders use innovation, flexibility and creative talent management to stay ahead. They also realize that hiring, retaining and using older workers strategically can solve a variety of pressing problems business owners face.
  2. Age-smart strategies directly support and utilize the talents of older workers, but these strategies benefit all workers. Age-smart strategies have helped employers lower costs, boost productivity, spark new business, and better align their products and services with New York City’s booming older adult consumer market.

Some businesses don’t realize they’re age smart. Age-smart practices include:

  • Flexible work practices and policies, such as telecommuting, allowing employees to swap shifts and phased retirement
  • Skill building across teams, including cross-training all workers and ensuring that training and development opportunities are offered to workers of all ages.
  • Creating new paths of advancement within a business and enlisting older workers to strategically retain and transfer a business’s networks and knowledge across generations

Visit www.agesmartemployer.org to learn more about the Age Smart Employer initiative and awards. Every community should recognize those employers who are getting this right, so that we can all grow older and wiser together.

 

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Anne Weisberg is the Senior Vice President for Strategy at the Families and Work Institute. She is a recognized thought leader who has designed innovative practices to build effective, inclusive work environments, including co-authoring the best-selling “Mass Career Customization: Aligning the Workplace with Today’s Nontraditional Workforce” (HBS, 2007).