There’s a notion that older people are dull, slow, and probably less productive in the workplace. But what about the wealth of experience that older workers carry, years of sharpened problem-solving skills, and career knowledge? These traits also count for something, don’t they? So, the big question is, are older workers actually more productive than younger employees?
One study, in particular, revealed that older workers could be more productive than their younger colleagues. It showed consistent and reliable cognitive performance by older workers plus higher focus and hence higher productivity.
In this article, we take a closer look at aging and productivity by first laying the foundation by defining employee productivity and explaining how to measure it. Then we’ll go into great detail discussing how aging affects productivity. We’ll conclude with a look into the benefits of a productive workforce, and effective tips for increasing employee productivity.
Defining worker productivity
Worker productivity is a way of assessing an employee’s performance and ability to reach set goals/objectives. It refers to the output during a specific period of time in relation to the input.
The success of any business largely depends on how productive its employees are. For this reason, it’s important to keep track of your workers’ productivity and encourage improvements while rewarding good performance.
So, how do you measure employee productivity? Read on.
How to measure worker productivity
Before looking into the productivity of older employees versus younger ones, you need to know how to assess and measure each individual’s performance at work. This may sound simple and straightforward, but the reality is that the relationship between employees’ work/ input and a company’s objectives and goals is quite complicated.
There are different variables that can affect a worker’s productivity yet are not within the employee’s control. Even so, it’s necessary to measure productivity to ensure most (if not all) business goals are met.
Here are some of the effective ways to measure worker’s productivity:
Labor productivity equation
Labor productivity is calculated by dividing the total organization’s output by the entire input. For example, the total goods produced in a specific period divided by the number of hours worked by employees during that time.
Take, for instance, company X produces $100,000 worth of goods in 500 hours of labor. That company’s labor productivity would be $100,000 divided by 500 hours, which equals $200 per hour of work.
To calculate individual worker contribution using this same example, instead of using ‘hours worked’ as input, use the number of employees. So, for company X generating $100,000 worth of goods produced by 20 workers in one week, the average employee productivity is $5,000 per week.
This is what the company can use as a benchmark to monitor and measure workers’ productivity keeping in mind external factors that may affect production and are out of the worker’s control, e.g equipment breakdowns.
If a company is in the service industry as opposed to producing and selling physical products, measuring employee productivity can be a bit more complicated. As a manager, you will need to quantify service output to measure each employee’s performance accurately.
For example, in a customer service agency, a unit of service could be “number of calls.” On the other hand, a restaurant can measure its waiters’ unit of service as ‘number of tables served’. In these instances, the “unit of service” will be used as the “output” in the labor productivity equation above.
Once again, the complexity of measuring productivity comes in when there are other factors out of the employees’ control. Always factor this when assessing employee productivity.
This method is based on having clear company objectives. Use the objectives to come up with specific goals for each employee with the end aim of fulfilling the company’s objectives.
For this to be effective, every employee should be well informed about their goals and the role they play in ultimately achieving the company’s objectives.
There’s also a need for accountability so as to keep workers focused and motivated. Reporting to supervisors, discussing progress, and addressing challenges are significant steps in ensuring accountability.
Assessing feedback is another effective way of measuring employee productivity. You can either use customer feedback or feedback from coworkers.
Using customer feedback is excellent for businesses with no tangible products. You only need to review what clients are saying about your company, the services you offer, or the customer service provided by your employees. Assessing customer feedback is great for measuring worker’s productivity and gives you insight on how to improve customer experience, your product, and the business in general.
The other kind of feedback that can be used to measure productivity is from coworkers. This can be implemented in companies where employees interact closely in their work environments. Also, when collecting this feedback, get the opinion of different coworkers in order to minimize biases. Talk to superiors, peers, and subordinates to rate the employee in question.
This is probably the easiest method for measuring employees’ productivity. It merely involves calculating what your company profits are, and comparing it with the money spent on workers’ salaries. If the profits are worth the money spent on payments, then you’re good to go.
Measuring productivity this way may minimize the chances of micro-management that employees may feel when each and every minute of their work is monitored and assessed. Using this method may also increase efficiency and allow for more creativity in the workplace.
