Older workers just as productive as younger colleagues

2013

The common stereotype that older workers are less productive than their younger colleagues is a complete myth, new research has found.

A review of published research carried out by Essex Business School at the University of Essex on behalf of the charity Age UK found little evidence to back up engrained stereotypes of older workers when it came to productivity, health, commitment or flexibility.

While many employers viewed older workers as being less productive than their younger counterparts, older workers emerged as being just as motivated and willing to work flexibly as younger colleagues.

Dr Kathleen Riach, who carried out the study, said: "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."

In fact, she said, older people are often faster at carrying out complex tasks that allow them to draw on their contextual knowledge and years of work experience. While bottom line speed may deteriorate, the overall efficacy of older people offsets any impact to productivity.

The findings are borne out by two separate studies of car manufacturers in German - the country with the largest ageing population in Europe, where four out of 10 workers are aged between 60 and 64.

Older workers at Mercedes Benz 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 entirely by older workers, improved productivity by seven per cent over the first year, matching that staffed only by younger workers.

The number of people aged between 50 and 64 in employment in the UK has increased by nearly two million over the past 15 years, while the number over the retirement age of 65 is approaching one million. Meanwhile, the proportion of Americans aged 65 and older in the workforce rose from 12 per cent in 1990 to 16 per cent in 2010.

However in one regard, at least, older workers are at a disadvantage. According to a separate study by Canada Life Group Insurance, workers in their early 50s are at a much higher risk of succumbing to excessive stress and weight gain, with four out of 10 of those aged between 51 and 55 believing that they have experienced illness as a direct result of work-related stress.

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