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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Certified Gerontologist

Myth: Older People in the Workplace

June 7, 2019

Please don’t shoot me, I am only the messenger, but this myth does raise my hackles almost to Mars! An important review done in 2009, studied stereotypes of older people in the workplace by bringing together the findings from over 100 studies of age-related stereotyping at work. What the researchers found was that stereotypes of older workers have three strong themes. First, we are perceived as less motivated and competent at work. This dovetails with the myth I refuted in April, Seniors Are Warm-Hearted, But Impaired, that older people are viewed as warm but not very competent—but in fact, there is little evidence that our work performance declines with age. Some studies even show that, relative to younger people, older people are more productive at their jobs! Imagine that. 

Second, numerous studies show that older employees are seen as harder to train or retrain, making them less valuable as employees. This assumption reflects the low-competence myth I busted. And, it highlights the assumptions of older employees’ inability to change, our likely shorter tenure with the company, and our lack of potential for development. 

Last, we seasoned workers are perceived as being more expensive employees because we have higher salaries and, due to declining health, use more health care benefits. This piece of the stereotype reflects the widespread, though exaggerated, assumption that old age and illness are one and the same.

On a positive note, although it would appear that the stereotypes of older workers are uniformly negative, there exists a substantial amount of research showing older employees, compared with their younger-age counterparts, as more trustworthy, stable, sociable, and dependable. (Score one for our team!) These beliefs reflect a warmer and more positive view of older workers. Also, while younger people think that we older workers are less worthy of advancement and less interpersonally skilled, we are seen as more reliable, compared to younger workers. (Gee, no kidding?) 

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Myth: Seniors Are Not Tech Savvy

May 23, 2019

Several studies from the respected Pew Research Center dispel this myth with their findings, yet 55% of younger people think we can’t find the location of the ON button for our computers without help. In truth, 67% of us use the internet on a regular basis, and more than 50% of us have broadband, or Wi-Fi, at home. I think the largest part of the misunderstanding comes from the use of social media. Lots of seniors see serious outcomes for young folks who can only communicate via their cellphones. Keeping face–to-face communication and actual phone calls alive, I think, is another reason why seniors reject the 24/7 use of computers, messaging, and social media.  The younger generations were born with phones in their hands, which must have been painful for their mothers giving birth ;-), and social media fluency equals intelligence in their eyes. As it turns out, the reason for the myth about our internet savvy comes from the fact that we use different social media platforms than they do. While Instagram, Twitter, Qzone, Reddit, Snapchat, and several others are favored by the young, we are the Facebook generation; 70% of mid-lifers and seniors check into Facebook every day. Clearly, we are in touch with modern technology, just on a different wave-length. 

Could you live without your computer? What are your concerns about how social media is affecting our relationships with others? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Myth: Seniors Drain the Economy

May 9, 2019

Breathe deeply now…. After receiving dozens and dozens of comments on Facebook and from my newsletter subscribers, this week I am going for a grand slam by dispelling a huge myth some younger folks have about us: we are an economic burden. Breathe deeply, again, and read on while you are resting your weary body after a long day at work. People over fifty make up only 35% of the population in the United States, but we add $7.4 Trillion dollars a year to the economy each year, or 43% of the total GDP. That’s not pocket change! Yet from the survey of 2,000 people aged sixteen to thirty-four, a full 35% thought older folks become an economic burden when we become seniors. Looking on the bright side, 65% of those responding to the survey thought we do not become an economic burden as we get older. Now that your blood pressure has dropped, what do you think about this fact? How does it make you feel? I look forward to hearing from you!

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Myth: Seniors are Warm-Hearted but Impaired

April 24, 2019

In the early 2000’s, two researchers at Princeton University queried college students about their opinions of and their ideas about seniors. Sadly, the students consistently grouped the seniors in the same category with disabled and developmentally disabled people, reflecting the widely held prejudice that older adults are low on competence. The students did throw us cognitive-impaired mid-lifers a small bone by rating us high on warmth. Yippee ;-( However, if the students did rate us as being competent, our warmth and likeability factors went through the floor. It seems we can’t be warm and competent at the same time—kind of like being blonde and smart in the same body. On the positive side, there was some wiggle room in how warm and friendly we could be, but the belief that older adults are incompetent was as solid as Mt. Rushmore. Should you think things have changed in the ensuing decade, I am sorry to say, you would be mistaken. In an update to their study published in 2016, Cuddy and Fiske, the researchers, stood by their original findings, and other studies continue to corroborate the first findings of Cuddy and Fiske. Amazing.

How does this information make you feel?

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Myth: In Some Ways, Nothing Has Changed

April 9, 2019

I came across this poem recently and it stopped me cold. I looked at the date and nodded my head, yet realized almost forty years later, many people would still find this poem to be accurate. What do you think?

The Little and the Old Man (1981)

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”

Said the old man, “I do that too.”

The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”

“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.

Said the little boy, “I often cry.”

The old man nodded, “So do I.”

“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems

Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”

And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.

“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)

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