The idea that as we age, we become more set in our ways is a cultural belief that often underpins ageism in the workplace. But, research suggests that in so far as emotional intelligence is concerned, mature-aged workers may have the edge. There is a lot of talk about skills required to ensure you remain relevant at work in a dramatically changing employment landscape, driven by rapid technological advances. Employers have identified the ability to build and maintain relationships as one of the core skills necessary in the workplaces of the future. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand and regulate your own and others’ emotions which is what underpins effective relationships. Having high emotional intelligence has been described as equally important, if not more important to successful careers than IQ.
Researchers have long suggested that accumulated life experience increases emotional intelligence. This makes sense when you consider that mature-aged workers have just had more opportunity to engage with others in a host of different environments, including working across different types of teams and have been able to hone this skill over time.
Apparently, as we age, we increasingly use emotions for problem solving, which is especially pronounced in women. A surprise finding of neuroscientific research about emotions and rationality, is that we cannot make rational decisions, prioritize or follow through on tasks without emotions, making emotional intelligence critical to effective problem solving.
According to some research, there is a relationship between emotional management and ageing whereby older people can differentiate emotions more effectively, see themselves and others in a more flexible and open way, and are more tolerant, accepting both negative and positive aspects of themselves and others more readily. Older adults also experience fewer negative emotions than younger people. Of course, this is not universally true. Emotional intelligence skills can be learned, which means younger (and older) workers can build and improve these skills.
So why is this skill so important in the digital age? In an environment of relentless change, those with higher emotional intelligence are able to maintain better mental health and have better job performance and leadership skills. Recognizing and understanding your own emotions enhances job performance, but equally the ability to predict and understand the emotions of others including having high levels of empathy are critical to building and sustaining relationships and the development of cohesive teams.
When we talk about ageing and working, the conversation often revolves around decline. It’s good to know that a critical workplace skill gets better with age.
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