How to Build Career Pathing for a Multi-Generational Workplace

Older workers care about career advancement, too. Here’s what leaders can do to ensure equal access to opportunities.

Written by Amanda Webster
Published on Mar. 06, 2024
How to Build Career Pathing for a Multi-Generational Workplace
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The aging American population is finding its way into the workforce. The presence of workers age 60 and older doubled between 2000 and 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Due to inflation and the rising cost of living, more Americans are un-retiring to the point where it’s estimated that people aged 55 and older will account for 25 percent of the workforce in 2028

3 Reasons to Offer Multigenerational Career Pathing

  1. People 55 and older may account for 25 percent of the workforce in 2028.
  2. Older workers, like younger ones, want opportunities for promotions and advancement.
  3. It is a critical part of an age-inclusive workplace.

With a range of generations working, collaborating and competing in the workplace, organizations must build pathways to career growth that speak to the varied needs of all of their workers. 

While setting clear goals is essential for any worker, those goals look different depending on the employee’s age and stage of life. For example, the goals of someone just out of college may differ wildly from those who have been building a career over the past 30 or 40 years. 

Building age-inclusive career pathing requires a strategic approach that addresses the diverse needs and experiences of every generation of workers. Here are some steps leaders can take to ensure that no matter their age, every one of their employees will have pathways to career growth available to them.

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Understand and Acknowledge Age Diversity

Many recent headlines cover the specific needs of younger generations and how businesses can both attract and retain young talent. It can be easy to surmise that older generation workers are not interested in career growth or attaining new skills, but age inclusiveness requires a broad understanding and acknowledgment of the wide age diversity in the workplace.

There is great value in age diversity within the workplace, as workers of different ages bring different perspectives, skills and life experiences to their roles. This allows older workers more opportunities to serve as mentors while younger workers can teach their older generational counterparts new skills and ways of completing tasks they may not have initially considered. 

If you have done a good job as a leader in fostering an environment of diversity and inclusion, this should include age inclusion. All employees should feel heard, recognized and respected — regardless of age — and differences should be celebrated. That’s why leaders should strive to create a sense of belonging for everyone. 


Update Career Growth and Promotion Policies 

Policies pertaining to career growth, continued education and promotions should be regularly evaluated to ensure that they meet the needs of people across the generational expanse. Policies always need to be reviewed to ensure they are free from discriminatory language and bias, however unintentional. This evaluation should cover recruitment strategies, performance management, training and pathways for promotion. Older employees should be given the same opportunities as younger employees to grow their careers further and expand their skills.

Older employees should be given the same opportunities as younger employees to grow their careers and expand their skills.

However, age should not be a determining factor when considering career growth and promotions. Rather, their KPIs should be measured alongside the data points the organization uses to evaluate performance — follow the data and look for “A” players to develop a path for, then look at the “B” players and develop a path for them to become “A” players.

At the same time, remember that not every employee necessarily wants a promotion. Some staff, regardless of their age, find the job they love and excel at and don’t want to move higher. Some employees value things differently than the traditional paths; still, organizations must develop the path and options to show these employees their value and to recognize the work they do in their current roles. Age should never limit anything unless the employee chooses to slow down or does not desire a promotion.

HR and leadership should also work individually with their employees to customize career development plans as much as possible. Career path plans should align with individual employees’ plans, skills, interests and ultimate career goals. Different approaches to both hands-on and self-paced learning should also be considered.              

Promotions, performance evaluations and succession planning approaches should be transparent and fair. Criteria for advancement should be clearly outlined, and ample opportunities should be given for employees to showcase their skills and capabilities.


Offer Flexible Work Arrangements 

Flexible work options such as 4-day work weeks, remote work and phased retirement options can better accommodate the diverse needs of different age groups. Older workers may have children and aging parents they are caring for, a situation becoming so common that it now has its own name: the Sandwich Generation.    

Those employees may need more flexibility in their workday to meet those personal obligations than many younger and single workers without children. This is not to say that preferential treatment should be given to workers who have children or other obligations outside of work, but offering flexible work options across the board can allow for more options in career growth for all generations.


Consider Work/Life Balance

Leaders should encourage a healthy work/life balance by promoting wellness programs, employee assistance programs and resources for managing stress and burnout. 

Why is this important? What constitutes work/life balance differs from generations, according to research from HR consulting firm Karbon. Boomers, the research indicates, grew up in the shadow of World War II and the concept of work-life balance isn’t a priority. Millennials desire work-life integration and Gen Xers want time to balance family needs with work needs. Policies and approaches should cater to these generational differences and diverse views of what constitutes work/life balance. 


Offer Lifelong Learning 

Training and continuing education opportunities should cater to employees at all stages in their careers. Just because someone is over the age of 50 and has been doing the same job for a long time does not mean they are not open to learning new skills and growing within their career. Leaders should provide continuous opportunities for learning, upskilling and reskilling to help employees remain relevant within their roles and within a job market that is rapidly changing. 


Encourage Mentorships and Collaboration

Cross-generational mentorship programs allow employees to learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives. Reverse mentorships are also becoming a popular way for older generations to learn the technology and social trends that influence today’s workplace. Within a reverse mentorship, a younger employee is paired with an older employee in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Cross-generational collaboration can also foster experience and knowledge sharing. Open communication and exchanging ideas should be encouraged to leverage the diverse perspectives across the generations. 

More DEI ReadingHow to Spot and Stop Ageism in the Workplace

Seek Feedback  

Leaders should regularly seek feedback from their employees to ensure that their multi-generational growth approaches are helping employees of all ages reach their career goals. Feedback should reveal areas where leaders can improve processes and make adjustments to ensure that the pathway to career goals is clear for all ages. 

Ensuring that career pathing accommodates employees of all generations not only fosters inclusivity and diversity within organizations but also maximizes the potential of each individual within an organization. A holistic approach to career pathing can consider each employee’s diverse needs, skills, experiences and goals. Organizations that focus on a culture of continued growth, recognize all employees across the generations and provide ongoing career development give each employee the ability to thrive.

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