Monday, December 17, 2007

Research: Generational Differences in Perceptions of Older Workers

According to a new paper published by the Center on Aging and Work/Workplace Flexibility at Boston College, older workers are very positive about themselves and the company they work for, but are more likely to perceive that younger workers are given preference in training and development opportunities.

Authored by Jacquelyn B. James, Ph.D., Jennifer E. Swanberg, Ph.D., and Sharon P. McKechnie, Ph.D., the research underlying the paper--"Generational Differences in Perceptions of Older Workers’ Capabilities"--focused on two questions: (1) How do Traditionalist Generation workers rate themselves in comparison to how Baby Boom workers, and Generation X and Y workers rate them on 11 characteristics deemed to be important qualifications for continued work in later life? (2) If employees perceive their workplace environment to be less likely to offer opportunities for training and promotion for older workers, what effect does this have on their own well-being, and on their commitment to the organization?

With respect to the first question, responses for six of the characteristics varied with age. Specifically, responses were significantly more negative with each successive generation, from Traditionalists to Generation Y for the ability of older workers to serve as mentors, seeing older workers as reliable, deeming them to be more productive than younger workers, seeing them as adaptable to new technology, eager for training, and flexible. With respect to the second question, employees from the three older generations who perceived equal promotion opportunities for older workers were all significantly higher in employee engagement than those who did not, but for generation Y, workers reported significantly lower levels of employee engagement when they perceived workers over 55 had the same opportunities for promotion as younger workers.
Managers have a complex balancing act to meet the expectations and needs of a multi-generational ρρworkforce. Many employees in the older generations still want and need training, development, and recognition for their work in terms of promotion. However, employees from the youngest generation can become discouraged if they see all the opportunities and promotions going to workers from the older generations. Determining which staff will be developed and promoted will have to be based on some transparent standard not related to age or generation. This issue is one that managers will need to handle carefully to ensure retention and engagement from employees of all generations.
Source: Center on Aging and Work/Workplace Flexibility Issue Brief No. 12 (November 2007)

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