The study – titled: ‘Engage me: the mature-age worker and stereotype threat’ – was published in the Academy of Management Journal
and studied more than 600 people aged 45 and older working in three Australian cities, in a wide range of jobs and in many different kinds of organisations.
The report found that some mature-age workers experienced stereotype threat, which happens when this age group feels extra pressure to perform well, making work more stressful and a lot less fun.
Carol T. Kulik
, Sanjeewa Perera
, Christina Cregan
– who led the study – pointed out that this is bad for a mature-age worker, but it’s bad for organisations too.
“Disengaged workers don’t perform to their full capability, and can cost an organisation 30% of their salary in lost productivity,” the authors said.
According to the study, mature-age workers experience the most stereotype threat in three situations; when they reported to young managers, when they were surrounded by young co-workers and when they worked in manual occupations.
But there is a solution.
The research found that two types of management practices reduce stereotype threat and increase engagement among mature-age workers.
These practices focus on training employees, rewarding them for good performance and encouraging them to participate in organisational decisions. This applies to any worker – young or old.
The specific focus
The second type focuses specifically on mature-age workers; things like updating their skills, redesigning jobs to accommodate their physical needs, giving them opportunities to mentor other people, or allowing them to ease into retirement.
These age-specific practices send a clear signal to mature-age workers that the organisation cares about them and their age-specific needs. The two types of practices have independent effects, so the mature-age worker is going to be most engaged when their organisation offers both.
“Unfortunately, we found that organisations were more likely to offer the high-performance practices. They rarely offered the practices that focused directly on mature-age workers,” the authors pointed out.
“Eventually, they disengage and feel less involved and enthusiastic about their work.”
Research shows that mature-age workers are experiencing an ongoing issue that not only affects them, but the organisations they work for.