Talent Ageism Agencies

On ageism in marketing teams: Combining legacy and fresh talent is the key to success

By Neil Hollins, UK Board Trading Director



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September 21, 2023 | 8 min read

The ad industry is becoming better aware of the ageism in its outputs. But what about ageism in the teams that make ads? Specsavers’ Neil Hollins lays out why our approach to age is broken, and how to fix it.

Two hands, one more wrinkled than the other

Is the advertising industry doing enough to tackle ageism in its own ranks? / Malin K via Unsplash

Diversity in the working world covers many facets, from gender to ethnicity; neurodiversity to age. Today, it’s well understood that a diverse workforce brings with it a broader range of skills, experiences, and perspectives, which in turn can increase productivity and boost business growth.

Within the wider conversation about D&I, age diversity is often less talked about than, say, gender or ethnicity. And yet, in many industries and workplaces there can often be a big divide between different age groups, with companies missing out on the enormous benefits that a mixed range of ages can bring.

In the UK, age diversity has certainly improved. According to Government figures, one-third of the current workforce is over 50, while pre-pandemic figures showed that workers over 65 are likely to be responsible for more than half of all employment growth over the next 10 years, and almost two-thirds of employment growth by 2060.

However, the reality is that all too often the focus is on recruiting fresh, new talent to drive innovation and bring greater dynamism to a team, while more experienced workers often get forgotten. There’s no denying the energy and fresh perspectives that can come with younger talent, however, at Specsavers we believe that the secret to success is the combination of legacy and new talent. It’s a working culture for all ages and our hiring strategy reflects that​, built on the belief that age is experience, not a signal that you’re a ‘has been’. Combining experienced legacy talent with the innovative ideas of younger employees is the true alchemy for success.

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Harnessing the power of age diversity

Writing in the Times recently, Martha Lane Fox called on business leaders not to write off older workers, highlighting the immeasurable value of experience and wisdom that they bring to the table. Fox cited some interesting data points, such as the number of over-50s claiming unemployment benefits in the UK, which, according to a recent, report has increased by 139% since the start of the pandemic, indicating that Covid had a disproportionate impact on older workers.

In addition, a study by the Open University found that 70% of businesses are still nervous about recruitment and retention, suggesting that there are opportunities to be seized by actively engaging with the (often neglected) older age group. This is exactly the sort of creative solution that is needed to address the labor shortage currently facing UK businesses.

Fostering a learning ecosystem

When building an age-diverse workforce, there is much that can be learned from different generations. Older employees might have been with the company for several years, or even decades, giving them unparalleled knowledge and experience of the company’s history and core values. Even if they are new to the company themselves, they will have ample experience from the wider industry to impart.

This depth of understanding helps to maintain a sense of continuity and fosters a learning ecosystem to support younger workers who join the business or are new to the industry. Legacy employees can share knowledge with younger workers, nurturing their growth and development, and broadening their experience.

Meanwhile, fresh talent can introduce older workers to new ideas, tools, trends, and methods, helping them to stay relevant in a fast-changing world. With the recent explosion of AI and its various applications across business, never has there been greater need for older workers to keep up with the latest trends and developments.

This cross-pollination of ideas, skills and experiences – or ‘gentelligence’ – helps to nurture a culture of learning and growth across an organization, ensuring that the company remains agile and adaptable in an ever-changing business landscape.

Nurturing the cultural essence

One of the obvious ways in which the benefits of age diversity can play out is through the work itself, and how the cultural essence of an organization can manifest itself through business outputs. At Specsavers, it’s less about fitting the mold, because in simple terms, we don’t have one. People come to work and can truly be themselves, which helps to foster a more honest and creative approach to the work we deliver through our in-house creative agency.

All too often, hierarchy is driven by years of service or the age of individuals. However, it should be less about the number of years of experience and more about an attitude and approach to work. By encouraging open dialogue where everyone can contribute equally, we work hard to ensure that employees in their 20s don’t feel that their opinion isn’t valued, and that older employees don’t feel out of touch and irrelevant.

In our business, it’s not unusual to find yourself in a meeting with a 35-year age range, which supports our ethos of listening to all perspectives and ideas.

It’s about being an organization that is genuinely for all, both in terms of the products and services on offer, but also reflected in a team made up of both legacy and fresh talent.

In today’s world, to have a workforce that didn’t reflect that would be naïve at best, and catastrophic at worst.

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