Older workers: great job performance

Fact: older workers easily outperform the youngsters

Age discrimination is rampant in the workplace. In 2012, for example, 44 percent of jobless workers 55 or older had been out of work for more than a year, according to a recent AARP Magazine article. Why? There’s a raft of negative stereotypes and assumptions floating around out there.

However, researchers are finding that those stereotypes don’t hold up to scrutiny. Not even a little. In fact, older workers outdo their younger colleagues in almost every way.

A quick summary of the AARP article:

The stereotypes: slow, unproductive, and burned out

Various studies have shown that people think older workers are more likely to be burned out, resistant to the latest technologies, absent due to illness, poor at working with younger supervisors, and disinclined to travel. Not to mention less creative, less productive, slower mentally, and more expensive.

The truth: “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age.”

Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of business and coauthor (with former AARP CEO Bill Novelli) of the 2010 book Managing the Older Worker, has taken a hard look at these stereotypes, examining research in economics, demography, psychology, and more.

His conclusion: “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age. I thought the picture might be more mixed, but it isn’t.” In short, experience is everything.

Some highlights:

  • Experience compensates for the mental and physical changes of aging.
  • Older workers may score lower on cognitive tests in laboratories, but there’s no drop-off in job performance. Says Cappelli, “More experienced workers are more careful.”
  • Concerning productivity, the very notion of multitasking, which young people are supposedly so adept at, is a myth. Neuroscientists have found that no brain can “multitask,” only switch from one task to another more or less quickly. And that agility starts declining in the early 20s. It can be slowed or halted with physical exercise, so an active 75-year-old can actually score higher on cognitive tests than a 40-year-old slug.
  • Technology? No problem. One study found that older computer programmers “knew a wider variety of topics than their younger colleagues did, answered questions better, and were more adept at certain newer systems.”
  • Older workers tend to be more motivated by community, mission, and a chance to make the world a better place.
  •  Older works have learned “how to get along with people, solve problems without drama and call for help if necessary.”

Thank god, because we’re getting old fast

All this is of course good news considering that the US population is aging steadily. Baby Boomers, who started reaching “retirement age” in 2011, account for 25 percent of the population. By 2030, the number of Americans over age 65 is expected to rise to more than 72 million—or 19 percent of the population.

Many of these older workers won’t be able to retire or have no interest in doing so. And perhaps we should beg them not to—there’s too much important work to do, and we need the best people to do it.

Now we just need enough jobs to go around.


Read the whole AARP Magazine article here

Nathaniel Reade, “You Should Hire This Guy,” AARP Magazine, August/September 2013, pp. 54-57, 78.

(Image via Creative Commons courtesy of sleepinyourhat)


  1. Great to see the change philosophies you are promoting hand in hand with branding strategies. We desperately need more of this in our society. Keep up the good work!

    Hi to Mitch!

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