New research has turned a stereotype about older employees on its head. In a study published recently in Psychological Science, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin found that older adults are more steady and consistent in cognitive performance than are younger adults.
Researchers asked more than 200 older adults – between the ages of 65 and 80 – and younger adults, between the ages of 20 and 31 – to complete 12 cognitive tasks every day for 100 days. The tasks measured episodic memory, working memory and perceptual speed, and researchers measured participants’ day-to-day variability in performance. In the end, Axel Borsch-Supan, one of the study’s lead researchers, concluded that – contrary to typical stereotypes – older adults were actually more consistent in tasks each day than young adults:
“On balance, older employees’ productivity and reliability is higher than that of their younger colleagues,” he said.
The study’s authors believe that older adults are more consistent due to perennially high levels of motivation, strategies they have learned to solve tasks, balanced routines and stable moods.
Older adults in the workplace
Borsch-Supan, who studies the labor force in aging societies, implied that this and other studies he has conducted reveals that companies should not be hesitant to hire older adults:
“One of our studies in the car production industry has shown that serious errors that are expensive to resolve are much less likely to be committed by older staff members than by their younger colleagues,” he said. “Likewise, in other branches of industry that we have studied, one does not observe higher productivity among the younger relative to the older workers.”
As older adults delay retirement or opt to return to the workforce, a common concern is whether employers are willing to hire older workers. This study confirms the value in hiring workers who already have a wealth of life experiences.