Age at work: looking beyond generation clusters
Large part of the fields that have undertaken study in this area have arrived at the conclusion that the relationship between biological age and productivity is not fixed. The phenomenon is complex and includes many aspects, and for this reason it is more useful to focus on the relationship between lifestyle and work attitude.
This was the concept behind Age at Work—8 Styles of Work Attitude, a survey conducted by comparing a number of studies by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College and MIT, with the situation in 17 Italian companies.
The study findings confirmed the idea that the styles identified transcend age brackets within the company. The distribution of the 8 styles of work attitudes in professional groupings allows companies to predict the behaviors that influence the corporate culture and measure the propensity for change within their organization under different conditions.
The main findings are:
- Women tend towards styles that are markedly oriented towards identification with their career, while men are more heterogeneous.
- A widespread open-minded approach dominates in which professional success plays a central role to which the gratification in gaining success is directly correlated. In fact, the factors that most directly drive people at work are: the future, sense of adventure and altruism.
- Work, conceived of as sacrifice, is a perception correlated more to corporate seniority than age, with an increase seen starting with the third year of seniority. If the most critical age bracket is surpassed (3-5 years of seniority), tolerance of sacrifice as an end in itself increases.
- Correlated with age is the ability to tolerate stress. As people age, so does their tolerance for higher job pressure.
- Special consideration should be given to the 45-50 year age bracket, which is more open to change rather than accepting sacrifice.
- The extremes in age are similar in terms of work attitudes and styles. The potential for collaboration between “grandparents and grandchildren” is high and digital technologies are the best unit of exchange.
- The greater the lack of homogeneity in age within the company, the higher the productivity.
- Enthusiasm at work drops after 3-5 years and impacts on productivity, but with the possibility that it could rise over the course of the career.
- Disenchantment: Those under 30, 35-40 and over 60 share a sense of disenchantment that is reflected in distancing typical of more passive work styles. In these critical age brackets, lower productivity may be seen.
- Fear: the 48-53 age bracket is characterized by fear that is seen in greater attachment to the rights that have been acquired and formalities. Initiatives that include this age bracket would make it possible to renew the drive towards innovation and neutralize the tendency to hold back.
Areas of action
In light of the survey results and in order to maintain the long-term efficacy of management policies involving a diversified and changing work force, we suggest initiatives that focus on the following areas:
- Innovation learning: teaching methods are tied to work attitude styles. Their diversification is creating problems for the traditional training approaches used by companies (drop in total man-hours dedicated to training and increasingly lower participation levels in the programs offered). Combining channels, methods and targets therefore, including diversified styles of approach, becomes the priority. Current attempts at innovation through increasingly broader use of technologies has had only limited success. The right mix of collectivization and personalization of training is, on the other hand, the winning approach.
- Compensation: diversified compensation systems represent the new frontier to maximize human energy. The solutions most commonly adopted in Italy are not yet capable of responding to individual needs, just role seniority (although still connected with questions of age). The result is that the variable share is still proportionally too low compared with the fixed portion in most cases and clear information about compensation is still not that common.
- Consumption: to what extend does innovation or change run up against structure inertia? Being familiar with and using this principle of inertia is fundamental to creating change that has a tangible impact. While on one hand the principle of innovation is universally recognized, on the other hand, the question which remains unanswered is how to maintain change and provide incentive for it through specially-created support initiatives.
- Trasparency: how to incorporate the principle of transparency within a culturally diversified mainstream? The role of truth in corporate communications is evolving. The lack of widespread trust among workers regarding information supplied by the company is an indication of this. Personalizing communications (“are you really talking about me”) and amount of information (“are you telling me something I don’t know and which others don’t know”) are the key aspects of—and primary challenges to—corporate communications designed to mobilize.
In light of these scenarios, it is easy to see how the approaches most widely used in corporate organizations can clearly help to manage increasingly-diversified situations.
For more information, read the study link.