Today's workforce is likely to contain a higher proportion of older workers because of factors such as increased life expectancy, and in some countries the removal of the default retirement age and raising of the State Pension Age which means that many people will need and want to keep working.
What is more, there is soon to be five different generations in the workplace – with different needs, perspectives & values.
This includes the traditionalists (born 1939 to 1947), baby boomers (born 1948 to 1963), generation X (born 1964 to 1978), generation Y (born 1979 to 1999) and generation Z (born 2000 onwards).
What does this mean for how the workplace should be managed?
Promoting workplace health must be a priority for facilities managers because the ageing of the workforce is expected to mean an increase in long-term conditions. Work intensity and stress is on the rise, with growing concerns around physical and mental ill health. Older workers are more prone to all of these. Therefore encouraging healthy initiatives must be high up on the agenda. Non-profit workplace consultancy, the Work Foundation, estimates that the combined costs of sickness absence, lost productivity through wordlessness and health-related productivity losses, are estimated to be over £100bn annually. The organisation also states that by 2030, 40 per cent of the working age population will have a long-term condition.
The physical space
FMs are already charged with creating a workplace that has spaces that are social, flexible, comfortable, open, spacious, collaborative and environmentally conscious. Older people experience their surroundings differently however, and facilities managers must pay particular attention to those needs. For example, older people are more sensitive to noise in the workplace and react negatively to it, compared to younger people. Older employees are more sensitive to heat, cold, light and acoustic change. The furnishings that are attractive in many popular office designs with hard surfaces, open offices and lounge furniture may not appeal or prove adequate for older employees, and could have the effect of making them feel excluded. Therefore, FM should offer work areas that are tailored to older employees’ needs.
More older workers in the office environment means greater collaboration with other generations like Generation Y and particularly Generation Z, which could have advantages for a business and FM can encourage it. For example retaining experienced older generations can provide employees in younger generations with on-going mentoring. Any kind of “organisational buddy system between older and younger employees” can help to swap skills and learn, increase socialising in the workplace and retain knowledge and skills in the organisation.
Retaining or recruiting older workers for innovative projects and having them work with younger employees also means increased employee engagement and well-being in the workplace. A 2016 study from the University of Sydney Business School found that younger employees were positive about learning from older colleagues.
Older workers have well-rounded experience
Older generations may not have come fresh out of university or have digital skills like the younger generations, but they are a benefit to a company in other ways . For instance, they significantly have more experience and typically also greater practical and communicative skills. They are workers with greater stamina and a positive influence on the workplace.
All the more reason for the facilities manager to help the older worker flourish in the workplace of the future.