On the Slow Track

By | September 19, 2011

With jobs being scarce, many people lucky enough to have one are wondering what they must do to keep theirs. The anxiety is particularly acute for older employees, those aged about 55 and up, who fear if they lose the job they have, they may never get another.

While this industry would do well to attract more youthful employees, it is also important that employers value the experience of older workers.

We recently came across research that should serve as a reminder about why older folk are worth keeping on the payroll, too.

The brains of older people are not slower but rather wiser than young brains and this condition allows older adults to achieve an equivalent level of performance with their young co-workers. That’s the conclusion of research from the University Geriatrics Institute of Montreal.

Being fast on the job is not always better.

“The older brain has experience and knows that nothing is gained by jumping the gun. It was already known that aging is not necessarily associated with a significant loss in cognitive function. When it comes to certain tasks, the brains of older adults can achieve very close to the same performance as those of younger ones,” says Dr. Oury Monchi, one of the researchers.

The study included a group of 24 people aged 18 to 35 and a group of 10 people aged 55 to 75 who were still active professionally. Both groups had to perform the same language tasks. Their speed of execution and the relevance of their responses were evaluated. The study was published in Cerebral Cortex.

The research produced neurobiological evidence showing that with age comes wisdom and that as the brain gets older, it learns to better allocate its resources.

Also, one of the tests also showed that older brains are less sidetracked by criticism than younger brains. “Funny enough, the young brain is more reactive to negative reinforcement than the older one,” says Monchi. “It is as though the older brain is more impervious to criticism and more confident than the young brain.”

So older and wiser can mean better allocation of resources, less wilting under criticism, and greater confidence in performing tasks. Not always, of course. Even though they’ve been working at it for years, seniors aren’t perfect. In fact, one of the benefits of having seniors around is that they can share their experiences, otherwise known as their mistakes, with younger workers, who can then use that knowledge to innovate and improve the world.

“Overall, our study shows that Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare was on the money: being able to run fast does not always win the race — you have to know how to best use your abilities. This adage is a defining characteristic of aging,” Monchi says.

All of which gives fresh meaning to the words of the late French crooner Maurice Chevalier who once said, “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.

From This Issue

Insurance Journal West September 19, 2011
September 19, 2011
Insurance Journal West Magazine

Professional Liability Directory, The Best Insurance Agencies to Work For, Employment/HR Issue