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Age UK study challenges stereotypes of older workers

Published on 27 August 2013 11:30 PM

A new study by Age UK has found that older workers are as productive as their younger counterparts.  

Researchers reviewing published studies into the characteristics of older workers found that, despite assumptions made by many employers, older workers are motivated and willing to work as flexibly as younger workers.  



There was little evidence to back up disparaging but engrained stereotypes of older workers when it came to productivity, health, commitment and flexibility.

The research, which investigated the evidence behind common perceptions about older workers, was carried out on behalf of Age UK by Essex Business School, University of Essex.

Older people faster at carrying out complex tasks

The Age UK review also established that while there was evidence of decline in some physical attributes in some, but not all, older workers, there was little sign of a decline in overall productivity because older workers compensated with skills and experience.

The report says that ‘while bottom line speed may deteriorate, overall efficacy offsets any impact to productivity. It has been reported that there is evidence to suggest that while younger people might be typically faster at carrying out repetitive tasks.

'In comparison, older people are often faster at carrying out complex tasks that allow them to draw on their contextual knowledge and years of work experience.'

This reinforces findings made in two separate studies of German car manufacturers.

Older workers in a Mercedes Benz plant were found to be more productive and make fewer errors than younger workers; while BMW found that its ‘Today for Tomorrow' programme, which set up a production line staffed only by older workers, improved productivity by 7% over the first year, matching that staffed only by younger workers.

Too often older workers are written off as a burden

Dr Kathleen Riach, Reader in Management at Essex Business School who carried out the study said, ‘Our review found that stereotyped perceptions about older workers don't stand up to scrutiny.

'Our work indicates that age doesn't determine a person's commitment and productivity levels at work. Other socioeconomic and psychological factors are much better indicators of the way older people behave.'

The study also found that older people took fewer short-term absences than younger workers. But when they were absent on sick leave, it was for longer. Similarly, older people were found to have fewer but more serious accidents at work.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK said,
‘This shows that the time has come for employers and recruiters to shed their inaccurate and damaging perceptions of older workers. Too often older workers are written off as a burden when in fact their commitment, productivity, skills and expertise make them an invaluable boon to business and the UK economy.

‘Nearly half of all unemployed older workers have been out of work for more than a year. It's time the UK finally appreciated the value of this untapped potential.'


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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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