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Speaker: Sarah Jane Barber | Assistant Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Gerontology, Georgia State University

Older workers are often stereotyped as being less productive, less adaptive, and less able to learn. Even though research has shown that workers’ age is generally unrelated to their performance, with the aging workforce it is important to understand how these negative stereotypes affect work-related outcomes. In this talk I will discuss two ways that negative age stereotypes affect older workers. First, according to stereotype embodiment theory, beginning as children people acquire negative stereotypes about older adults. Throughout the lifespan, these stereotypes become strongly internalized, and automatically influence behavior. For example, when people internalize the stereotype that old age inevitably brings health problems, they are less likely to engage in health behaviors themselves. In the workplace, research has also shown that older workers who endorse negative age stereotypes have lower self-efficacy in developing new skills and have poorer performance on cognitive tasks.

A second way that negative age stereotypes can affect older workers is through a process known as stereotype threat – This occurs when older people adults are concerned that they might be adversely evaluated because of a negative age-stereotype. Although this concern can occur even in the absence of overt age-based discrimination, it can still have adverse work-related outcomes. Research has shown stereotype threat can reduce occupational self-efficacy, lead to burnout and disengagement, reduce occupational satisfaction, and increase retirement intentions. To reduce these adverse effects, it is important to change the work setting to increase positive intergenerational interactions and foster messages about the value of older workers.

In this session you will:

  • Discuss how negative age stereotypes can affect older workers
  • Learn how to reduce these adverse effects with changes to the work setting which can increase positive intergenerational interactions

SHRM BoCK:

  • Ethical Practice
  • Relationship Management
  • Communication