Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Research: Age Diversity in the Workplace as Divisive

According to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, in age-diverse companies, employees experience more anger, fear, and disgust, and therefore they consider more often changing their jobs and contribute less to the performance of the company as a whole. The study--“When and why age diversity matters for organizations: A study on the role of affective processes"--was authored by Florian Kunze of the University of St. Gallen, in Switzerland, and Jochen Menges of Cambridge University. Specifically, the authors say:
"In contrast to several studies on the individual level that portray emotion suppression as a demanding and effortful strategy with high social costs, we showed that emotion suppression is an important response pattern for social interactions in age-diverse organizations. This counterintuitive finding suggests that in age-diverse companies these social benefits outweigh, from an organizational-level perspective, the individual costs of emotion suppression."
The study recommends that managers in highly age-diverse companies implement assessment tools such as employee opinion surveys, analyses of employee grievances, or focus group interviews, and that they invest in emotion-regulation capacities, such as through exercises in emotional control or through role-playing dealing with such potentially problematic situations as younger workers' supervising older subordinates.

A Financial Times article on the presentation reports that the authors suggest two reasons for their findings: (1) people bond better with workers their own age, and (2) in mixed age groups, old people get upset when younger ones are promoted over their heads, while young people get upset when an old person is sitting it out in a job, and preventing their advancement.

Sources: Academy of Management Press Release (August 2011); Financial Times "Age-old bonds make the office tick" (August 14, 2011)

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