How does aging affect productivity?
Recent statistics show that the world’s population is aging at a fast rate. By 2050, experts project that people who are 65 years and older will make up 16% of the world population, a significant increase from the 9% reported in 2018.
As the world population grows older, so will the workforce, hence an increase in employees over 60 years is highly expected.
Hence the question, do older employees make up a less productive workforce? According to a Brookings Institution research (funded by the Social Security Administration), the answer is an explicit “No.”
Older workers are very productive despite their age, and there are a number of reasons for this. Let’s take a look:
The Brookings study above explains that these days there’s improved education among people over 60 years compared with younger workers. This was not the case in the past. The considerable education gap that was there between prime-age workers and aging workers, has been significantly narrowed.
Better education means older workers can acquire the technical know-how required to perform their tasks as expected at work. Hence they can still be productive.
Admittedly, higher age comes with some losses like slower ability to process information, reduced cognitive function, and a decline in multitasking abilities. But aging does not necessarily lead to a halt in skills. In fact, WHO reports a study that proved that all these limitations could be compensated by the knowledge and skills gained through experience.
Older workers carry a wealth of life and work experience, which their 20- and 30- year old counterparts cannot match. This, therefore, makes the aging workers quite relevant and necessary for the overall well being of a workforce.
Older people are better able to concentrate on a task to its completion compared to younger people. Younger workers can easily get distracted, and this may affect their performance and output.
Based on this, older workers can easily record higher productivity than younger employees, provided their skill levels are the same for the given task. This means there are things that older people can do better than younger people.
There is some evidence showing that working until 55 years and over can slow down the loss of cognitive function and even some physical capacity. This disproves the notion that an older labor force is automatically less effective at carrying out physical and cognitive tasks solely based on their age.
The stimulation of the workplace and the social engagement helps counter the deteriorating effects of age; hence someone who’s been working regularly and being productive is more likely to continue doing so for a long while even as they grow older.
Apart from the conclusion, by a number of studies, that aging does not reduce productivity, researches are showing an actual increase in productivity with aging.
In an interview, Laura Carstensen (Stanford’s top aging expert) talks about one such research by a German economist, Axel Borsch-Supan. His study revealed that, in the case of very unskilled jobs, some decrease in productivity could be noted with age. But an actual raise in productivity with age is seen with knowledge-based jobs.
Importance of employee productivity
Workers are an asset to any business, but even more valuable are productive workers. This means that the success of the business is very closely tied to the employees’ productivity. There are, therefore, several benefits that come with having a productive workforce. Let’s take a look at these benefits:
You may have heard it said that hiring workers is a business investment, well, that’s right. And for every investment, the company expects a worthy return. In this case, the productivity of workers becomes a huge benefit to the company.
There are many ways in which business benefits:
- Increased profits: More profits are recorded when the output of a business increases due to high productivity. More productive employees are able to accomplish more tasks and hence generate more products (in the case of a manufacturing company, for example). This high turnover is one of the factors that boost profits.
- Better returns: As we’ve already seen, productive workers generate better returns for the company. This results in better dividends for shareholders and increased market price for the company’s shares.
- Marketing advantage: When employees work more efficiently, they are able to serve clients better and faster. This improves the customers’ experience; hence they are more likely to recommend the company to their friends and family. How’s that for free advertising?
- Good corporate image: The success experienced by a business as a result of increased productivity is evident to financial institutions, suppliers, governments, and other social entities. This good corporate image can trigger goodwill from the various institutions.
- Low turnover: As a result of higher productivity, and increased bottom line, your business has the capacity to improve its workers’ working conditions and even offer incentives. The employees will, in turn, become more loyal, hence less employee turnover.
Another beneficiary of a company’s productivity is the customer. Every business owner understands how important it is that customers feel well taken care of or handled by the company’s employees. A good experience builds loyalty.
So here’s how productivity can boost customer experience:
- Increased efficiency: When workers’ productivity rises, their efficiency is also bound to improve as well. This can translate into shorter waiting times for clients and more attention is given to addressing their needs.
- Higher quality products: Productivity and efficiency of workers in a business that makes and sells physical products save time on production. This extra time can be channeled to improving the product and making it even better for the consumers.
