Why is ageing of the workforce relevant for HR management?

HR Manager

1: Ageing and work

Why is ageing of the workforce relevant for HR management?

Ageing of the population in Europe

The population across the EU has been ageing over recent decades: a trend that is set to continue and intensify. The following graph shows that the

The age that divides a population into two numerically equal groups; that is, half the people are younger than this age and half are older. (Source)

has increased significantly over recent decades and is projected to continue rising.  

The age that divides a population into two numerically equal groups; that is, half the people are younger than this age and half are older. (Source)

: EU average between 1960 and 2060

The ageing of the population goes hand-in-hand with the ageing of the workforce. Fewer young people are entering the labour market, while the proportion of older people (aged 55-64 years) in the workforce is growing.

Age composition of the working population (1990-2060)

Key challenges

The demographic changes described above bring key challenges to organisations, such as: 

  • Attracting young workers from a shrinking labour market;
  • Retaining the growing proportion of experienced older workers;
  • Adapting workplaces to ensure productivity; and
  • Maintaining and upgrading the overall knowledge and skills base.

Benefits of an age-diverse workforce

Besides challenges, an age-diverse workforce also brings many benefits to the workplace, including:

  • Age-diverse workforces help organisations to adapt to the requirements of an equally diverse customer base and varied customer needs; 
  • Workers of different ages and gender bring in diverse perspectives and talents;
  • Diversity fosters creativity and innovation, facilitates problem solving and provides greater opportunities for knowledge-sharing between generations; 
  • Organisations with an age-diverse workforce are better able to respond to rapidly changing circumstances as they maximise their human resource potential; and
  • Age diverse workforces improve overall organisational performance granting a greater ability to deal with varying roles and tasks.

In order to get the maximum benefit from an age diverse workforce, organisations need to take a proactive approach to managing age. This requires better understanding of ageing and of the changes it implies in individuals, and being aware of differences in motivations and expectations of different age groups, as further explained below.

Managing people from different generations at the workplace

More than ever before, workplaces comprise workers from different generations with their own experiences, perspectives, values and ideas and with varying needs and expectations. According to researchers in human behaviour, groups of people of a particular age develop certain common characteristics based on shared experiences. 

Being aware of differences between generations and a better understanding of ageing and the changes it implies, will help managers to make the best use of the strength and potential of all generations.

The needs and motivations of different age groups have to be considered in many aspects of HR Management, such as:

  • Working arrangements; 
  • Training and career development;
  • Reward systems; and
  • Succession planning.

The ageing of the workforce and the related challenges imply a change in human resources strategies and a new approach to managing age at the workplace. Age awareness in HR management will help to maximise the benefits of a more diverse workforce and to make use of opportunities such diversity brings. HR professionals have a key role to play in formulating and implementing positive

Age management refers to the various dimensions by which human resources are managed within organisations with an explicit focus on ageing and, also, more generally, to the overall management of the workforce ageing via public policy or collective bargaining. (Source)

Essential principles of age management include:  

  • An emphasis on prevention rather than reactive problem solving;
  • A focus on the whole working life and all age groups, not just older workers; and
  • A holistic approach encompassing all dimensions that contributes to effective age management. 



Read more about managing age-diverse workplaces (theme 2)

What do we need to know about ageing? (next section)