If you want a dynamic workforce, seek not the young, but the young at heart. That’s the message of a new study that surveyed over 15,000 employees from 107 companies to determine how subjective age influences workplace performance.
Past research has made the case that employee age is important to workplace performance, with younger workers more likely to make breakthrough contributions – but the evidence is patchy, suggesting there is more to the story. The proposed cause for the youth advantage is that their mindset is focused on getting ahead and furthering their skills, networks and status, whereas older people are more concerned with maintaining their positions. Now a research team led by Florian Kunze has posed the question: if mindset is critical, then isn’t how old you feel really what matters?
In their survey, employees who felt substantially younger than their chronological age were more successful in meeting the goals they’d promised their managers they would achieve. Companies with more of these “young at heart” employees also tended to perform better overall, in terms of financial performance, efficiency and a longer tenured workforce. The survey also showed that organisations tended to have more young at heart workers when they offered both age-inclusive policies and, on average, their employees felt that their work was more important and meaningful.
This cross-sectional study can’t prove the causality, but it’s possible that the optimism and possibilities afforded by meaningful work can make us feel more vibrant, and active policies that challenge stereotypes and extend opportunities to older workers help remove the sense of age being an issue.
The Western workforce is steadily greying, so if chronological age were the be-all and end-all, organisational leaders ought to be concerned. But this research suggests that climates where all workers can feel young, energised by their work and not judged and stereotyped, facilitate the kind of dynamic performance associated with young bucks.
Kunze, F., Raes, A., & Bruch, H. (2015). It Matters How Old You Feel: Antecedents and Performance Consequences of Average Relative Subjective Age in Organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0038909