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Let’s Redefine Aging Workers and Tap into Those Talents

Let’s Redefine Aging Workers and Tap into Those Talents

July 7, 2021
Employers need to take a closer look at the talent and preferences of older workers in order to ensure productivity.

As many workers reach that age that traditionally calls for retirement, they feel they aren’t ready. They don’t feel their age and don’t really want a chronological marker to determine the course of their careers.

It turns out there is something to this perception. In an article on  MIT’s Sloan Management Review, authors Noemi Nagy, an assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Lifelong Learning at the University of South Florida and Michael S. North, an assistant professor of management and organizations at New York University’s Stern School of Business, make exactly this case. 

“Our research suggests that acknowledging subjective age differences — and how these differences shape work motivations — could help HR departments better support the aging workforce and provide better-targeted assistance for individual late-career employees.”

These conclusions were based on looking at different categories of older workers.  The group called Youthfuls,  who are subjectively younger participants, meaning people who said they feel more than a decade younger than their chronological age scored higher on certain categories --  work engagement, productivity, and organizational citizenship behavior such as altruism or generally taking charge at work.

Given this outcome, the authors suggest looking very closely at this group to fill leadership roles. They can also be adept at mentoring or teaching their colleagues.

Other categories of workers might need some assistance in order to perform at their best. For example, the group that the authors called Veterans had lower levels of motivation and engagement. For this group, both the work design and the workload could be adjusted. Reducing time pressure or even proving greater autonomy could help these workers improve productivity. “ Veterans could thrive under flexible work scheduling or a bridge employment opportunity — a flexible postretirement job held before exiting the labor force completely.”

Workers who fall somewhere in between these groups, called Matures, are motivated and doing well but are less engaged than the Youthfuls. This group, which accounts for 40% of older workers, have untapped potential that could be increased by “broaden the reward system to be in line with the changing needs of workers, create a more stimulating work environment, and foster employees’ feeling of appreciation and recognition."

Understanding the differences between workers in the age group is important for employers who will have these employees on staff for a while yet. Older workers are both the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, and this group of around 13 million people age 65 and older will still be employed in the U.S. by 2024.

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