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Untapped Talent: Over 50s underused at work

Helen Mayson

50 road sign

Talented, knowledgeable, skilled – and overlooked? Helen Mayson asks why British business isn’t making the most of managers over 50

With the default retirement age now long gone and managers working later into life, you’d think businesses would have wised up to the wealth of talent that is their over 50s workforce.

However, our latest research, Untapped talent: Can over 50s bridge the leadership skills gap?, revealed that managers simply aren’t valuing their workers over 50 enough. While they’re seen as skilled and knowledgeable, they simply aren’t getting recognised by organisations as worthy of development – in fact, 61% of them were seen as having low or very low potential to progress through their organisation in the next three years. 

Baby Boomers have vital knowledge  Baby Boomer reports are generally viewed very positively by their managers. They score consistently highly across the majority (but not all) of the skills and attributes we asked about, including occupation-specific knowledge and skills (85%) and their understanding of the customer (78%). They are seen as the most loyal to the organisation (77% rated their Baby Boomer reports as highly loyal, compared to 73% of Generation X and 58% of Millennials) and best at coping with setbacks (60% voted high compared to 56% of Generation X and 50% of Millennials) – key attributes for succeeding in a modern workplace.

but they are seen to have low potential  Despite this largely positive view of Baby Boomer employees, their perceived potential for progression is very low. Millennials have the highest potential for progression across all three groups, while Baby Boomers are thought to have the lowest level of potential to progress – 61% of managers said their Baby Boomer reports have low or very low potential to progress in their organisation in the next three years.

Multi-generational teams aren’t an issue

Over a third (35%) of managers lead teams composed of three different generations of staff members, and a further third (36%) have two generations working together. Just a quarter of managers have teams made up of just one generation – and with people working longer into retirement, the number of single generation teams looks set to steadily decrease. The generation of a manager’s team members had little or no impact on their comfort in managing them, suggesting multi-generational teams don’t present their own set of specific problems – or not enough to affect their performance.

Different generations, Different skills?

While there is little evidence for differing skills between generations, our research shows that different generations are seen as being strongest in certain skills and attributes. Millennials are rated lowest for commercial and financial awareness (33% are rated high for their skill in this area) and having difficult conversations (37%) but highest for using social media (60%) and working with systems and software (77%). Baby Boomers are rated highly for their occupation-specific knowledge and skills (85%) and their understanding of the customer (78%). They are seen as the most loyal to the organisation and best at coping with setbacks (60% voted high compared to 56% of Generation X and 50% of Millennials), but low for adapting to new ways of working (44%), using social media (21%) and keenness to learn and develop (46%). Generation X are rated highest for their understanding of the customer (82%).

Generation X are the most critical

Generation X managers stand out as the most critical of all groups across the board, suggesting they are tougher on peers, team members and managers overall than the other generations. They are particularly critical of the leadership potential of Baby Boomers, rating just 28% of them as having high leadership potential compared to ratings of 47% from Baby Boomer managers and 50% from Millennial managers.

Read the full report here

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