Ageism and Mentoring

On June 8, 2023, Doug Piquette from the Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC) was invited to an HR Conference to discuss mentoring and ageism. The following article recaps his presentation.

When workplace inclusion is discussed, we often focus on ways we can diversify our conversations and viewpoints, most often through gender and race. But the diversity of ages can also provide a breadth of perspective.

Within the workforce today, there are four generations: Baby Boomers (1946 – 1965), Generation X (1966 – 1979), Millennials (1980 – 1995), and Generation Z (1996 – 2012).

Older generations often feel the brunt force of ageism in the workforce, which often carries the stereotype of always being sick and lacking energy, not understanding technology, and not having the desire to learn more about their profession. Their experiences and insights are often ignored or belittled, and they are often forced into early retirement or are laid off to avoid having their pensions paid out or are not considered hireable.

“Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.” — World Health Organization

With lifestyle changes, we’re seeing generations live longer, are healthier, and want to continue working without being forced—or feeling like being forced—into retirement. As the Canadian labour market faces shortages, specifically after the COVID-19 pandemic, older generations have the health and desire to continue working but are often overlooked due to ageism. Specifically, during interviews, older generations face discrimination even though their experience, skills, and desire to learn exceed that of some younger applicants.

When the insurance company Hiscox surveyed 400 full-time workers aged 40 and above, they found:

  • “More than two in five employees (44%) claim they or someone they know has experienced age discrimination;
  • “More than one in three (36%) believe their age has hindered them from getting a job after they turned 40;
  • “More than one in four (26%) fear they could lose their current job because of their age.”[1]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Baby Boomers were more likely to take early retirement or were let go to save costs during business shutdowns and slowdowns. Now, the North American labour market faces potential shortages as each generation following Millennials is getting smaller. Business owners did not anticipate this challenge because they had to address immediate issues, sometimes in order to keep their businesses afloat.

With fewer older generations in the workforce, there is now a gap in the number of available workers. Businesses are also facing the loss of experience and expertise that could be passed on to generations newly entering the workforce. [2] The challenge now is how to retain employees and how to address ageism head-on.

What Generations Want and Need in the Workplace

Each generation has wants and needs within the workplace to help them thrive in their professional career and contribute to a company’s success.

Baby Boomers are looking for a stable work environment, and when they are feeling fulfilled by the work, they tend to be committed to the company for the long term. They are comfortable with teamwork and collaborative workplaces. [3]

Generation X looks for broad participation in a business's decision-making process and wants a chance to work with diverse teams. When feeling seen and heard in the workplace, they strive for openness and feel they can achieve a good work-life balance.[4]

Millennials want lifelong learning opportunities, a digital and global work setting, with a well-developed feedback culture. Before becoming truly invested in a business, they look for a good retention strategy and want the chance to climb the career ladder.[5]

Generation Z looks for equality and openness in a business, along with lifelong learning opportunities, staff training, and flexible hours.[6]

Generational Strengths

Each generation has specific and shared strengths within the workforce. Baby Boomers are known to have a strong work ethic and are independent, self-assured, competitive, and goal-centric [7], while Generation X has an entrepreneurial spirit and values diversity, challenges, and responsibilities. They are eager to learn and able to adapt and accept changes in the workplace easily.[8]

Millennials are confident, tech-savvy, flexible, result-oriented, and strive for a healthy work/life balance.[9] Generation Z is competitive, independent, flexible with workplace environments (remote or in-office), and are technology driven.[10]

What most generations have in common is their independence; they are result-oriented (either individually or as a team). They strive for stability and self-reliance and want the opportunity to learn and grow. With such similarities, it is natural that cognitive diversity is considered, including an intuitive move toward mentoring.

Generational Mentorship

Cognitive diversity and the act of incorporating it into the workforce encourage the generations to value diverse thinking and new approaches to projects and problems faced by an entire team.[11]

Mentorship through the generations can establish a diverse workforce environment. Cognitive diversity is in action through continual communication, mutual respect, and active engagement in professional and personal development.

To make such a mentorship successful, six areas should be practiced:

  1. Establish clear goals and expectations: There should be a clear understanding of what the mentor and mentee wish to achieve through the mentorship.
  2. Open communication: Regular and open communication establishes a safe and supportive environment for sharing thoughts, concerns, and ideas.
  3. Respect differences: Both mentor and mentee should recognize and respect the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives of one another.
  4. Provide constructive feedback: Offer constructive feedback to help develop the mentorship and skills of the mentee, providing suggestions for growth.
  5. Encourage accountability: Both mentor and mentee must take responsibility for their commitment to the mentorship and actively engage in the process.
  6. Maintain confidentiality: Establish trust by maintaining confidentiality and respecting one another's privacy.

With Baby Boomers and Generation X’s wealth of experiences and knowledge of the overall workforce, they offer insights into the big picture of company management while knowing the inner workings of each department. All generations, however, can thrive on supporting other generations, guiding them through the beginning stages of their careers or helping them develop skills that are new to the workplace.

Forms of Mentoring

  • Traditional mentoring – The older generation mentors the younger generation on big-picture strategies or trades.
  • Modern [or reverse] mentoring – The younger generation mentors the older generation in technological/digital skills of the changing work environment.

Within all companies, both forms of mentorship are valuable tools to help train staff, update their skills, and provide personal and professional guidance. Traditional mentoring can provide the overall knowledge younger generations require in their professional lives, particularly as the demand for such knowledge is almost expected once they enter the workforce. Reverse mentoring provides fresh perspectives and allows employees to fill in the gaps in their skill sets.

Building Relationships

Mentoring, like the foundation of any relationship, requires good communication skills, regardless of the form used within the workplace environment (one-on-one, Zoom, phone, etc.). Along with communication skills is finding the right individuals to partner with—which often falls upon executives or individuals to determine who would be a good fit.

Once a pair has been matched, routine check-ins and establishing the goals and objectives of the mentorship will help establish good communication and the foundation of mentoring.

Through mentorship, both mentor and mentee are encouraged to move forward in their personal development as they identify career goals and move toward achieving them. With guidance and understanding, gaps in skillsets can be filled by introducing new technology or methods of performing specific tasks.[13]

Positive Outcomes

Mentoring has many positive outcomes for both the mentor and the mentored. Not only does it increase the confidence of both individuals within the workplace, but it also provides the knowledge and understanding of the skills an individual is developing for their career. Having an individual to connect with to help enhance beginner skills or establish new ones creates ease in adapting to changing environments within the workforce. Having two different generations connect over similar goals creates a bridge between the generations, showcasing that though they may come from different eras, there are many similarities that both will find throughout the mentoring relationship. Establishing that bond will help change the idea of ageism, not only in the individuals being mentored but also in the workplace.

The Alberta Mentorship program is sponsored by the Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC).

The Alberta Mentorship Program is appreciative of the funding from the Government of Alberta through Labour and Immigration, Workforce Strategies. Our program is here to provide information and support to help organizations start mentorship programs.

Create a Mentorship Program

Are you ready to create a mentorship program in your community? Contact us to start the process.