Two minutes to develop an age-ready mobile workforce By Olivier Meier, Mercer How do we capture the value of age and experience in a changing but also fast ageing world? Companies have placed much emphasis on the attraction and retention of new generations, but many fail to capitalize on the value of experienced workers who can feel ignored or misperceived. The age-ready Mercer research provides useful tips. Why does it matter? Workforce ageing constitutes: A major global trend. The demographic shift is global. In developed economies this change is impacting business growth and the employability of the workforce. Emerging economies are not spared by this development – countries such as China and Brazil are ageing very fast and this demographic evolution is putting pressure on their future growth potential and talent pools. A source of misrepresentation and biases. Diversity and inclusion are also about age groups and the issue of ageing has been partly occulted by the buzz about the new generations. “Older” or “experienced” workers need to be better integrated and valued in the workforce – the cautious terminology illustrates the unease about the issue and the rampant biases that limit opportunities for this age group. Older employees are viewed as change resistant and slow to adopt to new technologies at a time when digitalization is on top of the agenda of many organizations. A risk of generational and technological gaps. The inter-generational gap is due partly due to technology development and the temptation to hire younger employees instead of upskilling older workers. Furthermore, the contrast between generations is even greater in fast emerging economies where different generations have traditionally had different experiences and not the same level of education – this is changing as older workers are now more likely to be as educated as their younger peers and are healthier than in the past. However, the perception of their capabilities is evolving more slowly. A poorly defined issue. The definition of older or experienced worker remains vague and subjective. Progress in health means that employees remains very active much later in their life. From a practical perspective, 50 years old or more is sometimes used as a broad definition but it’s important to define several age segments that have different requirements and expectations. What’s the business case for an age-ready workforce? Encouraging intergenerational collaboration and leveraging the advantage of age diversity is not merely a moral or social question, it makes economic sense. Having an age-ready approach helps: Fostering higher retention rate. Experienced workers don’t change jobs as frequently as their younger peers and represent a more stable workforce that support the long-term objectives and the resiliency of the business. They play a coaching role and increase retention and progression of their team members. Containing costs. Losing and having to frequently hire talent increase costs. Mercer research also shows that pay progression reach a plateau as workers age. Among professionals and managers, a 35-year old earns a similar amount to a 60- years. In other words, experience doesn’t always come at a premium and a workforce composed of different age groups is less subject to pay pressure. Benefitting from diversity. The benefit of a diverse workforce is to provide different points of views and also reach out to a more diverse client base – a client base that in most countries is going to be composed of a large proportion of people over 50, who have a significant purchasing power and expectations that are different from the younger generations. Leveraging skills and knowledge. The objective is to have letting critical knowledge and skills walk out the door. Profiting from upskilling opportunities. Lack of training should not be confusing with a lack of skills. Older workers might not have been trained in the newest technologies and approaches. This doesn’t mean they lack the base skills to succeed if properly trained. The challenge of an ageing workforce is about constant reskilling needs and not definite un-employability. Addressing the lack of soft skills in the workforce. Digital skills are in high demand but soft skills are placed at the top of companies’ wish lists. Older workers are more likely to bring these soft interpersonal skills that require life and work experience than their younger peers. How is this issue impacting mobile talent? The ageing workforce trend has implications for global mobility management because a significant proportion of future assignees are likely to be older employees. More generally, the expatriate population is steadily getting older. Older professionals can be as flexible and as mobile as younger ones, if not more. Whereas younger expatriates may have children and family responsibilities, older expatriates no longer have to care for their children and might have already achieved a degree of financial stability that gives them more flexibility in their career choices. The question of cultural adaptation should also be taken into account: studies show that older assignees are more likely to integrate in the host location and show a range of interpersonal competencies and “soft skills” that are important to the success of international assignments. There is a clear business case to send older professionals on assignment, but mobility policies are not necessarily reflecting their needs and priorities. Traditional family support in mobility policies is mainly about covering education costs for the children. In the case of older assignees, the main concern may be about elderly parents. Caring for the elderly is a major financial and practical burden, and it is not only an issue for western assignees but also, and even more so, for assignees from emerging markets who cannot rely on state support. If elder care is not addressed by mobility policies, it could become a barrier to mobility. Older assignees may have more financial security than younger assignees but they have to prepare for retirement. Retirement is a more abstract concept for millennials than for professionals who are embarking on a last international assignment and need to make important financial decisions to address pension gaps and to manage their savings (potentially in multiple currencies). Similarly, healthcare is a pressing issue for older professionals who may have to rely a lot on health insurance and medical support. They may be living with chronic diseases that are perfectly manageable when adequate support and medications are available. However, this support may be more difficult to organize in a foreign country or more costly from a financial perspective. What could organizations do about it? Measure the contribution of experienced workers. The value of skills and contribution of group levels as well as indirect spillover positive effect of age diversity. Review work and mobility practices. Initiate conversations about how people could work differently. Flexible working and new forms of mobility are not just for millennials. Virtual assignments, commuter assignments, and locally hired foreigners are models that could be suitable for older assignees. Consider hiring silver gig workers: Older professionals could be hired or brought back from retirement as freelancers for specific projects. Develop a lifelong learning program and leverage the skills of experienced workers. Mentoring and coaching should be part of the performance objectives and positive contribution to the team achievements need to be rewarded. Redefine family support. Shifting some of the budget normally allocated for education to support elderly parents is also something that could be considered. This can also involve adjusting the policy to provide more trips home (enhancing home leave benefits) and even envisaging, in selected cases, to relocate an elderly parent along with the assignee (when feasible from an immigration perspective). Review retirement provisions. Offer solutions to help older assignees prepare for retirement and secure a sufficient income, evaluate how to address pension gap issues, and fractured pension histories. Determining the desired country of retirement as early as possible is important and might drive the compensation decisions (i.e. guarantee of return to the home country or, on the contrary, preparing for localization in the host destination). Assess healthcare issues. More comprehensive health coverage could be provided to address specific retirements. The idea is not to spend more but to reallocate budgets to solve issues that constitute a barrier to mobility and prevent candidates from going on an assignment. Ageism is the last diversity frontier. Don't let it put a break on growth and thriving workforces. By adapting polices and changing mindsets, organizations can truly benefit from the silver revolution. Find out more out more about Mercer’s Next Stage platform exploring future-fit approaches to longevity.