Associate Professor of Management and Leadership Deborah Olson presented her research “Mid and Late Career Growth: Engagement and Meaning” Monday in the President’s Dining Room, as part of the Faculty Lecture Series.
She dispelled common misconceptions, such as how workers over 40 are generally counting down to retirement and new college graduates are the most up-to-date with the latest technology.
Consistent biases and cultural narratives also cause coworkers and employers to have stereotypical ideas about older workers, Olson said.
“There’s bias with the trainers to go towards the younger people because they’ll get the answers more quickly,” Olson said. But older workers tend to integrate new skills more effectively.
Older workers tend to find new ways to use their talents while younger workers often look toward their parents for influences, Olson said.
She said that some people retire in their early 60s but people at that age are also can find ways to use their talents to continue working because the majority of them enjoy their careers.
Olson cited a study of 252 employees, ages 18 to 69, which found that older workers are more engaged and find more meaning in their work.
They also have better citizenship, are more willing to help others.
They have a wider network of acquaintances and better access to job resources, Olson found.
“You want (the workers) to be engaged to have longer retention and a sense of meaning and engagement. You want to use your talents every day and to know that you’ve changed at least one person each day,” she said.
Approaches to these career issues include mentor systems, which are different from traditional ones between experienced and new workers.
“They’re getting out of the (old) mentor systems into a reverse mentor system,” Olson said.
“They’re looking at, ‘So what can you bring to the table’ and ‘What do I not know?’ They’re focusing on learning from one another,” she said.
Employee engagement is also important for managers to focus on, including creating meaningful work and utilizing the employees’ talents for performance purposes.
The three-year mark is when most employees have reached the highest level of performance, Olson said, adding that employees should get further training at that point.
Other recommendations include providing ongoing growth opportunities so that workers do not feel they are easily replaced.
Flexible working arrangements are also essential for engagement and retention, Olson said.
She cited companies such as Google, where employees need to go into the office an average of four hours a week.
“Creative work doesn’t happen from 9 to 5,” Olson said.
“You may have a good idea pop up at night, you’d write it down, then go back to sleep,” she said.
The lecture ended with students and faculty members asking questions.
Many also told personal stories.
“My favorite part is how engagement is changing the working environment,” said Scott Chandler, junior physics major. “What I took most out of it was just different methods of keeping people interested in their work,” he said.
Melissa Hernandez, sophomore kinesiology major, cited Olson’s personal story about her career choices as her favorite part of the lecture.
“The most important thing was how she mentioned the elderly in the work place… working because of their passion for their job rather than for money,” Hernandez said.
Cody Luk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.