Here’s a misconception we need to question: workers above the age of 55 are burned-out, resistant to technologies, absent due to illness, reluctant to travel, less creative, and less productive. At least, this is what managers at hiring agencies shared about senior employees, in a 2009 report from the Sloan Center on Aging & Work.
Though, according to Prof. Peter Capelli, Wharton School of Business, “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age.” Here’s why senior employees could be among your star performers:
- They have better focus. Millennials are adept task-switchers, and are known to juggle the technological distractions of the modern office effectively. But neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, University of California, says multitasking is a misnomer. The brain can’t do two things at once. Instead, it switches from one task to the other, and with every switch, there’s a slight delay.
Capelli’s research shows that seniors can tune out distractions better, and focus on one task for long periods of time. Their brains are just better trained to stay still! They might score low on cognitive tests in laboratories, but show no decline in their job performance.
- They make unique creative connections. While it’s true that millennials may ideate more, entrepreneur Frans Johansson argues in his book ‘The Medici Effect’ that creativity comes more from making connections among diverse thoughts: the more knowledge you have, the more connections you can make. And this certainly falls in favor of older employees.
He shares an example of Kay Hall, a 56-year-old sales executive who was let go from her job during the recession. Later she was offered an assistant’s job at a law firm. But she was dedicated to applying her older skills. The solution she offered: finding service opportunities for the firm’s clients, using data-analysis techniques learned on her old job. “It was completely innovative for the legal field,” she says.
- They are sharper problem solvers. Veterans know how to prioritize problems, and even account for unexpected occurrences. This not only streamlines their effort, but also prevents costly workplace accidents or mistakes. Researchers at the University of Mannheim, Germany, arrived at this conclusion, after studying teams of workers at a BMW plant. They noticed that productivity increased consistently as workers aged, right up to mandatory retirement, then at age 65. The study also stressed the fact that such disposition of seniors could be attributed to their patience, and an attitude of ‘this too shall pass’.
Though multiple surveys show that unemployed workers above the age of 55 remain jobless for more than two years at a stretch, ample research evidence is emerging to support their value at workplaces. The baseline: there is much use for their sheer wisdom. We just need to find ways to tap into it.