Companies need to stop focusing on hiring millennials

Still got it
Still got it
Image: REUTERS/Simon Newman
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Once upon a time, workers could expect to retire by the time they were 65, if not before. It was a so-called three-stage life: Education would lead to full-time employment and then, after a dutiful stint in the office, retirement. Supporting older people during retirement freed up positions for new hires, who were junior to the senior retirees.

That’s so outdated. A recent study included in the MIT Sloane Management Review by London Business School Professors  Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott outlines a different trajectory, requiring workers to constantly update their skills if they want to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world. Retirement, if it comes, will be much later–when people have racked up enough savings to last those twilight years.

While millennials make up the greater part of workforces today, that won’t last in many countries: Falling birth rates in Japan will see fewer younger workers there, while Gratton and Scott predict US workers aged 16-24 will decline by 10% in the next decade. More older workers are already staying employed, due in part to the bite of the Great Recession.

While some companies, such as the UK’s B&Q, a home improvement retailer, for instance, are already hiring older people, discussions about how to keep aging employees in the workforce are only beginning.  Mixing ages among team members and reverse mentoring are some of the options being bandied about.

Advertising veteran Jeremy Bullmore reckons a simple change of job title could work. Clustering everyone under one title, especially if most are under the age of 30, makes it seem like “the older ones have spent their last 10 years getting nowhere,” he writes in his Management Today column in the UK. That’s not good for morale, so firms should be willing to get creative and think beyond one name fits all.

Getting more creative with titles may work. One study into “self-reflective” titles included in the Academy of Management Journal in 2014, for instance, found that letting people choose their job titles broke down barriers within companies, allowed employees to better express themselves, and reduced stress levels.

This approach will work only if everyone adopts their own titles. Deliberately distinguishing older workers from their younger peers in identical roles will likely just boost tension between those with experience and those without.