Despite an ageing society we still don’t have an adequate policy agenda to address how young and older workers can flourish together in workplaces of today, and in the future.
Instead, the dominant cultural narrative is one of generational divisions and conflict that belies a lack of mutual understanding – assumptions of older workers ‘crowding out’ younger people from the labour market, or about the attitudes and skillsets of younger workers.
Intergenerational dialogue about the future of work is neglected by policymakers but with multi-generational workplaces not just here to stay but set to become the new normal, we require a radical new policy agenda. The way forward isn’t just about a few positive organisational ‘best practice’ case studies, but rather a systematic set of actions to induce change from central government, local government, employers, trade unions and the education sector.
Core to those changes is addressing the increasing polarisation of labour markets in terms of job quality, which ultimately feeds and refracts harmful age-based inequalities in the workplace.
Younger and older workers sometimes face different challenges inside and outside the workplace, yet many of their aspirations around good work are the same, and many of the problems they face have shared causes. So, we need generations to work together to combat poor workplace practices. But to do so we also need to overcome the interactional distance between older and younger workers, particularly prevalent in societies where institutions, geographies and life experiences are so deeply stratified based on age.
In advancing a vision of a more equitable future there is a set of solutions. A starting point must be tackling age-based discrimination at work and promoting age-friendly workplaces. The problems caused by insecure forms of employment that bedevil younger and older workers require strengthening labour market regulation. The specific employment challenges facing many younger and older workers, particularly exacerbated by the pandemic, demonstrate the need for a more supportive welfare system. And at an individual level we also need to have better advice and support for younger and older workers on the transition into and between jobs. But the agenda also needs to build solidarity between different generations of workers. There is a pressing need to bring together older and younger workers to discuss issues about work and to explore new forms of collective associations to advance their interests.
This Fellows report suggests a better future for all workers and recommends solutions to issues faced by the both young and old.
Lianna Etkind, RSA Central Fellowship Areas and Engagement Manager, explores the social benefits of the four-day week and calls for more participation to create the future of work.