Technology in the workplace implications for older workers
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Technology in the Workplace: Implications for Older Workers Sara J. Czaja Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Center for Research on Aging and Technology Enhancement Aging by Design Bentley College October 17& 18 2005

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Technology in the workplace implications for older workers l.jpg

Technology in the Workplace: Implications for Older Workers

Sara J. Czaja

Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Center for Research on Aging and Technology Enhancement

Aging by Design

Bentley College

October 17& 18 2005

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  • National Institute on Aging/National Institutes of Health

  • Collaborators

    Joseph Sharit

    Sankaran Nair

    Chin Chin Lee

    Mario Hernandez

    Trinidad Arguelles

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Overview of Presentation

  • Review of recent demographic trends related to aging and work

  • Review existing data on aging and work performance

  • Discuss the potential implications of workplace technologies for older workers

  • Outline areas of needed research

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Factors Influencing Trends in Aging: Work and Retirement 1948-2015

  • Aging of the “baby boomers”

  • Changes in retirement policies and legislation (Social Security Act; Age Discrimination in Employment Act; The American with Disabilities Act)

  • Slowed growth in the number of younger workers

  • Declines in pension benefits and retiree health care coverage

  • Changes in preferences/perceptions of older workers

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Accommodating an Aging Work Force Requires Understanding: 1948-2015

  • The characteristics of the older work force

  • The potential implications of aging for work

  • The characteristics of existing jobs and work environments

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Who are the Elderly? 1948-2015

The elderly as a group are healthier, more diverse and better educated than previous generations

  • Percentage of older adults (65+) with a high school degree and higher education is increasing.

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Who are the Elderly ? 1948-2015

  • The older population is becoming more ethnically diverse.

  • Number of older people reporting good health and physical functioning is increasing.

  • However the likelihood of developing a chronic condition or functional impairment increases with age.

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Chronic Illness and the U.S. Population 1948-2015



Source: Trend watch: Chronic illness and the aging U.S. population, Clinical Geriatrics, 7(7), 1999.

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Age-related Changes in Abilities that have Relevance to Work 1948-2015

  • Slower response times

  • Movement control limitations

  • Declines in vision and audition

  • Declines in attention

  • Declines in working memory

  • Difficulty multi- tasking

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Some Caveats . . . 1948-2015

  • Aging is associated with substantial variability and older adults as a group are very heterogeneous.

  • “Older” workers and retirees in their “midcourse” years (50s, 60s, and early 70s) are typically different from those in their late 70s, 80s, & 90s.

  • Predictions about a person’s ability to learn a new skill or perform a job should be based on abilities relative to demands as opposed to chronological age.

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Aging and Work Performance 1948-2015

  • Data on aging and actual work performance is limited especially for technology-based jobs.

  • Many of the available studies on aging and work involve small samples, restricted age ranges or cross-sectional study designs.

  • Overall, there is little evidence to suggest that overall productivity declines with age.

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Aging and Work Performance 1948-2015

  • Relationship between aging and productivity depends on the type of performance measure, type of job, job experience, and training.

  • Older workers tend to have lower accident rates than younger workers however, if injured they tend to have longer recovery times.

  • Older workers have lower absenteeism and turnover rates than younger people.

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Technology and Work 1948-2015

  • In 2001, 72.3 million workers (53.5%) used a computer at work.

  • Computer occupations will account for 8 out the 20 fastest growing jobs.

  • Use of technology is becoming more prevalent across most occupations (e.g., managerial and professional workers, sales, administrative support personnel, customer service representatives).

  • The incidence of telecommuting is increasing. In 2000, ~ 44 million workers in the United States engaged in some form of telecommuting.

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Use Computer, Internet / E-Mail at Work, as a Percent of Employed Persons Age 25+

Source: NTIA and ESA, U.S. Department of Commerce, using U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey Supplements

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Potential Implications of Technology for an Aging Work Force Employed Persons Age 25+

  • Negative Implications

    • Technology-based tasks place a greater emphasis on cognitive abilities.

    • Advances in technology imply that workers need to learn new skills and to interact with new systems.

    • Current job skills and knowledge become obsolete.

    • Usability problems create barriers to access.

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Potential Implications of Technology for an Aging Work Force Technology-Based Tasks

  • Positive Implications

    • Technology reduces the physical demands of jobs.

    • Technology makes work at home and flexible work schedules and arrangements more likely options.

    • Adaptive technologies may make work more viable for older people.

    • Technology such as multi-media systems may be effective learning tools for older adults.

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Critical Question Technology-Based Tasks

Given age-related changes in abilities and cohort differences in exposure to technology, will older adults be able to successfully adapt to the “new technology-based” work environment?

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Older Adults and Attitudes Towards Computer Technology Technology-Based Tasks

  • In general, findings indicate that older adults have positive attitudes towards computers.

  • Older people generally report less comfort with computers and less computer confidence than younger people.

  • Experience with computers generally result in more positive attitudes.

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Comfort and Efficacy by Age Group Technology-Based Tasks

Source: Czaja, S. J. & Sharit, J. (1998). Age Differences in Attitudes Toward Computers. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 53B, 329-340.

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Use of a Computer at Work by Gender and Age, 2001 Technology-Based Tasks

Source: NTIA and ESA, U.S. Department of Commerce, using U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey Supplements

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Internet Use by Age by Year Technology-Based Tasks

Source: UCLA Center for Communication Policy (February, 2003). The UCLA Internet Report: Surveying the Digital Future Year Three. Available on-line: http://www/

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Older Adults and Acquisition of Computer Skills Technology-Based Tasks

  • Older adults are able to learn to use computers and other forms of technology.

  • Older people may require more practice.

  • Older people require more time to learn new concepts and procedures.

  • Older people may benefit from environmental support aids.

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Older People and Computer Task Performance Technology-Based Tasks

  • Older people are able to successfully interact with technology to perform tasks.

  • Older people typically take longer time to perform basic tasks.

  • Older people may use less efficient procedures.

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S. Czaja, J. Sharit, and Colleagues (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004)

  • Examined age performance (20-75 yrs) differences on a variety of computer-based tasks including:

  • Data entry (transportation industry)

  • Customer service representative (health insurance industry)

  • Accounts balancing (banking industry)

  • Tele-Commuting (customer service rep.)

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Overall the Data Indicated 2004)

  • The older adults were willing and able to perform the tasks

  • The older adults generally achieved lower levels of performance

  • Performance improved with experience for all age groups

  • There was substantial variability in performance among the older adults

  • Prior computer experience and component cognitive abilities were important predictors of performance

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Data Entry Task 2004)

Information Search and Retrieval Task

Account Balancing Task

Transactions Balanced/Hour

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Intervention for Data Entry Task 2004)

  • Redesign of Data Entry Forms

    • Reorganization of information

    • Highlighting of task relevant information

  • Redesign of Data Entry Screens

    • Reorganization of information to create consistent mapping with form

    • Unidirectional information flow

    • On-screen prompting

    • Elimination of irrelevant data fields

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Conclusions 2004)

  • Older adults are willing and able to participate in today’s work environment.

  • There is little evidence to suggest that aging is associated with declines in job performance.

  • However:

  • More detailed information is needed on the relationship between age-related changes in abilities and actual work performance.

  • More data is needed on the work performance of older adults in actual work settings.

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Conclusions 2004)

  • More information is need on the role of experience and compensatory strategies in work performance.

  • More detailed information is needed on the work preferences of older adults.

  • Studies are needed to how job and workplace design interventions and adaptive technologies can be used to enhance employment for older people.

  • Studies are needed to identify training strategies that are effective for older people and how technology can be used as a training tool.