Do stereotypes about older workers change? A panel study on changing attitudes of managers

Purpose
The purpose of this paper is to see whether attitudes toward older workers by managers change
over time and what might explain development over time.

Design/methodology/approach
A unique panel study of Dutch managers is used to track the
development of their attitudes toward older workers over time (2010–2013) by focusing on a set of qualities of
older workers aged 50 and older. A conditional change model is used to explain the variation in changes by
focusing on characteristics of the manager (age, education, gender, tenure and contact with older workers)
and of the firm (composition staff, type of work and sector, size).

Findings
Managers have significantly adjusted their views on the so-called “soft skills” of older
workers, like reliability and loyalty. Attitudes toward “hard skills” – like physical stamina, new tech skills
and willingness to train – have not changed. Important drivers behind these changes are the age of the
manager – the older the manager, the more likely a positive change in attitude toward older workers
can be observed – and the change in the quality of contact with older workers. A deterioration of the
managers’ relationship with older workers tends to correspond with a decline in their assessment of soft
and hard skills.

Social implications
Attitudes are not very susceptible to change but this study shows that a significant
change can be expected simply from the fact that managers age: older managers tend to have a more positive
assessment of the hard and soft skills of older workers than young managers.

Originality/value – This paper offers novel insights into the question whether stereotypes of managers
change over time.

Keywords Employee productivity, Stereotypes, Attitudes, Older workers, Employers

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