Viewed objectively, the digital transformation for employees over the age of 50 also matters as much as to employees of any other age – i.e. presumably faster thinking, decision-making, learning. A contribution by Prof. Dr. Christian Stamov Roßnagel from Jacobs University in Bremen regarding changed working conditions and their effects on the 50-plus generation.
The digital transformation also however spells: in the next few years, quite a few jobs will disappear; whilst new activities will emerge in parallel. However, their substance and requirements cannot yet currently be described in detail. That means that employees must rely on keeping their knowledge and skills up to date. For the 50-plus generation that means: learning, change and occasionally also uncertainty become an issue at an age which many employees up to now had perceived as being linked to stability and certainty. If they look at the digital transformation subjectively it is therefore sometimes, to all intents and purposes, more threatening.
One of our current studies (Giesenbauer, Stamov Roßnagel & Mürdter, in print) documents that older employees are considered by younger people to be comparatively less technophile and willing to learn – and that older people, too, attribute these characteristics to their peers. In this way, the cliché becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and thwarts performance. Added to which, many may still not be altogether sure about what the digital transformation for them as an individual means – up to 54% of those surveyed still admit that the digital transformation is still more a question of theory than praxis for them or they still did not have a fundamental grasp of it. This makes for the ideal breeding ground for unclear fears. As long as the equation ‘digital = young’ continues to apply, older people will be afraid of being left behind in the digitisation process.
What is piquant is the ‘digital natives‘ do not have a head start over older people. According to a study by Sopra Steria Consulting (2016), 27% of people under 30 feel challenged by the speed of the digital transformation – versus 24% of those over 50. And 24% of the younger people still admit they are not well versed in digital technology; with older people, it is only 18%. Furthermore, Ihme and Senkbeil (2017) demonstrated that teenagers credit themselves with having a high degree of digital and online competence but their performance in relevant tests lags behind this assessment. So simply ‘playing around on a Smartphone’ still does not provide digital competence…
So how do we take older employees with us during the digital transformation? Just as also with any analog change, don’t just ‘communicate the benefits’, instead take the barriers to motivation seriously and get to the bottom of them. Very specific challenges for further education and employee development will emerge from this; for instance in the shape of highly effective training sessions in ‘digital fitness’ which research has provided by now. They make employees into co-developers on their own behalf. And: involve everyone, in line with the motto of ‘if we’re going digital, then let’s do it properly’, i.e. harness the digitisation process for employee development too. For instance, opportunities for learning and problem solving usually crop up spontaneously during the course of the work. If they are documented and shared by employees digitally ‘in real time‘, very precise knowledge and learning resources can be built up, with which today’s ‘static’ learning can become dynamic and needs-oriented in the future. To this end, companies have to not only make sure that employees get digitally fit but that they also provide a reasonable ‘atmosphere for older people’ where experience employees can and want to bring their wealth of experience completely to the fore.
Christian Stamov-Roßnagel has been Professor of Organisational Psychology at Jacobs University Bremen since 2006. His advice and research (with and for the AOK Bundesverband (federal association), ArcelorMittal Bremen, Bosch, Daimler, Michelin, Vodafone, Volkswagen among others) focused on age-differentiated learning, e-learning and motivation.