Study: Older employees are more productive than younger ones

Older people are, on average, more reliable and more productive than younger people. This is one of the most surprising results of the Cogito-Study, which has now been published by the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy. A team of researchers from Berlin, Frankfurt and Stockholm examined the mental performance of 200 individuals over a period of 100 days. Half of the group was 20 to 31 years of age, the half was older than 60 years. On a daily basis, the participants’ speed of perception, their memory retention and working memory was tested in repeating sessions with different exercises.

The study examined tasks in nine different categories and in all these areas older participants were more stable in their results than younger ones, while showing lower average levels of performance. The analysis confirms that older people can rely on a rich source of experience and hence draw upon a whole set of strategies to solve a variety of tasks. Moreover, self-reports show that older people display higher levels of motivation and don’t suffer from regular moodiness as younger people do. “Just like others, this study is intriguing for Diversity experts as it both dissolves some deep-rooted assumptions about diversity and it explains others”, Diversity guru Michael Stuber says.

Other results of the research, cited as the largest study to date in the field of brain training, are of interest to both employers and employees and might actually lead to a better use of potential in future. First of all, the brain – unlike postulated in other studies – can actually improve through regular training. In addition, the study notes that mental powers fluctuate quite often, mostly, however, during a work day rather than between two. Thus, personal impressions of a very good or very poor working day can often be misleading: Productive and less productive phases are distributed throughout the day and differ individually. In this respect, younger employees showed more fluctuation than their older peers. Employers wanting to boost the productivity of their different age groups will have to consider individual peaks and valleys, encouraging individual time planning.

Another study of the Max Planck Institute in the automotive industry showed “that older employees make significantly less heavy mistakes incurring high costs than their younger colleagues”, Axel Börsch-Supan, Director of the Center for the Economics of Aging, reports. Higher productivity were confirmed by other studies in a number of different industries, he adds. In total, older employees are confirmed as a valuable and cost-effective asset for employers. This should result in an enhanced appreciation of older generations in the workplace, including specific ways to motivate them to continue to participate in training courses and educational programmes, and avoiding that their professional development comes to a halt.