Age and Employee Performance
What’s Wrong with Older Employees?The short answer to this question is: nothing. Unfortunately, some individuals rely on very serious misconceptions regarding the ability of older individuals to be productive in the workplace. Some of the common stereotypes include:
- They work slower
- They are difficult to work with
- They cannot be trained
Older Employees and Task PerformanceResearch has often looked at one single characteristic when examining age differences: core task performance (performance in key job functions). The prevailing stereotype was that employees are less productive as they get older. This belief is evident in the fact that older employees are rated as worse performers by their peers. To the contrary, supervisor ratings and objective measures, such as sales numbers or work output, tend to suggest that older employees are equal or better performers compared to their younger peers. Thus, peer ratings are showing a clearly incorrect bias against older employees. Several explanations exist as to why older employees may be better performers than younger employees. One such explanation is that the poor performers in a specific job are weeded out at a younger age, leaving only the top performers after the age of 40. Another explanation is that older employees have been doing the job longer and have learned how to do the job more efficiently.
Beyond Task PerformanceWhile task performance is certainly important in judging the success of an employee, there are many other important employee characteristics to consider. Organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) are, simply put, behaviors that an individual engages in that are helpful to other employees and the company. OCBs can include staying late to help out on a project, helping other employees to complete their work, and not complaining about trivial, red-tape matters. Putting to rest the ‘difficult to work with’ stereotype, older employees actually perform more OCBs than younger employees. Older employees also engage in fewer counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs), like ‘milking the clock,’ stealing from the office, arriving late, and calling out of work. CWBs are detrimental to organizations. Employee theft alone is estimated to cost between 15 and 25 millions dollars to American organizations. That doesn’t even include the cost of absenteeism, which costs employers time and money.
So, Are Older Employees Perfect?One of the stereotypes mentioned previously does have some validity: older employees do not perform as well in training classes as younger employees. However, this relationship is not terribly strong, and is largely attributable to the technologal gap that currently exists between the baby-boomers and younger generations who have grown up using computers.
The Bottom LineOlder employees are an invaluable asset to companies and should be treated as such. Not only do they perform at least as well as younger employees, but they also help to amplify group harmony by performing more OCBs, increase profit margins by engaging in fewer CWBs, and contribute valuable insight through their additional work experience.
DeGarmo GroupThis was a summary of the research and practice implications from:Ng, T. W. H. & Feldman, D. C. (2008). The relationship of age to ten dimensions of job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(2), 392-423.