People over 60 prefer to work with 30-year-olds

July 18, 2018 - 06:20

A minority prefer people of their own age as work colleagues.

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If you’re getting on in years, you’ll be better accepted if you work in public administration. Attitudes towards the elderly are the worst in retail and in the hotel and restaurant industries. (Photo: fizkes / Shutterstock / NTB scanpix)

About 1000 Norwegians in the working population were interviewed on their attitudes towards seniors in the workforce. Of these, 62 per cent said they would prefer to work with people under the age of 30, and 23 per cent would most like to work with people over 60.

They were responding to the question: "If you could choose to be on a work team with co-workers under the age of 30 or on a team with colleagues over 60, which would you prefer?"

In 2017, the Norwegian Centre for Senior Policy included this question in its Senior Policy Barometer for the first time. The barometer has surveyed the attitudes of workers and managers towards seniors in the workforce since 2003.

Of respondents aged 15 to 29, over 80 per cent preferred working with the youngest employees.

Older workers prefer the youngest, too

Perhaps it’s not that surprising that young people want to work with other young people. What’s a little more surprising is that many older workers also prefer to work with the under-30 set.

Among people between the ages of 50 and 59, over half said that they would rather work with employees under 30.

Of the over-60 respondents, almost half reported a preference for working with people under the age of 30. Less than a third would prefer to have people their own age as work colleagues.

Adopted society’s attitudes

Per Erik Solem at OsloMet participates in a working group that generates questions for the survey that Ipsos conducts for the Centre for Senior Policy.

Solem is basing a new research project on just this question. He believes that the negative attitudes towards the elderly are deeply rooted in our culture.

He also thinks that little research exists on what he calls youth orientation in the workplace.

"We live in a society that doesn’t have a very positive image of aging," says Solem. “People over 60 have absorbed the beliefs and keep them even when they grow older.”

Differences between industries

Youth orientation varies between industries.

In the hotel and restaurant industries, youth orientation is the strongest. In this arena, nearly 80 per cent prefer co-workers under 30, and only 14 per cent would most like to work with co-workers over 60. Retail employees follow close behind these figures.

If you’re getting on in years, you’ll be better accepted if you work in agriculture, the transport industry or public administration.

Employees in agriculture give older and younger workers about equal marks. In transport and public administration, just over half prefer the youngest workers and over a quarter would rather work with those over 60.

Managers not interested in older workers

The Senior Policy Barometer for managers has previously shown that they are not that interested in hiring seniors.

This analysis also shows that employees are less interested in working with older colleagues than younger colleagues. This is true despite positive perceptions of older employees’ work performance. That doesn’t seem to be enough, Solem says.

A Swedish study reported in 2017 that the chance of being contacted by an employer drops sharply from the age of 40 and then decreases proportionally with the applicant's age. Closer to retirement age the chance of being contacted is very low.

"There is no doubt that employers discriminate – age is a negative factor in the recruitment process," says Magnus Carlsson, one of the researchers at Linnaeus University who conducted the study with colleagues at Uppsala University.

Employers state that the three qualities especially important for employees are that they have the ability to learn new things, that they’re flexible and adaptable, as well as motivated and entrepreneurial, say the researchers.

Employers are worried that workers over 40 may have begun to lose these qualities.

Need to talk about these attitudes

"It would be good to talk about these attitudes at work," Solem said.

He believes that attitudes may change gradually as more and more older people work longer and that contact with more elderly people can create more nuanced perceptions and better solidarity.

"But the attitudes towards the elderly in the workplace also depend on the labour market. If job competition is fierce, younger workers may see the elderly as less desirable,” Solem says.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no.

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