Research Indicates Older Workers Highly Productive

By Paula Bernier

I turned 51 this month. And I am ok with that. It sure beats the alternative.

But perhaps I should keep that (and any stray gray hairs) under my hat.

I say this because I’m constantly reminded our culture’s out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new mentality. And I’m not just talking about the images we see in advertising and entertainment.

Recently I was at a high school soccer game, and one of the dads there said older workers tend to be lackadasical. I’m not a debater, but in this case I argued that while that might be true in some cases, saying older people as a group lack motivation while younger folks are more productivite is simply not the case. If it is, I told this guy, why did my father’s employer strongly recruit him to come back not once but twice after his retirement? (And why, I wondered, would someone around my age be arguing that people in his demographic are lazy?)

A few weeks after this friendly conversation between me and the soccer dad, I had dinner with a couple of pals. One of them mentioned that several of the large companies in our industry are not necessarily downsizing but rather are cutting loose older workers and recruiting younger individuals who they believe are better positioned to help their organizations with digital transformation. Even individuals with great records in sales or other disciplines, he said, are being let go.

Crazy, right?

Clearly the new digital economy is creating a need for corporate change. But indiscriminately laying off people with long records of strong performance and historical knowledge is a mistake, as is assuming younger people have more to offer than those who have been around longer.

The truth is, different people bring different perspectives and skillsets. And those perspectives and skillsets can be very valuable to an organization, whether the individuals who possess them are young, old, or somewhere in between.

Let’s look at the research.

The World Economic Forum in September of 2015 talked about a study indicating that “Successful older people manage to use their brains differently, and by doing so are doing just as well as younger people. One interpretation is that older people – having a larger set of knowledge – are relying more on their experience when processing new information. Instead of considering all the new information when making a decision, they might extrapolate from past experience, dismissing some new information, but working more efficiently with the information they have and ultimately doing just as well as younger people with more powerful brains. So, young people are indeed able to run faster, but old people know the shortcuts.”

This report says older people also tend to be more agreeable, conscientous, and emotionally stable than younger people. Meanwhile, younger folks tend to be more open to new experiences and more extroverted.

Separately, an AARP story notes that Wharton School of Business management professor and author Peter Cappelli has suggested that perceptions that older folks are less creative or productive than other workers are based on false assumptions. In fact, he said, quite the opposite is true.

"Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age," said Cappelli, who authored the 2010 book Managing the Older Worker. “I thought the picture might be more mixed, but it isn’t. The juxtaposition between the superior performance of older workers and discrimination against them in the workplace just really makes no sense.”

I’m thinking about such topics a lot these given I’ve been covering company culture in an effort to help promote the TMCnet Workplace Excellence Awards. This program includes an award category for Tech Culture, one for Tech Diversity, and another one for Social Responsibility. To learn more about how to apply for any or all of these awards, visit http://techculture.tmcnet.com.

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