Op-ed: How Ottawa employers can harness the power of talented – and often overlooked – labour pool

Diverse ages at work
Editor's Note

This article originally appeared in the spring edition of OBJ's HR Update. Click here to read more practical workplace solutions for Ottawa employers.

Although Canada is relatively young compared to other G7 countries, we are all part of an ageing society. Here in Ottawa, more than one in five residents will be seniors by the mid-2030s, making this age group one of the city’s fastest-growing demographics.

This trend will continue for decades – with significant implications for employers. Today’s 20 and 30-year-olds are expected to be working well into their 70s and 80s.

All these statistics beg the obvious question. How prepared are we to deal with the reality of this changing demographic in the workforce? How prepared are we to shift our thinking about the value of an older workforce?

Changing the narrative

Ottawa’s “senior” cohort already comprises Canada’s largest group of older adults with postsecondary degrees and diplomas. They will be even more highly educated in the future. How does Ottawa’s business community harness the power of these talented individuals and take advantage of this natural resource that we already have at our fingertips? A shift in thinking and a better understanding of what it means to get older will be critical to overcome future talent shortages.

Age integration has been proven to improve creativity and productivity. While mature workers are as diverse in their skills and personalities as their younger counterparts, their experience lends itself more readily to innovation. Today’s competitive advantage necessitates innovation at all levels. Older adults have that edge. Current factors for consideration when thinking about the future of work include:

  • Today’s older workers, whether by choice or by necessity, are staying on longer in their roles.
  • Canada has a declining birthrate and constrained immigration; both will contribute to tight labour markets moving forward.
  • To ensure institutional memory and expertise, businesses will need to retain their workers as they age.

These compelling factors demonstrate the importance of engaging with older workers by creating age-inclusive workplaces.

What you can do

All research points to the benefits of a multigenerational workforce and how age diversity is the path to future success. Teams that cross generations improve the financial bottom line. When organizational culture is inclusive and commonalities, rather than differences, are reinforced, everyone benefits.

Including older adults on teams and on the front lines will actually mirror what is happening in society at large. This is often one of the best ways to serve clients and understand your market.

Tips for attracting and retaining older adults

Everyone wants more flexibility, but depending on life stage this might mean caring for older parents or spouses instead of caring for young children. 

Try implementing flexible work arrangements:

  • Telecommuting
  • Job-sharing
  • Long term vs. short-term assignments
  • Flexible hours
  • Sabbaticals or unpaid leaves
  • Graduated retirement 

Every generation cares about well-being; physical, mental and financial

  • Review benefit packages to include wellness offerings, EAP, retirement planning.
  • Consider transition courses to the next stage of life as part of retirement planning.
  • Offer flex-benefit plans.

Find ways to keep ageing employees onside

  • Develop mentoring opportunities to showcase the expertise and experience of older employees.
  • Engage in regular professional dialogue, future planning and promotion opportunities.  
  • Ensure that reskilling and upskilling is made equally available to older employees.

Despite the negative myths about ageing, experts and researchers view global ageing as a great opportunity to transform markets, spark new ideas across every sector of the economy, drive growth and new value creation.

Age provides experience, expertise and innovation – a wonderful balance to the skills that younger cohorts of the workforce bring to the table.

Helen Hirsh Spence is the CEO and founder of Top Sixty Over Sixty, an Ottawa consulting firm.