The over 50's feel excluded at work

March 15, 2020

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The over 50's feel excluded at work

Employees over 50 can feel excluded and demotivated in the workplace for various reasons. They feel particularly excluded when they believe that their cognitive abilities decrease with age, as psychologists report in the journal Work, Aging, and Retirement.

Older people are generally happier and have better social relationships than younger people—and yet, negative stereotypes about older people are widespread, for example, they are often seen as forgetful and less competent than younger people. The new study shows that older workers who have internalized such negative age stereotypes feel belonging less to their company and their colleagues. Therefore, they are less motivated to seek social contacts in the workplace. This, in turn, can have negative consequences for their integration and can cause them to leave the work process, for example through early retirement.

Employees over 50 are not only often confronted with negative stereotypes about cognitive decline, they can also internalize them; for example, by agreeing with the idea that intellectual performance declines with age and that they themselves are affected by this decline. Previous research has shown that the internalization of negative age stereotypes can have an impact on performance-related variables.

But internalized negative age stereotypes also affect the emotions and motivation of older workers. Older workers often feel insecure about their belongingness in the workplace. This was shown in four online experiments and in an overall analysis with a total of 1306 employees between 50 and 76 years of age and from various professions. The more the persons internalized negative age stereotypes, the less they were motivated to establish social contacts with their colleagues and the more they socially withdrew.

What the researchers say: “Fewer negative age stereotypes would not only enable more older employees to maintain fulfilling social contacts in the workplace,” comments the project leader. The professional potential of older employees could also be better capitalized. “This could, in turn, contribute to the reduction of economic and social of agism.”

So, what? The problems that older workers face are fundamentally social. The truth is that a large part of our capitalist system is geared towards marketing goods and services to the youth market. This has trickled through to employment where bosses are hiring younger people who “understand” this market. Of course, this is crazy since those over 50 have more cash to purchase products and services than millennial's. However, the net result is that older workers—and older people generally—feel left out. Disposable.

Added to that is the fact that so many people still believe the old saw about cognitive ability declining with age. It’s untrue. We do change cognitively as we age. We exchange short-term memory for wisdom. We lose creativity in some areas (mathematics for example) but we gain it in others—the arts and many sciences—but our overall cognitive abilities remain.

Some older people—even in their forties and fifties—suffer from dementia, but most won’t. Many will develop problems such as arthritis. But even then it’s the belief that age will slow you down which is the fundamental problem, not the arthritis itself (unless it becomes really severe).

To hunter-gatherers the wisdom of the elders what something to be treasured, to be admired and to be honored. How far down we as a society have come!

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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