It found that the more over-50s a company employed the less likely it was to increase productivity over a two-year period. Even a 1% increase in the proportion of older staff led to a greater chance that the company would stand still rather than improve its output.
The situation was much worse in Germany than Britain. There 57% of the companies had workforces with at least 20% of the staff over 50, compared to 41% in the UK.
Productivity was not reduced by older workers working more slowly but by the company’s reluctance to invest in training them.
The less successful companies also had weaker appraisal systems meaning that individuals were not held accountable for their productivity levels. Well appraisal systems have come in for a lot of criticism lately and in this case it suggests that it might be management not doing their job rather than the workers.
Certainly there are companies, such as BMW, that look after older workers better.
And they need to because there are more older workers around. Three quarters of people aged over 50 are in employment in the UK according to the ONS compared with two-thirds in 1994. And one in eight aged over 65 is still in work.
Discriminating against older workers is counter-productive. Often older workers have the unwritten knowledge about the company; their attendance is usually better, and they generally have a more positive attitude and are more loyal. Here’s an American take on this.