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Importance of Age Diversity in the Workplace

Importance of Age Diversity in the Workplace

By Marion Davis 

Age diversity within the workplace is a crucial and oft-overlooked aspect of creating an inclusive work environment. Many news headlines reference the trend of Baby Boomers aging out of the workforce. However, the reality is that many companies are failing to retain Baby Boomers who want to continue working in what columnists have termed a “brain drain” as valuable knowledge is lost to the corporate world.  

Promoting inclusion for Baby Boomers and even the Silent Generation has implications far beyond preventing a drastically reduced workforce. Each generation brings unique perspectives, work preferences, and skills to the table, and harnessing this diversity can lead to enhanced innovation, productivity, and employee satisfaction. 

For example, the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, and Gen Zers, despite their apparent differences, share a common desire for community and personal fulfillment at work while Gen Z is experiencing significant work culture clashes with Gen X and Millennials, the latter group preferring independence and a greater work-life balance with personal fulfillment found outside the workplace. 

By promoting age diversity and creating opportunities for mentorship between generations, companies can optimize a wealth of knowledge, experience, and fresh ideas as well as create cross-generational teams that are more likely to lead to a sense of belongingness as the generations before and after Gen Xers and Millennials share similar values. A three-generational workplace often leaves Gen Z feeling alone and misunderstood as Gen X and Millennials share similar work goals, goals that differ drastically from those of Gen Z.

The Future of Age Diversity in the Workplace 

There has long been the expectation that the workforce will soon become a three-generation workforce. However, the reality is that many Baby Boomers and even the Silent Generation want to continue working. Companies would benefit from increasing their organizational age diversity through accessibility and inclusivity measures, recognizing that they are retaining institutional knowledge made available by senior members within the corporation and promoting more opportunities for mentorship in cross-generational teams.

Currently, as many as 16 percent of retirees are contemplating a return to the workforce with financial and personal reasons nearly equal in motivating these individuals to re-enter the professional world. Common reasons ranged from inflation devaluing their savings to feeling a lack of personal fulfillment without work. These retirees considering a return have often been out of the workforce for an average of only four years.

Some Baby Boomers never retired at all. As of 2021, the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 65 to 74 age bracket had a 25.8 percent workforce participation rate with the expectation that this will increase to 30.7 percent by 2031 as the population ages. 

Interestingly, interviews with Baby Boomers have noted that this generation is more likely to seek out contract work if they do return to work from retirement and more likely to find personal fulfillment in their work than more recent generations that strive more for a work-life balance.

Even the Silent Generation is still at work. For the 75-and-up age bracket, the 2021 workforce participation rate was 8.6 percent and is expected to increase to 11.1 percent.

Companies are failing to retain many workers over 65 due to factors such as a non-inclusive culture of workplace ageism and a non-accessible approach to work with return-to-office mandates.  

Generational Trends

To better retain a diverse multi-generational workforce, organizations must gain a fuller understanding of how and why each generation wants to work so as to meet these needs. 

Identifying Generational Preferences for Hybrid, Remote, and In-Person Work Options

While Baby Boomers often are assigned blame for wanting a return to brick-and-mortar offices, in fact, Gen Z is the most interested in working full-time at a physical location at 57 percent. 

Baby Boomers were far behind in second place for full time in-person work preferences at only 37 percent–a close match to Gen X and Millennials tied at 34 percent each wanting to work fully in an office. 

While limited statistical data is available on the Silent Generation, the theme that arose during the pandemic was that many members of the Silent Generation retired during the pandemic when their only option was to transition to fully remote work.

Recognizing Commonalities in Generational Work Cultures

Each generation has its own work culture. Gen X primarily values independence, work-family balance, and direct communication with leaders. Millennials likewise have family obligations that they prioritize, and they value an independent spirit and direct communication within the workplace. 

Baby Boomers have long been known to make their work their life and value face-to-face communication where possible. The Silent Generation similarly places great value on hard work but prefers to work in person where many Baby Boomers want to continue to work remotely. Gen Z overwhelmingly prefers to work in a physical location to find a face-to-face community in the workplace that provides personal fulfillment, personal fulfillment that they felt was lacking during their formative years in the pandemic. Similarly, Some of the most significant reasons that Gen Z reports behind their preference to work in a physical location is their desire for community, guidance, and mentorship

Understandably, there is an interesting commonality here that emerges between Baby Boomers and Gen Z. These similarities have often been outlined with Fortune publishing an article in 2022 on how Baby Boomers and Gen Zers want the same thing at work: community and personal fulfillment. While there is limited data available on the Silent Generation, the Silent Generation has similarities to Baby Boomers in work culture but prefer in-person work whereas 40 percent of Baby Boomers want to work fully remote. This work preference by the Silent Generation might align even more with Gen Z as a generational group ideal for providing in-person mentorship. 

In fact, in a large number of articles on Gen Z workers who experience generational clashes with managers, the managers interviewed are Millennials and Gen Xers. Millennial and Gen X managers are often frustrated at Gen Z and fire the younger generation, proclaiming Gen Z to be “difficult employees” who are too easily offended with poor communication skills. A workplace without Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation who share commonalities with Gen Z can leave the youngest generation feeling unheard.

