Sunday, November 18, 2012
More Ageism in the Workplace
Work Managers and Ageist Biases [i]
Eight years from now it has been predicted that at lease 39% of the United States workforce will be in their middle fifties. At the same time there are a growing number of workplace age discrimination claims. This situation has been found in other countries besides the United States. This situation is risky for organizations but also leads older workers to experience a lot of negative consequences.
Why is this happening is a good question.“Age discrimination may be the result of the widespread belief that job performance decreased with age.” At the same time “Evidence from a meta-analysis found no significant differences between age groups in objective work-performance measures. But when the subjective measures were used the “…results indicated that older workers received lower performance scores when subjective supervisory ratings were used.”
The authors (cited below) then state their research motivation.“What is lacking in this body of research, however, is an exploration of how employee age and manager ageism interact to create age bias, and how causal attributions mediate age-based decision making.” Not much of previous research as investigated how these ageist biases that lead to personnel decisions manifest themselves. Finding our more about this is necessary so that ageism among management can be understood and reduced.
So what may be causing this situation? “The current study seeks to explore if supervisors give systematically different (e.g. pessimistic) attributions for older versus younger workers’ errors on the job; and if such differences exist, whether such attributions affect the decisions made about these employees.”
They used the following method.They gathered material from students at a university; most of them were females with average ages of 22 years and average years working 4.72. Participation was voluntary and all data collected was anonymous.
Participants engaged in the following:
1. They were given a job description including; a description of tasks, working conditions, physical demands, knowledge, skills and abilities involved in the job. These were gathered from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
2. A vignette was then provided describing the work behavior of the hypothetical employee (Pat). She was described as either young (31 years) or old (63) years. It contained “…a description of (a) some cognitive problems that the employee had been having on the job, such as difficulties with memory, problem solving, and attention to detail; (b) difficulties with physical demands associated with the job; and (c) statements regarding the safety and economic consequences the errors could have caused
3. Asked what recommendations that should be carried out (evaluated on a seven point scale);
a. “The employee should be terminated.”
b. “The employee should be asked to resign.”
c. “The employee should be demoted
d. “The employee should be assigned to a different position
e. “The employee should be provided with temporary job support or personal counseling through an employee assistant program.
4. They were then asked write out what they felt were the major causes of the target employee’s job performance errors
Results and Discussion[ii]
1. Older employees received more severe recommendations for poor performance suggesting that “…performance errors of older workers were more likely viewed as being a result of stable factors, as compared to younger workers
2. Younger employees were more likely to receive recommendation for formal assistance (EAP) to remedy performance problems
3. Possible reasoning; older persons performance from more stable causes e.g. personality, memory loss which would not be altered easily by specific intervention and also there is less, and possibly insufficient time
Finally it is stated that: “Our results also suggest that some ageist attitudes (stereotypes; negative attitudes; beliefs about instrumentality, autonomy and integrity) are related to recommendations that are biased against older individuals. The authors admit that it might be better if the research was done with employees rather than students and that this may limit generalization
[i] Rupp, D.E., Vodanovich S.J. & Crede, M. (2006). Age Bias in the Workplace: The Impact of Ageism and Causal Attributions; Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36, 6, pp. 1337-1364
[ii] There’s a lot of information in the Results section I highly recommend that you find a way to get the original article.