COVID-19 is affecting employees of all ages and forward-thinking employers are responding.

2020 has turned out to be a challenging year — most especially because of the multiple crises created by the COVID-19 pandemic.  In addition to the enormous effect on the health and wellbeing of people around the world, the crisis has had profound impacts on work and the workforce.  Millions of people in the United States alone have lost their jobs, and millions more have had to work in different ways.  

Prior to the pandemic, AARP already had been tracking the extraordinary implications of the growing megatrend of healthy longevity — in which people are living longer, healthier lives — and the resulting expansion of the multigenerational workforce.  With workers wanting or needing to work longer as they age, it is now common to see people from four or five generations standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the workforce. Amid the unprecedented disruption of the pandemic, we’re now asking: How is this crisis affecting the multigenerational workforce, and what are forward-thinking employers doing to adjust to the sudden shift in how they and their employees work?

In a recent interview, Reuters special projects editor Lauren Young sat down with Sharyn Jones, the head of talent management for MassMutual, a Fortune 500 insurance company with 7,500 employees, to talk about the benefits of the multigenerational workforce.  In particular, they discussed how MassMutual has adjusted their policies to support their employees, and how they have leveraged the challenges created by COVID-19 to bring people together and improve their culture.  Here are some insights from that conversation:

1. Generational diversity is key to innovative outcomes. On this point, Jones could not have been clearer: The more diversity you have in an organization, the better off your organization will be.  Diversity encompasses a range of factors—whether it’s gender, race, ethnicity or age. With greater diversity, “you’re going to have better outcomes, more innovative outcomes, more collaboration. And you’re going to be a more agile organization,” she said.

2. You must intentionally cultivate the benefits of age diversity. Having an age-diverse, multigenerational workforce brings many benefits — but those benefits can be magnified by design.  MassMutual has a reverse mentoring program called “Truth to Power,” where seasoned leaders regularly come together with several younger staffers to talk about what is going on in the business, in contrast to traditional mentoring where more junior professionals learn from those with more seniority or experience.  The more tenured leaders ask: What are the latest trends? What do we need to think about with respect to certain markets?  How do we need to change the way we’re doing business?  Jones shared that Roger Crandall, the CEO of MassMutual, has been participating in the program since it began in 2014 and comes away from each conversation having “learned so much about what is going on in the world.”

3. There are many types of caregivers, and employers must meet them where they are. At AARP, we recently released our “Caregiving in the U.S.” report and found that there are nearly 48 million caregivers tending to someone over the age of 18. Nearly one-quarter (23%) of the family caregivers are millennials and 61% of all family caregivers are working. Even before COVID-19, employees often wore “dual hats” as caregivers, but more than ever, people are doing their jobs while caring for others simultaneously.  Jones said MassMutual recognizes that these challenges are front and center now for everybody, and the company expanded its caregiving leave in recognition of the fact that its employees are caring for children, spouses, parents or other loved ones.

4. Culture remains critical and can be strengthened, even now. Jones emphasized how important it has been for employees to stay connected, particularly during these difficult times, and how critical intentional informality has been to that process.  That’s why her company promotes “walk and talks” and virtual happy hours where work cannot be discussed as a means of “encouraging people to let their guards down and connect.” A recent annual survey revealed that 95% of staff are “proud to be at the company.” “We’re connecting almost more than we were before,” Jones observed. “Before, it was happenchance. Now, it’s intentional.”

Of course, these are just some of the ways employers can leverage the multigenerational workforce during COVID-19, but what Jones has spearheaded at MassMutual is instructive for leaders across all sectors as they implement new practices that lead to long-term growth and success.  That’s why AARP is currently taking an in-depth look at policies that support the multigenerational workforce through a collaborative initiative with the World Economic Forum and OECD called “Living, Learning & Earning Longer.”  This includes working with major multinational companies to demonstrate the business case for age diversity and inclusion, which will be released in the form of a digital learning platform later this year.

To learn more about this work, or to join our learning collaborative of multinational employers, please visit our site.

Peter Rundlet is Vice President of International Affairs at AARP.