Ever wonder if your employer is bringing in new software for the express purpose of driving you so crazy you’ll quit? You’re probably not alone.
A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research crunched decades of data on 50,000 businesses and 11.6 million workers and found that the faster a company installs new software, the faster it loses older workers.
Older people are leaving employers as businesses adopt new technology to stay competitive, says Richard Freeman, a Harvard economics professor and a co-author of the NBER report. “Companies will say, ‘We’ll train you,’ but people who feel they are close to retiring often say, ‘I don’t want to bother.’ ”
The study doesn’t address employer motivation, beyond enhancing productivity, and it’s doubtful that most businesses would bring in new software just to scare off older workers — though age discrimination is a real workplace problem. But for older workers, adapting to new systems can be particularly frustrating and make them feel — in a word — old.
But you don’t want to act old — meaning you don’t want to resist change.
A big reason it pays to adapt: Older workers tend to suffer lower pay when they change jobs.
“Usually when people leave (for new jobs), they go down” in salary, Freeman says. And anything that prompts you to claim Social Security before age 70 should be reconsidered.
The smart move is to stay at your job, even if you are not thrilled by the prospect of retraining. Start by improving your attitude — about yourself. A lot of the conventional wisdom about older workers and tech is bunk. Ignore it. If people 55 and older have experience in a field, data show they learn new systems as quickly as younger colleagues.
Ignore stereotypes about diminished productivity. “There is little indication that worker productivity, as measured by variables such as piecework and peer and supervisor ratings, declines with age,” says Neil Charness, a psychology professor at Florida State and director of the university’s Institute for Successful Longevity.
Think of new software as a tool to make your job easier and make you more productive, not as a trap to expose your incompetence. Learn why the company is going to the expense and trouble of installing this new software; knowing that may make you more at ease with the change.
Don’t be intimidated by tech trainers. If you are uncomfortable with the style of training offered by your company (or, more likely, an outside contractor), request changes that would better suit you. Shorter classes, for example, to give everyone time to absorb and practice new ideas while they are fresh in their minds. Smaller classes, to make it easier for all participants to ask questions. Ask for individual instruction if you need it; your company has a lot invested in you already.
A combination of live classes and online practice sessions can identify gaps in your knowledge — or the curriculum.
Increased peer interaction is another avenue to explore. Ask your boss to consider starting up a technology mentoring program to let employees who have mastered new software work directly with those still learning the ropes. Alternatively, think about informally networking with savvy co-workers and ask if they can help you.
You may feel more comfortable as an independent learner. See if a YouTube video or free online course can give you a head start. Inquire about whether your employer has a tuition-assistance program to cover some or all of the cost of courses outside your workplace. These courses could be a local community college or a private business. One such company, GetSetUp, specializes in having older adults learn from teachers roughly their same age.
“Our learners particularly enjoy GetSetUp classes because they can take them in bite-size classes of just one hour,” spokesperson Liz Miller says. “Most importantly, they are learning with their peers, being taught by peers and learning at their own pace.”
Still not sure you want to stick around for the next big software update? Maybe you should do it as a favor to your brain.
Kristina McElheran, an assistant professor of strategy at the University of Toronto and another co-author of the NBER report, says flexing your frontal cortex in this way can help the neurons in your brain grow and reorganize, a value known as neuroplasticity. It can help people over 50 master new skills and store more information.
“We’re learning more and more about neuroplasticity and the importance of continually challenging ourselves to take on new skills,” she says.
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