COMPANY CULTURE / APR. 12, 2015
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Research Reveals Workplace Contributions of Older Employees

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The American Psychological Association’s Journal of Applied Psychology recently published research that revealed and examined the relative benefits brought to the workplace by employees of different age groups. The researchers concluded that older workers contributed more ’crystallised intelligence’, which stems from personal experience and skills built over time, but less ’fluid intelligence’, such as reasoning skills, than younger employees typically display.

See Also: Young Workers: How to Gain Your Older Co-Workers’ Respect

Research Findings

The report took into account several different studies, covering large and varied sample groups, including one with 3375 participants applying for relatively senior managerial positions. They were asked to complete a series of tests of the sort employers regularly use to test cognitive capacity, and the results were analysed to uncover patterns in both crystallised intelligence and fluid intelligence compared to different age groups.

The tests included identifying patterns in a series of apparently random letters, and vocabulary testing, which were designed to test both reasoning in a new situation, and abilities to apply previously learned information to new situations.

Overall, the report found that fluid intelligence - meaning. The ability to reason effectively in new circumstances - deteriorated from around the age of 30, at a gradual rate. However, from the age of 59 the deterioration was more pronounced. In terms of crystallised intelligence, gathered through experience, the opposite was true, with older employees achieving higher scores on these tests.

Why does it matter?

The research is important in part because of changing patterns in employment. With increasing life expectancy, and changes to retirement and pension schemes meaning that many people prefer to continue working until an older age than in previous generations. The researchers concluded that employers should be wary, therefore, about administering cognitive testing on prospective employees, to avoid inadvertently discriminating against older employees.

Whilst discrimination on the basis of age has long been illegal in the UK, for example, this does not stop employers falling foul of the law sometimes, especially when it comes to indirect discrimination. This is where a criteria is applied to a group of individuals equally, but could be reasonably foreseen to negatively impact one specific group based on a protected characteristic - in this case age. Given the difference in performance that can be expected across different tests based on the age of the candidate, a good range of competencies should be used, to ensure a fair application of testing. In this way, employers give an equal opportunity of success to candidates of all ages.

Additionally the research can influence older employees who might be considering a change in career later in life. Given the relative reduction in fluid intelligence, older workers will need to draw more on experiential learning to succeed in new areas, and should find ways of using their experience as a strength that works in their favour.

See Also: How to Handle Older Subordinates

Overall, employers and employees alike benefit from a team that includes people of varied ages. That there should be some difference in approach and ability between different age groups is no surprise, but it is useful to note the specific benefits in terms of mental and cognitive abilities that both younger and older workers can bring to a team. By ensuring against indirect discrimination and balancing out the team with a mix of individual personalities, skills, experiences and ages, the likelihood of success goes up, and in many cases, morale and enjoyment are also improved across the business.

Do you think that your fluid intelligence is better than your older co-workers? Do you think this is an advantage? your thoughts and comments below please...

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