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January 31, 2023

Are your career development plans inclusive or ageist?

Ceridian’s 2023 Pulse of Talent survey found that older workers have significantly fewer career development opportunities than their younger counterparts. Learn what you can do to ensure your organization has inclusive career development plans for everyone.

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When it comes to employee career development plans, employers should be more “age is just a number” than “out with the old, in with the new.” But our new research shows that as a worker’s age increases, their chances for workplace development opportunities decrease.

In Ceridian’s 2023 Pulse of Talent survey, we found that this form of ageism in the workplace can start to occur as early as age 45. When we asked about learning and development opportunities over the past year, 31% of respondents said they hadn’t received any. But more than half (54%) of those age 65+ said they didn’t receive any such opportunities over the last year.

And yet our survey data also shows that flight risk significantly decreases as age increases. Organizations are prioritizing learning and development investments in younger employees, who are more likely to leave, whereas they’re often ignoring older workers who are likely to be more loyal.

Donnebra McClendon, Ceridian’s Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, explains why companies should reverse these behaviors: “Companies that invest in growth opportunities for older employees gain significant returns. These returns are actualized in greater productivity, higher engagement, and less customer turnover attributed to stronger business relationships with older workers.”

Below, we look at what organizations can do to create age-inclusive career development plans.

Understand your older workers

Employers have put more effort into their DEI work initiatives in recent years. But many organizations have blind spots in these initiatives, and ageism is one area that is often overlooked. According to research from the AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Ageism in the workplace is happening and it’s bad for business continuity and organizational resilience.

Before they can create more inclusive and equitable career development plans, employers must confront the broader issue of ageism. While you may not think such an issue exists in your workplace, your employees might say otherwise. So, ask them. Include questions in your annual employee engagement survey or DEI questionnaire to understand if your employees are experiencing or witnessing ageism.

When crafting your survey, be sure to involve at least one member of this cohort – and all others represented in your organization. Doing so can help ensure you understand perspectives that you might not have otherwise considered. And include questions on career development opportunities – both what they’re currently getting and what they want in the future.

You should, however, always avoid singling out older workers by sending a survey only to them. Make these exploratory efforts part of a broader DEI survey initiative.

Collecting and reading employee surveys but not acting upon the data is a common misstep with employee surveys – and one that can allow ageism in the workplace to continue being overlooked. Avoid this inaction by creating a project plan upfront that includes a due date for an initial action plan that will outline next steps, timelines, and who will be accountable.

Taking action against ageism

Research from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies reveals that almost half of baby boomers and nearly one-third of Generation X plan to push their retirement until past the age of 70 or do not plan to retire at all. This means older workers will be in the workplace longer, and employers will be challenged to ensure that employees’ work lives stay meaningful for the duration.

Use your survey findings to do exactly that. Do your older workers feel like they’re missing out on upskilling and reskilling? Do they want more internal mobility? Do they want to stay in their current role but broaden their horizons by contributing their expertise to other teams?

With the right survey design, you can answer these questions and other related ones. And that means you’re one step closer to preventing ageism in your career development plans.

While this data can give you the important broad strokes, don’t ignore individual interests. Middle managers should have career conversations with employees of all ages. And it is through those conversations that personalized career paths can emerge that align with individual strengths and aspirations.

And employees of all ages should be empowered to take control of their own career development and pathing rather than relying on a manager to create a path for them. Talent management technology can facilitate this process and help ensure more equitable career development experiences.

Ageism, like other forms of discrimination, has immediate impacts and ones that resonate for years to come. The younger employees of today become the older workers of tomorrow. And if they see age discrimination happening today, even if it doesn’t directly impact them, it creates an environment of distrust. Ageism in the workplace negatively impacts everyone, but employers have the power to ensure that it becomes old news.

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