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Age diversity – why it’s not all good news!


Themes: Diversity in business

Dr Jochen MengesFresh research into age diversity in the workplace has painted a cautionary picture suggesting that employees in companies with a mixed young and old workforce experience greater “anger, fear and disgust”

In addition, the employees think about changing their jobs more often and contribute less to the overall performance of the company.

The study ‘When and why age diversity matters for organisations’ was co-authored by Dr Jochen Menges, Lecturer on Human Resources & Organisations at Cambridge Judge Business School.

The research found no direct link between age diversity and performance but revealed an indirect connection which can prompt negative emotions among employees leading to a decline in overall company performance.

Dr Menges says age diversity triggers emotions of anger, fear and disgust simply because of the many differences between older and more experienced and younger employees.

“They do things differently; they behave differently; they share different memories; have different preferences and, potentially, have different values to those of the younger generation.

“All these differences can lead to group formation in the workplace which in turn creates age discrimination and potentially leads to misunderstandings that foster negative emotions.

He adds that age diversity can lead to negative emotions and performance if people express their feelings openly in the workplace. If these are suppressed and their expressions are constrained then the negative atmosphere does not occur and there is no linkage between age diversity and performance.

Managers of highly age diverse companies should take steps to counter adverse effects that could lead to a ‘negative affective climate’. Among measures Dr Menges suggests managers should take to heighten their awareness are age-profiling exercises and projection of workforce development and growth.

“They should establish a culture that values age diversity and allows the expression of emotions but through channels which are constructive for the organisation and not destructive for the emotional climate.”

Among other measures include creating a proper complaints system and ways in which members of the workforce can articulate any negative feelings and emotions away from their colleagues and supervisors.