Over the last few years, managers began embracing the concept of the multigenerational workforce, with 5 generations working side-by-side for the first time in history. Experts regularly noted the benefits of a multigenerational workforce, including better business performance, better market insight, and a stronger pipeline of talent. Then the COVID-19 crisis hit, and employers everywhere have been challenged in ways that they could not have predicted or even imagined. Companies have faced periods of profound disruption while helping employees adapt to new work environments and technologies, often while juggling caregiving demands at home. How can managers focus on the bottom line and continue to blend multiple generations into cohesive teams, all while dealing with the COVID-19 curveball? 
In a recent AARP-sponsored interview, Reuters special projects editor Lauren Young sat down with Johnna Torsone, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at the 100-year-old technology and global e-commerce company, Pitney Bowes, to discuss the multigenerational workforce, the impact of COVID-19, and ways employers can bolster organizational resilience through age diversity and inclusion during these unprecedented times. Here are 5 takeaways from that conversation:

  1. Remember That Many of Your Employees are Also Caregivers. With the shift toward remote work, it is important for employers to recognize the challenges posed to work-from-home staff as caregivers. Caregiving responsibilities can affect workers of all ages—whether it is caring for a child, sick relative, parent, or grandparent. Employers need to consider the necessary mental, emotional, and financial support and resources to enable their employees to thrive. At Pitney Bowes, they are expanding services for workers who are also serving in caregiving roles.
  2. Meet Employees Where They Are. It is critically important for employers to develop resources that meet employees where they are, regardless of age or life stage. This is especially true today in the context of COVID-19 as different generations manage a variety of uncertainties, such as how the pandemic will affect one’s retirement income or what the impact of coronavirus will be on opportunities for younger workers. Employers must re-evaluate and design policies and employee resources with an eye toward universal design.
  3. Offer Flexibility Wherever Possible. Employees of all ages and life stages have enjoyed the flexibility generated by the shift to remote work, which has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And though many employees like idea of going back to the office in some capacity, they wish to retain the ability to work from home when an office setting is not necessary to perform their job. Pitney Bowes had a strong flexibility policy prior to COVID-19—nearly half of their staff were already in flexible work arrangements, and it is noted as one of the top reasons why people stay at the company.
  4. Build Diverse Teams to Drive Innovation. If innovation is a goal, then you need a diverse team to get you there. And remember that diversity is multidimensional, including gender, race, age, and a host of other factors. In fact, research shows that an age-diverse, multigenerational team results in more innovative solutions than a homogenous team. Torsone noted, “There’s no question in my mind that different generations bring strength to the workplace. So, companies having the leadership that knows how to manage effectively or lead multigenerational groups and diversity on multiple dimensions are going to be the companies that are going to be the most successful in the future.” And she is not alone in her opinion. In fact, a recent AARP survey of nearly 6,000 global executives from 36 OECD countries found that 83% of global executives recognize that a multigenerational workforce is key to business growth and success. Yet, 53% do not include age in their diversity and inclusion policies.
  5. Be Optimistic. Periods of profound disruption can uncover new sources of strength and resilience. There is tremendous opportunity for the private sector to rise to the occasion and chart a new path forward by further investing in workers and re-evaluating corporate policies and practices with an eye toward universal design. Employers that do so – and embrace age diversity and inclusion – will be positioned for sustainability and business continuity, even in the face of global uncertainty.

These are just some of the ways employers can leverage diversity and inclusion for long-term growth and success. AARP is currently taking an in-depth look at the policies and practices to support the multigenerational workforce through a collaborative initiative with the World Economic Forum and OECD called “Living, Learning, and Earning Longer.” This includes working with major multinational companies to develop the business case for age diversity and inclusion, which will be released in the form a digital learning platform in early 2021.
To learn more about this work, or to join our learning collaborative of multinational employers, visit our site.
Jeffrey Gullo is a Senior Adviser for International Affairs at AARP.