February 20, 2007
Can Old Dogs Teach You New Tricks at Work?
Word up -- that gray-haired geezer in the cubicle down the row? He (or she) may be on the fast track as a problem-solver, thanks to a better cognitive template than younger colleagues.
As more scientists focus on how the brain ages, seeking to mitigate the effects of Alzheimer's and other illnesses, there is also news that older brains work better in some important ways. Wall Street Journal science columnist and author Sharon Begley documents a number of these studies in this upbeat item: "The Upside of Aging" (subscription required).
According to these studies, expert knowledge gained over time does not necessarily wither away. Semantic memory -- the recollection of facts and figures -- is "resistant to the effects of aging," says psychology professor Arthur Kramer. Vocabulary is one example of semantic memory, which I learned as a smartass college student when my 80-plus-year-old grandmother beat me handily at Scrabble.
Other examples includes tests on air traffic controllers, which show older plane handlers can juggle more aircraft than their younger and presumably more mentally agile colleagues. The FAA is currently reexamining its mandatory retirement rules for pilots (the Age 60 Rule) and air traffic control personnel, who face mandatory retirement at 56.
All this is good news for both older and younger workers. If employers can adjust to hiring and retaining more older workers, those firms will benefit from their employee's expert knowledge. Those older employees generally want to keep working anyway. And not only might their younger colleagues learn a few tricks along the way, keeping older workers on the job could postpone those Social Security tax increases needed to support all those old dogs sitting on the sidelines in unwilling retirement.
Get more information on working longer here:
- "Benefits and Drawbacks of Phased Retirement"
- "Career Change and the Seasoned Worker"
- "For a Longer Career, Become an Older but Wiser Worker"
- "How Old Is Too Old?"
- "Online Resources for Older Workers"
- "Still On the Job: Oldest Workers Seek to Keep Working"
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While young people have a lot of energy, they don't always know how to direct it optimally. They often lack the patience and stick-to-it-ness which comes with maturity. And while they may work faster, they often make a lot of mistakes that have to be done over.
On the other hand, I really like being around young people. I went back to college a couple of years ago, and am enjoying it very much!
Posted by: Merry Clingen | Mar 20, 2007 2:40:07 AM
Older workers are just as capable as younger workers are in performing their jobs. Their presence in the workforce will continue to increase as the labor supply shrinks in the US.
Posted by: diversity careers | May 1, 2007 4:14:18 PM
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