Are Older Workers More Reliable Than Their Younger Counterparts?
There has always been a youth-versus-experience debate in any working environment. Offices often see experienced, older staff members replaced by young whippersnappers, with bright shiny qualifications, energy and very little practical experience. Although the older heads will often claim that nothing can beat experience, younger employees will suggest that they are more in touch with modern business and, thus, more suitable for powerful positions.
A large number of experienced workers grew up at a time where it wasn’t quite so common for every Tom, Dick and Harry to attend University. This means that despite their many decades’ worth of experience, they may not have the qualifications necessary in the modern workplace. On the flip side of this argument, however, is the opinion of many that qualifications are virtually handed out for free these days.
The Workplace is Changing
The reality, when it comes to business, is that the environment is constantly evolving at an unprecedented rate. The internet has revolutionised the way many companies are conducting business and this means that individuals who were experts ten years ago may be complete novices now. Internet literacy is highly important in the work place. If we are to discuss marketing, for example, the methods used today couldn’t be more different from those employed just a decade ago.
With increased global competition, innovation is crucial, as is taking advantage and staying on top of modern developments. Social media, Search Engine Optimisation, Adwords and many others are all techniques imperative to marketing these days, which may not even be in the vocabularies of the ‘old school’.
With Age Comes Consistency
A recent study on this subject by Dr Florian Schmiedek suggests that with age comes consistency. Working with the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Dr Schmiedek tested a group of more than 200 younger and older workers on a variety of aspects of their work. These aspects varied from working memory to episodic speed, with results proving more consistent in the older age bracket – between 65 to 80.
Although the factors influencing this increased level of consistency need to be researched further, the study does seem to suggest that you know what you are getting with experienced workers. Young employees, although often full of energy and innovation, can be more of a hit and miss affair, it seems.
The study also suggested that less errors are likely to be committed by older members of the workforce than their younger counterparts. This was especially true in the motor industry, but could equally be the case in numerous other industries.
Increased Competition for Jobs
The current economic environment in the UK, and in much of the Western World, has made the competition for jobs much greater than in recent years. This has led to many older employees having concerns over the longevity of their positions. With money and time invested into hiring new employees, it is often the older workers who cost a company less to make redundant. This also makes it more difficult for older employees to find a new job should they be made redundant.
There is also the issue of many years’ of experience, even qualifications, becoming dormant as various sectors evolve to suit the modern environment. The distribution of available jobs throughout the various sectors has also shifted massively in recent years, with consultancy sectors making up a huge chunk of the current distribution of jobs. The impact that being made redundant can have on older workers is huge.
Is Age Really Important?
Of course, age is only one factor of how good an employee is going to be. Commitment levels, passion, energy, financial need, intelligence, communication, mental stability etc. are all factors that will influence the suitability and quality of a worker. It is always difficult to discuss generalised factors, such as age, when considering who to employ, or who not to make redundant, but with the negative image of older workers, this study certainly seems to suggest that they are being undervalued.
Balance is the Key
In truth, the most important thing for any business is to create a balance within their workforce. The collaboration between young and innovative employees and older, experienced hands can be hugely effective, if managed correctly. As with office politics generally, the relationship between the two poles of the employee demographic needs to be managed well, in order to make each individual feel valued and secure.
Fundamentally, a top quality employee will see the benefits that others can bring to the table, whether they are on a similar page or not. Thus, the most functional offices will have open minded individuals, of all different ages, working collaboratively towards a shared vision.