In addition to combatting a worker shortage, an age-diverse workforce brings immense value. Harvard Business Review released a podcast in 2019 on the psychological safety in the workplace made possible through Baby Boomers mentoring younger workers.

Creating Inclusivity and Accessibility Based on Generational Preferences

To create inclusivity and accessibility for age-diverse talent, companies would do well to offer multiple options for work arrangements with generational work goals in mind.

Fully remote work as the sole option will likely attract and retain primarily Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. Offering in-person, hybrid, and remote options based on employee preference can appeal to five generations of talent and expand the workforce in the form of the SIlent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. 

Gen X and Millennials who are at a life stage where they are prioritizing family obligations and a clearly-defined work-life balance can work in a more flexible and independent set-up. Baby Boomers who want to continue working as they move to more accessible cities can benefit from a fully remote option. Finally, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation who would like to work fully in person can have access to this option and work in cross-generational, in-person teams with Gen Z, the youngest generation expressing a strong preference for in-person work options due to their desire for community engagement and mentoring opportunities in the workplace.

As an interesting point of note, as Gen X was the first generation to be shaped drastically by virtual tools, Gen X and Millennials tended to seek out virtual mentorship rather than human mentorship. Baby Boomers traditionally saw in-person mentorship as an obligatory and valuable practice by the previous generation and benefitted from receiving mentorship, but Gen X typically rejected Baby Boomer mentorship in favor of searching for answers on their own online. As Baby Boomers recognize the value of in-person mentorship and Gen X is eagerly seeking in-person mentorship opportunities, this creates a perfect match across generations.

Within these cross-generational teams, organizations can optimize the retention capabilities of mentorship programs. Mentorship programs are known to increase retention of employees by 50 percent. The most common approach is to pair senior and junior employees in a one-on-one mentorship although group mentorship and peer-to-peer mentorship are other options to pursue. 

The Workforce Retention Power of Age Diversity

Noting the high rate of Gen Z employees being fired by Gen X and Millennials, proponents for age diversity in the workplace encourage the retention of the Silent Generation and of Baby Boomers to act as mentors to younger workers in order to increase cognitive diversity and retention across generations in teams. 

Much of the frustration from Gen X and Millennials against Gen Z appears to be due to work culture clashes. Gen Z desires community and validation from their work while Gen X and Millennials value independence and a more strictly-defined work-life balance.

Not only is the shrinking workforce rapidly losing Baby Boomers due to non-inclusive work cultures and inaccessible work environments, corporations are also seeing poor retention among Gen Z due to the youngest generation experiencing a lack of engagement in the workplace.  

A Johns Hopkins blog article this year asked how companies could adapt to retain Gen Z talent. One answer is: increase engagement through prioritizing age diversity in the organization.

Within the diverse workplace, the role of age diversity emerges as a pivotal force in shaping an engaging and productive environment. Surprisingly, the Gen Z desires for community and personal fulfillment resonate with similar goals for Baby Boomers. These generational counterparts, seemingly disparate in their experiences, share a common yearning for connection and a sense of purpose within their professional lives. 

Uniting over this shared aspiration, Baby Boomers can step into a transformative role as mentors for the emerging Gen Z workforce. Their seasoned insights and wealth of experience position them as invaluable guides, facilitating a seamless exchange of wisdom and knowledge across generations. Setting up senior-junior mentorship programs not only promotes retention of younger workers but also indicates that the organization values Baby Boomers’ experience and knowledge which then leads to increased retention of Baby Boomers

Gen Z has professed a desire for personal fulfillment and mentorship behind their wish to work in person, and many Baby Boomers have expressed a desire to return to work for personal fulfillment and enjoy providing mentorship. For those Gen Zers and Baby Boomers who wish to work in person or in a hybrid setting, pairing Gen Z with Baby Boomers can provide great value on a personal and organizational level.

Final Thoughts

To ensure a thriving age-diverse workforce, companies should adopt practical strategies that embrace the contributions of each generation. Organizations can encourage open communication and collaboration among employees of all ages to promote a sense of unity and mutual respect. These organizations can also implement mentorship programs that pair experienced Baby Boomers with younger Gen Z employees, allowing for the exchange of knowledge and skills.

With age diversity in mind, companies can cater to different generational preferences with flexible work arrangements such as remote, hybrid, and fully in person. Creating options for optimal work set-ups addresses the unique needs and work styles of employees across different age groups. This approach not only promotes age diversity but also facilitates a diverse and inclusive work environment that can attract and retain a broader range of talent. For instance, offering remote work options can support individuals who have caretaking responsibilities, leading to increased gender parity. 

Embracing a spectrum of work preferences can also contribute to a more inclusive workplace for individuals of diverse backgrounds. Overall, recognizing and responding to different generational preferences for work arrangements can lead to broader diversity benefits and greater cross-generational retention. 


Marion Davis is a contributing writer at She is a disabled DEIA consultant and writes on the value of diversity and inclusion across multiple industries, specifically as relates to disability and intersectionality.