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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?)