- Customer satisfaction: As a company improves its overall image due to higher productivity, clients also get to enjoy their interaction with the business, boosting overall customer satisfaction.
Companies that help their workers become more productive and efficient ought to recognize that productivity is not only crucial for the company’s growth but also for the well being of the workers. It helps in the following ways:
- Increased morale: When workers witness top-performing employees being rewarded for their good work, they are also motivated to be more productive. This boosts morale in the workplace and is a great way to inspire productivity.
- Less work-related stress: Working efficiently means workers can finish their tasks on time and don’t need to worry about looming deadlines that they can’t meet. For employees, this feeling of being in control of at-work performance reduces stress and burnout. In the end, a snowball effect occurs when happy workers can be even more productive at work.
- More job opportunities: If a business’s employees are productive, the business experiences increased returns, which eventually enables the growth of the company. The benefit, in the end, is that more job opportunities are available in order to cater to the expansion.
- Employees welfare: Once again, the increased labor output caused by higher productivity spells out financial gains for the company. Employees benefit from this as well because there are more incentives made available, including raised wages, bonuses, and added allowances.
How to boost employee productivity
Seeing how vital employee productivity is to the growth and success of any business makes it necessary to work towards improving your workers’ productivity strategically.
These methods to boost productivity should be tailor-made to suit both older and younger employees. The reason for this is so that you can retain your older workers who will pass on valuable career experience and knowledge to the younger workers. It will also ensure that all your employees perform optimally at work no matter their age.
Offer benefits that motivate workers
Creating benefits that are attractive to the different employees will go a long way in boosting workers’ morale. Financial benefits like pay raise, incentives, and bonuses can increase motivation and consequently boost performance.
The older workforce can also appreciate benefits like flexible work schedules in order to attend to their other responsibilities. The younger workers could enjoy perks like subsidized gym memberships and discounted tickets to events or movies. According to a survey by Glassdoor, most employees may prefer these extras to a pay raise.
Improve workers skills through training
Regular training should be a part of a company that’s growing. Employees (both new and old) need to sharpen their skills and learn new ones as industries change and progress. Training also helps to increase productivity.
For less tech-savvy older workers, you may need to train them in order to increase their efficiency in a workspace that uses different software and new technology.
Communicate clearly and regularly
Open and honest communication ensures that all workers understand the objectives of the company and how to meet goals set for them. This leads to excellent coordination in the workplace and improved performance.
Employees also feel important and needed in the workplace when the company openly communicates pertinent issues with them. This is especially beneficial for older workers since they have a higher likelihood of feeling like they don’t matter anymore to the company.
Provide the right equipment/ tools
Availing the necessary tools for optimal functioning offers a great boost to employee performance. Go the extra mile and ask workers what exactly they need to be more productive. Provide the equipment and ensure they work.
In summary, what we see is that older workers can be more productive than their younger counterparts. But more importantly, a worker’s productivity shouldn’t be assumed solely based on their age.
There are ways in which aging affects productivity:
- Age comes with more work and life experience which can boost productivity.
- Older workers are often more focused and motivated hence can concentrate better on tasks.
- Employees that are in the workforce till an older age can experience less deterioration in cognitive and physical functions hence are still able to maintain productivity at work.
- In knowledge-based jobs, productivity can actually increase with age.
In order to boost workers’ productivity, here are a few tips you can use:
- Provide offers that’ll motivate workers.
- Regular training helps improve employees’ skills.
- Communicate with your workers.
- Provide the necessary tools and equipment.
- PRB: Featured Graphic: Many Countries’ Populations Are Aging
- NCBI: Hundred Days of Cognitive Training Enhance Broad Cognitive Abilities in Adulthood: Findings from the COGITO Study
- WHO: Global Health and Aging
- Vox: Older Workers Can be More Reliable and Productive Than Their Younger Counterparts
- AARP: Does Productivity Increase As We Age?
- B2B News Network: 7 Ways to Accurately Measure Employee Productivity
- Talent Economy: How Age Affects Productivity — And What Leaders Can Do About It
- Andy Core: The Importance of Productivity in the Workplace