Modern Management Challenges

Managing Diversity

Managing a Diverse and Ageing Workforce

Ageing and age are fundamental part of social life. People are living longer and retaining their jobs due to the rising age of retirement; the percentage of people over 60 years of age is growing rapidly worldwide. This tendency is evident especially in Europe and North America, whose countries now face the retirement of the baby-boom generation. The growing phenomenon of an ageing workforce has and will have a lot of impact on the economy, on social and work life. What happens in respect to age in organizations has not often been subjected to critical research. People don’t just want to continue working until old age, but they also have to in order to avoid poverty.

The association of age with innovation and change is two-fold. Experience and wisdom, although perceived positively, can suggest sedentary and stagnated qualities. Although recent research has shown that there is an assumption that ageing means a general health decline , this is simplistic and incorrect. Management usually focuses on how to cope with a supposed loss of skills and abilities through such things as training and re-evaluations of the types of work that aging employees are expected to undertake. In any event, innovation can be seen as a potential quality of older employees and they can be a resource if the cultural context and expectations are supportive.

Organizations thus, arguably need to increase their attention on a range of organizational practices, including management and managerial action, work-community balance, changes to the human resource management function, and a range of individual and group situation and dynamics. Many organizations develop diversity management programs of which aging is a part. However, even if societies emphasize the need for workers to stay in work-life longer, often aging employees are the main victims of downsizing or restructuring. In the context of specific labor shortages, it has been recognized that older employees are a resource and efforts must be made to ensure they stay within the workplace. Many practices related to aging at work are arguably culture dependent, and practices in different regions of the world vary, such as retirement age. In short, we need both studies and practices that take into account the aging workforce, such as training, supervision and human resource management, and culturally specific diversity programs overall. Aging people also tend to have family and private life responsibilities and appreciate flexible work arrangements.

Paradoxically, while older employees are often unrecognized and made invisible, organizations can reward people who have worked at the enterprise for a long time and create a practice that shows respect for aging within the frame of the workplace. This not only ties in with polite traditions but also demonstrates that there is value in the accumulation of knowledge, including tacit knowledge which is seen as being related to experience - and experience within enterprise is normally associated with aging. It is also worth noting that not all people will ‘age’ in one organization, rather, their careers cross over many boundaries during active work life sessions. It is also a stereotype to think that aged people are not willing or able to move on in their careers, and therefore cannot meet the standards of today’s work life. A career policy for the older workforce might attract them to stay in their jobs.

Age connects to myth and discourse. Based on the way aging is faced in society, its treatment within organizations also differs. In Western organizational contexts, ambivalence concerning the value of aging employees is common. On the one hand, it is recognized that ‘old age’ may bring valuable expertise and wisdom, and what is referred to as crystallized intelligence. We learn that 'Bodies' ( i.e. the physical presence of individuals, who are aging in work-life) are generally understood more within frames of culture than based on specific changes in performance or ability or skill. Thus, the outcomes of aging, and treatment of aging workers, in organizational life can be understood only in terms of interpretations that the surrounding culture imputes to them.

In our book, ‘Ageing, Organization and Management, we reflect on issues of age and aging, and keep in mind g the cultural connections.. We gather together various advanced researchers who use multiple methods and methodologies in approaches, all dealing with the topic of aging. While commonly age is understood mainly as a chronological and universal category, in this book we present it critically and contextually. Throughout the chapters, we suggest that age has many contexts, including the psychological process of aging in the mind as well as cultural, gendered, generational as well as career and Human Resource Management contexts. This view, we suggest, provides insights into the challenges facing managerial, employee, and policy decision making. We wish to break the silenced, unfashionable nature of aging and bring it to be seen as a human, sustainable and global resource.

Iiris Aaltio, co-editor of Ageing, Organizations and Management, is Professor of Management and Leadership at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. She holds also adjunct professorships at Aalto University, the University of Turku and the University of Lapland, Finland. She sits on the editorial boards of international journals including the Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies and Culture and Organization, and has authored, edited and co-edited a variety of books and special issues in the areas of culture, diversity and gender in organisations.

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