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New Study Cracks Myth About Older Workers


THERE is no empirical evidence to support the perception that older workers are more costly or less willing to learn, according to a new study by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in Washington.

"Yet we know from our members that the perceptions about older workers are commonplace, that perception has become reality," says Horace Deets, AARP's executive director.

The study, conducted by ICF Kaiser International Consulting Group of Fairfax, Va., attempted to examine the costs and productivity of older workers (over 50) and to refute the "numerous myths and stereotypes" that plague this group of workers, Mr. Deets says. "These stereotypes tell us that older workers are supposedly too costly, too rigid in their ways, and too expensive to retain, even if they weren't too rigid to be retained."

The study was not able to provide specific data to disprove the premise that older workers are more expensive and more difficult to train. But the lack of data may also be telling.

"Firms are very careful not to assemble data [on age] nowadays," says Marvin Kosters, director of economic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Without data, companies may be protecting themselves from age-discrimination lawsuits, he explains.

Among the study's findings:

*Many companies do not record or analyze cost and employment data on employees, or are they likely to examine data by age. The study interpreted that in the absence of such data, "the impressions of managers on the costs and productivity of older workers become important factors."

*While salaries and compensation tend to be higher for older workers, this is also offset by lower turnover rates.

*Managers give older workers high marks for their experience, judgment, and reliability; managers also said they felt that older workers were less flexible and adaptable and less likely to accept new technology.

*Employers perceive older workers as weakest in areas of greatest importance for future success of the company.

"One common thread that runs through the ICF findings is that workers need to remain current with today's changing technology in the workplace," Deets says. "All workers, regardless of age ... who do not keep their skills and abilities up to date run the risk of allowing themselves to become obsolete."

Changing technology may actually help older workers, says Gretchen Kreske, an information specialist with Milwaukee-based Manpower Temporary Services. "When you think about it, office technology has somewhat leveled the playing field.... It's made age less of a factor in how well you do your job." For example, when workers are required to learn a new software package, "It's not going to matter whether you're 22 or 62," Ms. Kreske says.

-- Leslie Albrecht Popiel

Humor is no joke in workplace

APPARENTLY, climbing the corporate ladder is a laughing matter. More than 90 percent of respondents said they believe a good sense of humor is key for advancement, according to a survey of 150 executives at the nations 1,000 largest companies.

"A good sense of humor helps build personal rapport and a greater spirit of cooperation," says Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps, a temporary-staffing firm, which conducted the study. "When the pressure mounts and deadlines loom, humor helps diffuse tension," he adds.

-- Staff

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