Take greater advantage of older employees’ potential

The capacity to work on the part of older employees is growing in significance. An initial step is to critically question images of ageing. That's because if companies become aware of prejudices and adapt to older employees in a more targeted way, they will not only increase the quality of their work but also their competitive edge. These are Dr. Götz Richter’s findings. As a research associate at the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin), he chairs the Initiative Neue Qualität der Arbeit’s Demographics Working Group. You can read his guest contribution here.

31. August 2017

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Ill more often, less creative and misgivings about new media: that’s what older employees are like! Or perhaps not? What would happen if HR activities within the company were oriented towards the real individual skills of older people instead of arguing about shortcomings which have not been proved?

Ageing as a main reason for discrimination in day-to-day operations.

Just as with the context of society as a whole, images of older people also continue to have an impact within organisations. Although the findings have been disseminated within a few companies in the interim that diminishing skills and increasing drops in performance have in no way to be automatically linked to older employees, the question remains as to whether the frequent age-friendly rhetoric is not actually up against much more sceptical and prejudiced HR policies in the company’s day-to-day operations. According to a study by the Federal Statistical Office, almost every tenth employee has experienced discrimination in the workplace and half of them said it was because of their age (too old or too young). Consequently, age is high up in the reasons for discrimination, far above nationality, sex, religion, background or disability.

Looking at your own images of age and overcoming stereotyping age

Therefore, it is worth dealing with the topic in an even more focused way as a company and following up on the question as to which notions of age, of ageing and of older people exist. That’s because these notions are translated into how we behave within the company and often determine the success or failure of an age-appropriate HR policy. Stereotypes should also be challenged in a targeted way in operational practice. In particular, in HR policy it is important and also economically reasonable to view the skills of employees on an individual and differentiated basis. One of the most important strategies here is to actively deal with the company-specific and the individual image of age. Only then can a change in the way of thinking take place which avoids discrimination, allows for an age-appropriate behaviour in companies and promotes the individuals’ potentials in this way.

Finding ways to manage ageing within a company

Personalised HR concepts are therefore not only necessary for the ‘bright young things’ but even more so for the ‘greying older people’. According to the progress report called ‘Age-appropriate world of work’ (Altersgerechte Arbeitswelt) issued by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, 84.2% of older employees would like an ergonomic design in their working environment but only 37.7% of companies offer this.

An effective operational management of ageing is effective in a preventative, inclusive and resource-oriented way and favours a healthy ageing process through incorporating the specific capabilities into the value creation process. It comprises measures regarding how the working environment is designed, HR management and promoting health. This includes maintaining, promoting and, if possible, improving performance throughout the entire career and at every stage in life, for instance through the sensitising and training of managers and staff, the ergonomic design of the working environment, life-long learning, teams of mixed ages, offers from healthcare providers and more flexible working hours.

The Initiative Neue Qualität der Arbeit (INQA) ’s brochure offers a good introduction to the topic based on the findings from research carried out in the workplace about skills and older people’s performance, specific tips, an ‘age quiz’ and real examples for a management of ageing within a company: Alle in eine Schublade? Altersstereotype erkennen und überwinden .


  • Dr. Götz Richter

    Dr. Götz Richter is a research associate at the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin) and chairs the Initiative Neue Qualität der Arbeit’s Demographics Working Group. The Initiative Neue Qualität der Arbeit was created by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales). The government, Länder, employer associations and chambers, trade unions, the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit – BA formally Bundesagentur für Arbeit, Unternehmen, Sozialversicherungsträger) and foundations are all committed to working together for a modern workplace culture and HR policy: