The stereotype of someone that is getting older not only includes diminished physical abilities but also diminished mental abilities as well. And indeed there is some truth to the stereotype. As someone who, by many of you would be considered old, I can vouch about the diminished physical abilities. I am not as strong or as fast as I used to be. As the old joke goes, “it takes me all night long to do what I used to do all night long.” The mental abilities part is much more problematic and not as universally true as many think it is. Age does not translate into reduced mental abilities in everyone. Peter Drucker, who died at 95, and John Wooden, who died at just shy of 100, were still mentally sharp well into their 90s. Based upon some recent research on the aging brain here are 10 reasons to keep older workers.
We get smarter as we age
Writer Annie Murphy Paul, in a Time article, reports on research in the journal Psychological Science. The research shows why there is some slowing in thought processes after age 65 there are some qualitative changes in older brains that make up for that slowing. These changes include a greater level of consistency and less variability that in younger brains. One research opined “that his research shows that older workers are more productive and reliable, and less likely to make serious errors, than are their younger colleagues.”
10 ways older is smarter
Ms. Paul says that the research shows that older brains are better in 10 different ways. Ten ways that I think all employers should be aware of in order to harness the capabilities their older workers have.
#1 Older workers use their whole brain
We have heard a lot about right brained and left brained thinkers. That may be true in younger workers but in older workers the hemispheres work more in concert. Called bilaterteralization. This allows older workers to “bring the full spectrum of the brain’s power to bear, allowing them to make more fruitful connections among the disparate parts of a problem or situation.”
#2 Older brains never stop growing
Past scientific thought held that brains cells died and did not come back. That is not true. Research shows that neurons grow in addition to keeping your old ones in place. Learning new skills promotes neuron growth. This is why it is important to allow older workers to be consistently tackle new projects and challenges.
#3 Older workers are better problem solvers
Experienced reasoning skills make older workers better problem solvers. If you have a team that is puzzling over a problem put an older worker on the group and let them apply their experienced reasoning skills. You may arrive at the decision.
#4 Older workers generally have a rosier outlook
Despite the fact that your older worker is closer to the end of their life than your younger worker there are changes in the brain that activate the amygdala more for positive emotions than in younger workers. The joke for older workers is that any day that starts with waking up on the sunny side of the dirt is a good day.
#5 Older workers have better people skills
Despite the fact that older people are perceived as being crotchety (or is that just me?) most older people are actually better at perception of emotions and sizing up and solving interpersonal conflicts. As one researcher said “As we get older, our social intelligence keeps expanding. We get better at sizing up people, at understanding how relationships work—and at not getting into an argument unless we mean to.”
#6 Older workers have clearer priorities
Older workers understand that as your time is running out it is more important to have a clear focus on what is important and the ‘bullshit” in life becomes much less attractive. Closer friends, closer family, paying attention to good news and avoiding fights become more important. And as a favorite aunt and uncle taught me having a good glass of wine in the evening is very important.
#7 Older workers always keep learning
Of course this assumes that they are making an effort to keep learning. ‘Nuff said.
#8 Older workers are better at the bigger picture
Research shows that younger brains are better at the detail, older ones better at the bigger picture. This is why it is important to have some balance on a team.
#9 Older workers are in more control of their emotions
Older workers don’t get emotional if things go wrong. They just plot revenge. No really.
#10 Older workers have WISDOM
Wisdom is nothing more than having a big supply of what are called schemas. They have seen and done more. That means when something occurs they may have seen something similar in the past. This allows for potentially better and quicker reactions than if someone has never developed that schema before.
So don’t discount your older workers. They balance teams, they brings skills sets that younger workers don’t have and the experience they have called wisdom does have value. Plus it will keep you from getting sued for age discrimination.