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Young vs. Old: Which Workers Are More Consistent?


Having a bad day at work? If you are, you're probably in your 20s, says a new German study that finds that workers age 65-plus are cognitively more consistent, reliable and productive than workers much younger.

The researchers, from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, wanted to see if there really were "good" and "bad" days in terms of cognitive performance on the job, and whether age made a difference, according to the study published last month in Psychological Science.

They gave more than 200 adults, half ages 20 to 31 and half ages 65 to 80, nine tests to measure perceptual speed and memory. To judge consistency, the subjects were tested in 100 daily sessions, researchers reported.

In all nine cognitive tasks assessed, the scientists said in a statement, the older group actually showed less performance variability than the younger group. While younger workers may perform, on average, at a somewhat higher level,  older adults perform much more consistently both day-to-day and within a day.

Older workers' consistency is probably due to "learned strategies to solve the task, a constantly high motivation level, as well as a balanced daily routine and stable mood," explained researcher Florian Schmiedek.

The findings have implications in the debate over older workers' role in the workplace, the researchers noted, especially for the growing number of those unemployed over 50.

"One of our studies in the car production industry has shown that serious errors that are expensive to resolve are much less likely to be committed by older staff members than by their younger colleagues," said Axel Börsch-Supan, another researcher studying productivity of the labor force in aging societies at the institute.

Interestingly, the researchers found that while we may say we're having a bad day, it's more likely to be a bad hour or two.

Big changes day-to-day were "relatively low," the researchers wrote. Most fluctuations occur within a smaller time frame during the day.

In other words, you might be having a bad hair day, but your day at work is probably not as bad as you think.

Photo: wikimedia commons






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