Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Research: Older Workers Supervised by Younger People May Result in Negative Emotions, Corporate Harm

A new study finds that the age gap between older workers and younger supervisors is linked to the frequency of emotions such as "anger, fear and disgust" among employees, and that more frequent negative emotions of this type are associated with lower company performance in areas such as financial results, growth, efficiency, and return on assets. The research was conducted in Germany and published as "Younger supervisors, older subordinates: An organizational-level study of age differences, emotions, and performance" in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, and was conducted by Dr Jochen Menges, University Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at Cambridge Judge Business School, and Professor Florian Kunze, Chair of Organisational Studies at the University of Konstanz in Germany.

According to Menges, they found that age gaps "can harm company performance by negatively influencing employee emotions. If the age gap is small, employees throughout a company are less likely to experience such negative emotions."
While the researchers do not question the effectiveness of merit-based promotion, “we do have evidence for some of the repercussions that companies are likely to face when moving away from traditional age structures and abandoning seniority-based promotion systems.” Companies should therefore think carefully about how to avoid such pitfalls, including less emphasis on “career timetables” and “hierarchical thinking” so employees would respond less emotionally to age differences.

The study’s findings on emotion suppression were complex and nuanced. Whereas some previous studies found emotion suppression at the individual level to be a demanding and socially costly strategy, “we show that emotion suppression can be an effective strategy in circumstances that involve emotionally taxing social interactions.”

“This finding should not be taken to imply that organisations should promote cultures of emotional suppression,” the study says. Instead, companies should “approach the challenges of age-inverse supervisory relationships in ways that benefit both the company at the organisational level and the employees at the individual level, rather than one or the other.”

Source: University of Cambridge Judge Business SchoolNews Release (December 19, 2016)

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