am i over the hill This question is regularly asked by employees over 50. A widespread misconception is that the productivity and stress tolerance of older people is continuously decreasing. But mental performance, self-confidence, psychological resilience and well-being can be improved in the 50+ generation. This is shown by a study by researchers from the Section for Developmental and Educational Psychology at the University of Bonn, which was previously published online European Journal of Aging. The print version is expected to appear in December.
Business leaders fear that older professionals will not be able to keep up with technological innovations. “In the working world, employees over the age of 45 were often no longer offered any further training opportunities,” reports Prof. Dr. Una Röhr-Sendlmeier from the Chair for Developmental and Educational Psychology at the University of Bonn from earlier studies. “It was assumed that such an investment would not be worthwhile.” This is contradicted by research results from developmental psychology, which show that lifelong learning is fundamentally possible.
More than 800 participants
In the “Learning in everyday work” (LiA) project, the Röhr-Sendlmeier team examined the effects of certain training units on the speed of thought and concentration, perception of one’s own competence, self-efficacy and stress management in more than 800 women and men aged 50 and over in the years 2013 to 2019. “It was important to us that in each of the training sessions the content for the various training areas was offered in a varied and interlocking manner,” reports first author Tanja Hüber. So the physical activation was followed by cognitive training, then a strengthening of skills and, after a break, information on stress build-up and relaxation exercises.
The complete training consisted of five modules, which were carried out for two and a half hours a week for 15 weeks: In the skills training, the participants visualized the abilities and professional strengths they had acquired over the course of their lives. The stress management training was about finding individual strategies for dealing with stressful situations. With the strategy game “Go”, which was still largely unknown to most, the group trained mental abilities and problem-solving skills. Memory strategies were part of another module. Coordination exercises to activate and relaxation exercises to build up strength in everyday life rounded off the program. The control group received no training.
While 397 participants started with the five modules, other groups focused on specific training content combined with physical activation. “We wanted to find out what effects cognitive training, skills training or stress management training have on their own,” explains co-author Dr. Udo Käser. The individual training units comprised two hours per week and took place over a period of seven weeks.
Statistically measurable improvements
Immediately after completing the training and after another 6 months, the team evaluated the effects of the five-module training and the specific training using questionnaires and tests. The results show statistically highly significant improvements. For example, participants’ information processing speed increased on average from 2.42 bits per second before training to 2.65 bits per second six months after training. In contrast, the control group changed little. The self-assessment of the training group for inner peace also showed an increase from 4.75 before training to 5.28 on a scale of one to nine. The tendency to give up on failure dropped from 5.12 before training to 4.53.
A survey after participation showed that over 97 percent of the participants would recommend the training. The team has received further inquiries from companies about the “Learning in everyday work” project. The researchers intend to continue the project beyond the funding period. They are also invited to present their findings at the International Conference on Future of Preventive Medicine and Public Health in Barcelona, Spain in March 2023.
A win for employees and company
“Working people over 50 are improving their quality of life and companies are being given the opportunity to offer these working people longer prospects,” concludes Röhr-Sendlmeier. A win-win situation for both sides – and in view of the demographic change and the shortage of skilled workers also of great importance for society as a whole.
The study was funded by the Hans Hermann Voss Foundation.
Materials provided by University of Bonn. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.