Good management and software design can help older workers thrive in IT tasks

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The ability to perform work tasks requiring the use of organizational computing tends to decline with age. Stefan Tams notes that this only occurs due to the slower information processing speed. He writes that managers and software designers can help older employees be more productive simply by reducing the relevance of information processing speed to business tasks. He suggests more training for older workers and the development of application interfaces that rely less on spatial metaphors.


Older employees have lower levels of job performance than their younger counterparts when their jobs require the use of information technology (IT) like Microsoft Excel. For example, accounting tasks such as reporting or reviewing financial data using Excel can be more difficult for older employees. This is alarming at a time when the workforce is aging rapidly and organizational technologies are on the rise. Since the explanation for these lower performance levels remains uncertain, managers and software developers are unsure of how to help older employees reach their full potential as contributors to the success of the organization. The research presented here identifies the decrease in the information processing speed of older employees as the cause of their reduced ability to perform work tasks that require the use of organizational computing.

Using a scientific task involving the substitution of numbers for symbols in a short period of time, this research shows that older employees process information more slowly than younger employees. This means that older employees do less information processing work in a given amount of time and have more difficulty integrating and manipulating information. Multitasking is also proving more difficult for them.

Importantly, this research demonstrates that chronological age does not directly hamper performance on computing tasks. Instead, older employees perform worse only because of the reduction in information processing speed that occurs with age. This is great news for managers and software designers, as it indicates they can help older employees be more productive by simply reducing the relevance of information processing speed to business tasks.

This help may include, for example, the development of application interfaces that use keywords instead of spatial metaphors such as folders. Spatial metaphors create an additional cognitive burden for older users, as spatial abilities decrease with age, compounding the problem of reduced information processing speed. In a large restaurant chain, the way orders are taken has been transformed by giving iPads to waiters, but food ordered by customers is often hidden in complex folder hierarchies such as Menu / Diner / Aperitif / Finger Food . Especially for older restaurant chain employees, navigating these complex hierarchies hurts performance. In contrast, a keyword-based interface would take full advantage of the larger vocabulary of older employees, who are often more familiar with the keywords used while performing their duties. Thus, a keyword-based interface can help them remain productive members of the workforce despite the decline in their information processing speed.

This research also shows that managers can help older employees be more productive by increasing their self-confidence related to the use of organizational IT. If older employees have more confidence in IT, they are motivated to put more effort when processing information to perform work tasks using IT, and this effort additional compensates for the drop in their processing speed. Thanks to the self-confidence that comes with IT, they are able to process information faster and have an easier time handling multiple requests at the same time.

IT training is a simple strategy to help older employees develop the self-confidence that comes with using organizational IT. However, due to the shorter payback period, managers and older users themselves are often reluctant to invest time and money in training initiatives. In addition, managers often have the stereotypical idea that older users cannot learn new skills. Managers need to be made more aware that computer training of older employees is an important way to increase their IT self-confidence, which compensates for slows in information processing speed so that performance levels in normal tasks. can be maintained. To motivate these employees to participate in training initiatives, managers can encourage participation with monetary compensation or rewards. Other ways to motivate older employees are to set clear goals for them and consider their opinions.

Training should be delivered in person rather than online, as human interaction is important for older employees. Indeed, they often find it reassuring. In addition, training should be provided directly in the workplace to make it easier for older employees to apply the skills they have acquired to their professional tasks. Additionally, older employees should be retrained in using the same software in the event of major system changes. For example, when the menu structure in Microsoft Excel changes drastically, they need to be recycled. Training programs should be specifically designed for older employees, as these employees need approximately twice as long as younger employees to complete computer training tasks and develop computer skills, with this increased time often being the most important factor. result of reduced information processing speed.

Mentoring programs that pair older employees with expert users, who can provide system-related advice and on-the-job coaching, are another useful way to help older employees build confidence and stay productive computer users. Compared to regular training initiatives or IT support services in organizations, mentoring offers the advantage of being more informal and user-friendly, and more focused on the specific needs of individuals. This means that older employees may feel more comfortable asking for advice.

Overall, the five strategies revealed in my article may improve the likelihood that older employees will continue to have high performance levels until retirement:

The issue addressed here is important as the rapidly aging workforce is creating a growing demand for older, highly functional users of workplace computing. At the same time, it is essential to underline that the results presented here are valid for older employees in general, but not for all older employees. No one can deny that there are older employees who can outperform younger ones on professional tasks involving IT. More importantly, these results should not be interpreted as encouraging discrimination against older users or any kind of ageist stereotype.

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