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Sloan Center News

Remembering When And How Age Can Affect Employment Experiences

29 June 2009—It takes fewer than six degrees of separation to start making a long list of people we know (or who know people we know) who have been significantly impacted by the current economic downturn.

Over the past week, I have attended several very interesting meetings that grappled with questions, such as:

  • What is the business case for focusing on talent management issues during this economic downturn?
  • From a risk management perspective, what are some possible unintended consequences of not paying enough attention to employees during these tumultuous times?
  • From a human capital investment strategy, is there evidence that careful monitoring of the quality of employees’ work experience will enhance the readiness of the organization to “leap forward” when the economy does turn around?

Of course, our center always adds an additional question:

  • How does age (and age related factors such as career stage or life cycle experiences) affect the outcomes?

Clearly, these are not easy questions, either for researchers or for practitioners. However, some of the center’s recent research sheds some insight on these critical issues.

For example, the issue brief, The Difference a Downturn Can Make: Assessing the Early Effects of the Economic Crisis on the Employment Experiences of Workers presents findings that there was a predictable drop in measures such as perceived supervisor support and job satisfaction. We also found the age does matter. The drop in the engagement scores of the younger workers was more profound than among the older workers.

Findings such as these underscore the importance of remembering when and how age can affect the employment experiences and outcomes of today’s workers. Although we can’t wave a magic wand and change employees’ ages to get better outcomes, we can consider ways to provide the supports that employees of different ages might need so that they perform their best and have fulfilling lives, at work and at home.