How BMW created a business for older workers which benefited their entire workforce
But it was perhaps the issue of the prospect of a mass loss of experience and skills where BMW was most worried. This loss of wisdom and experience when older workers leave an organisation is still so rarely understood by business, seemingly happy to see the retirement of many experienced employees. But BMW were smart and could see that a mass loss of older workers would lead to a ‘brain drain’ of important know-how, which could not simply be replaced by the recruitment of younger workers.
‘Today for tomorrow’ was founded on the belief that the biographical age of an employee has little influence on the development of their ability to learn. What they felt was more important to them, was the employees’ willingness to adapt to constant change.
So what did BMW do? One of their key fixes was to create better designed workplaces for older employees. For example, in their Munich plant, their aim was to reduce the physical strain on workers — in particular, to prevent bending, stooping and stretching movements and also to reduce the lifting and carrying of loads. What they found was that the changes which were good for older workers tended to be good for all workers. Numerous simple improvements to the production line made the work environment safer and more comfortable for workers of all ages. And by actively encouraging input from workers of all ages about their workplace, these modifications that help workers do their jobs more comfortably and efficiently helped productivity, decreased absenteeism and made employees of all ages feel valued and listened to in the process.
As well as looking at the work environment BMW created a programme which focused on health management, qualifications, retirement models and communications and change management. BMW have recognised that there isn’t a linear solution and are trying and exploring have a number of different ways of learning themselves how best to manage age diversity.
Age, experience and generational management is a clear and important organisational diversity goal for BMW. And in order to benefit from the strengths and experience of employees of different ages, BMW has introduced extensive programmes for flexible and mobile working.
"This loss of wisdom and experience when older workers leave an organisation is still so rarely understood by business, seemingly happy to see the retirement of many experienced employees."
BMW has also found out that older staff members learn best if they are able to bring their experience into the learning situation. As a result they have designed a learning approach which is designed in a practical and work-oriented way. BMW now try to combine working and learning processes which benefits both younger and older workers.
Ultimately BMW sees the value in each individual, enabling them to construct the best work, career, health, wealth, life plan possible, within the context of BMW’s objectives and expectations of an employee.
While the primary objective of BMW was perhaps selfish — to maintain or improve productivity — by engaging and empowering the workers, they ensured that everyone benefited significantly.
"What they found was that the changes which were good for older workers tended to be good for all workers."
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