How Tech Fails Late-Career Workers

Managers must make deliberate choices to support older workers’ use of complex technologies.

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Few businesses have implemented strategies to build an age-inclusive, multigenerational workforce. Even fewer seem to be aware of the important role that workplace technologies can play in driving the performance outcomes for workers of different ages. But as labor force demographics skew older as more people work longer, business success and productivity will be increasingly tied to the well-being and job performance of workers ages 60 and older, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.1

As business technologies become increasingly complex, older workers experience a varying degree of increasing difficulty using them to perform job tasks.2 Indeed, effectively using tools such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications requires many cognitive resources that are less available for older workers because of age-related cognitive changes. Using a laboratory experiment and two large-scale surveys, I found that the job performance of older workers is hindered by the reduced perceptual speed and the technology overload that can occur if they are overburdened with an excessive number of technology demands.3 This problem is increasingly common because the pressure to keep up with ever-evolving office technologies compounds the pressure to keep up with other ongoing job responsibilities.

Even relatively straightforward office tools such as Microsoft Excel can rapidly become more complex and more difficult to use as vendors add more advanced functionalities and tweak familiar user interfaces. Older workers use fewer software functions than their younger counterparts, and they experience greater levels of anxiety and stress when using them to perform job tasks. This reduces their job satisfaction and their overall well-being, and their less-effective use of technologies reduces their job performance.

Changing Cognitive Resources and Complicating Factors

Age brings changes in cognitive resources such as attention, perceptual speed, working memory capacity, and fluid abilities more broadly. We use our selective attention to filter out emails and instant messages that are not immediately relevant to the task at hand, and our divided attention to switch from one application to another (between an ERP tool and a spreadsheet, for example). There is robust evidence that perceptual speed — the speed with which we can accomplish tasks using office technologies — declines significantly with age.4 Working memory capacity — how much information we can keep in mind while making calculations or decisions — also declines with age.



1. S. Singh, C. Geppert, O. Denk, et al., “Promoting an Age-Inclusive Workforce: Living, Learning and Earning Longer” (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2020).

2. S. Tams and A. Dulipovici, “The Creativity Model of Age and Innovation With IT: Why Older Users Are Less Innovative and What to Do About It,” European Journal of Information Systems, Latest Articles, published online Oct. 21, 2022.

3. S. Tams, “Helping Older Workers Realize Their Full Organizational Potential: A Moderated Mediation Model of Age and IT-Enabled Task Performance,” MIS Quarterly 46, no. 1 (March 2022): 1-34.

4. T.A. Salthouse, “The Processing-Speed Theory of Adult Age Differences in Cognition,” Psychological Review 103, no. 3 (July 1996): 403-428; Tams, “Helping Older Workers Realize Their Full Organizational Potential,” 1-34; and S. Tams, unpublished data set.

5. S. Tams, V. Grover, J. Thatcher, et al., “Grappling With Modern Technology: Interruptions Mediated by Mobile Devices Impact Older Workers Disproportionately,” Information Systems and e-Business Management 20, no. 4 (December 2022): 635-655; Tams, “Helping Older Workers Realize Their Full Organizational Potential,” 1-34; and S. Tams, J.B. Thatcher, and V. Grover, “Concentration, Competence, Confidence, and Capture: An Experimental Study of Age, Interruption-Based Technostress, and Task Performance,” Journal of the Association for Information Systems 19, no. 9 (2018): 857-908.

6. Tams, “Helping Older Workers Realize Their Full Organizational Potential,” 1-34.

7. M.G. Morris, V. Venkatesh, and P.L. Ackerman, “Gender and Age Differences in Employee Decisions About New Technology: An Extension to the Theory of Planned Behavior,” IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management 52, no. 1 (February 2005): 69-84.

8. M.K. Ahuja and J.B. Thatcher, “Moving Beyond Intentions and Toward the Theory of Trying: Effects of Work Environment and Gender on Post-Adoption Information Technology Use,” MIS Quarterly 29, no. 3 (September 2005): 427-459; and Tams and Dulipovici, “The Creativity Model of Age and Innovation With IT.”

9. H. Lee, W.R. Boot, P.L. Baniqued, et al., “The Relationship Between Intelligence and Training Gains Is Moderated by Training Strategy,” PloS One 10, no. 4 (April 2015): 1-9.

10. Singh et al., “Promoting an Age-Inclusive Workforce.”

11. S. Tams, V. Grover, and J. Thatcher, “Modern Information Technology in an Old Workforce: Toward a Strategic Research Agenda,” The Journal of Strategic Information Systems 23, no. 4 (December 2014): 284-304; and H. Wandke, M. Sengpiel, and M. Sönksen, “Myths About Older People’s Use of Information and Communication Technology,” Gerontology 58, no. 6 (October 2012): 564-570.

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Comment (1)
Stuart Roehrl
There is a great deal of valuable information here.  Excellent research and discussion.  The so-called older worker could benefit from understanding this material.  
Stuart Roehrl