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Stereotypes and the Older Worker

In employing that strategy, managers should carefully track personnel decisions to look for patterns of age discrimination. Increasing opportunities for employees of all ages to work side by side could help reduce negative stereotyping. And managers could directly confront the issue, evoking positive stereotypes about older employees by highlighting their experience and judgment. Holding frank discussions about how age stereotypes play out in the workplace can reduce negative perceptions and also increase the well-being of older employees.

Because they found some evidence that older workers are less willing to participate in training exercises, the authors posit several explanations as well as possible responses to that finding for managers to consider. The first explanation is that as people get older, their ability to memorize or recall data declines, according to a number of studies cited by the authors. This change often makes traditional classroom settings unappealing to the oldest ranks of employees, who might respond better to less rigid approaches. Another possibility is that older workers may not see the benefits of continuing their professional development. To counteract that view by older workers, managers should resist the temptation to tailor their job-training seminars toward younger employees, instead taking care to gear them to those in their middle and late careers as well. Otherwise, the authors warn, this particular stereotype will increasingly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Bottom Line:
Most stereotypes about older workers don’t hold water. As the average age of the labor force continues to rise, managers should shed several long-held misconceptions about older employees, de-emphasize age in personnel decisions, and take a more active approach to celebrating the positive attributes of highly experienced employees.

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