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Sloan Center News

Older Workers Seen as More Loyal But More Resistant to Change

25 January 2010—In a recent survey of state agencies by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work, late-career employees were perceived most positively by state agencies with regard to having a strong work ethic (95%), being loyal to the agency (94%), and having low turnover rates (87%) in comparison to the early and mid-career employees. However, when looking at the state agencies’ perceptions of negative attributes of employees, late-career employees were perceived to be the most resistant to change (41%), reluctant to try new technologies (34%), and difficult to train (18%), according to the States as Employers-of-Choice survey (Fall 2008).

In the survey, state agency personnel from 27 states also acknowledged that mid-career employees were considered most likely to be productive (98%), to take initiative (87%), to be creative (81%), and to want to lead and supervisor others (63%) in comparison to the early and late-career employees. At the same time, mid-career employees were perceived to exhibit a number of negative attributes: mid-career employees were thought to take a lot of time from work to deal with personal or family issues.

By contrast, early-career employees were perceived to possess the fewest positive characteristics among the three respective age groups and were perceived to often look outside the agency for new career opportunities.

Comparisons Between Public & Private Sectors

Additional findings from the Sloan Center on Aging & Work’s (2006) National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development suggest that public sector organizations perceive more positive and fewer negative attributes of employees of all career stages. When looking at all of the attributes together, state agencies had significantly more positive perceptions of early-career, mid-career, and late-career employees than did the private-sector organizations. Interestingly, following the trend seen with the public sector separately, in the private sector, the organizations’ most positive perceptions were of the mid-career employees, followed by the late-career employees, and the most negative perceptions were of the early-career employees.

Specifically, when looking at perceptions of the attributes of late-career employees, a larger percentage of state agencies reported positive attributes and a smaller percentage reported negative attributes than in the private-sector organizations.

Overall, there are notable differences in the attitudes toward workers of different career stages held by state agencies and private-sector organizations. A notable strength of state agencies is that they have more positive attitudes toward workers, perceiving workers of all career stages as more productive. This may be an important advantage for recruiting and retaining employees of diverse ages.

However, state agencies perceived late and mid-career workers to want to lead and supervise others less than did private sector workers. One possible reason for this is that state agency workers see little reward for increasing their supervisory roles.

As more older workers remain in the workforce, and with more pressure on state agencies to fulfill their missions in challenging economic times, addressing concerns, desires, and needs of all workers could better position state agencies as employers of opportunity.

Chad Minnich is Associate Director of Marketing & Communications at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work.

The States as Employers-of-Choice project is a collaborative initiative being implemented by the Twiga Foundation, Inc. and the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. This 2-year project, supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, provides resources to HR managers at state agencies so that they can respond to shifts in the age demographics of the workforce.

The analyses presented in Attitudes Toward Workers of Different Career Stages is one component of the overall project. Data collection for the overall study began in spring 2008 and concluded in fall 2008. A total of 222 agencies from 27 states responded to the online survey used to gather information.

The survey results are compared in a number of areas with the 2006 National Study of Business Strategy and Workforce Development conducted at the Center. Although the economic and demographic situation has evolved over the 2-year time span, the two studies ask many of the same questions and provide a unique window into how thinking and practices in the private and public sector compare.