CIOs Deal With The Problem Of Older Workers

Older workers struggle with new technology. CIOs have to help them out.
Older workers struggle with new technology. CIOs have to help them out.
Image Credit: Scott Lewis

If you think about it, CIOs are responsible for everyone who works for the company. They need to make sure that the right technology gets placed into the right hands. However, their responsibilities go even further than that. They are also responsible for making sure that every worker is able to use the technology that they provide them with. For your younger workers this may be no big deal – they’ve been using new technologies literally since they were born. However, when it comes to your older workers this may not be the case. How are CIOs supposed to help older workers who may struggle with the introduction of new technologies?

The Problems That Older Workers Face

Let’s all agree: constantly updated and reconfigured, office software is the bane of our older workers. Their struggles with IT tools lead to frustration and lower productivity. But does it really have to be that way? Studies have been done on the performance of hundreds of older workers on job tasks that require the use of common organizational software such as spreadsheets. Here’s the bad news for both CIOs and their older workers: it has been consistently found that several of the software problems older workers face are caused by cognitive changes that come with age. Dang.

It takes older workers longer to process information. It can be harder for them to ignore distractions such as instant messages or system notifications. Often they find it harder to figure out novel situations including trying out new office technology. This isn’t true, of course, for all older employees. However, it’s true for enough of them that it can cause problems in an organization. CIOs need to understand that the story doesn’t end there. While CIOs can’t stop cognitive decline, there are all sorts of things they can do to help older workers increase their productivity and experience less stress when using the company’s office technology. You cannot lower the performance expectations for older employees, but CIOs have to find ways to adapt their working conditions.

How To Make Things Easier For Older Workers

CIOs have to be willing to train and train again their older workers. It sure seems like repeated training for older workers would be a no-brainer, especially when major changes occur to software or other systems. Yet even though it is typically recommended that CIOs provide such training, many CIOs don’t follow through. For one thing, it can be both expensive and time-consuming. And, CIOs figure, since older workers are close to retirement they’ll use that training for a much shorter time than younger ones will. This is a shortsighted attitude that will hurt older workers and the company itself. Continual training on new software features improves worker memory and helps your older workers process information at faster speeds. It will also let them use technology more comfortably and intuitively, instead of struggling with it – all of which more than makes up for any cost and inconvenience.

CIOs must be willing to allow their older workers to be trained face-to-face. This means that it is important to do that training right, however. And one crucial part of that is we must be willing to training older workers face to face and not online. Unlike our younger workers, who are often more comfortable doing things remotely, older workers place greater emphasis and value when they are provided with in-person interactions. They are reassuring, they stimulate more positive emotions, and they require fewer cognitive resources on the parts of the workers. Research has shown that one type of training had a particularly big payoff: mentorship programs that pair older workers with expert users. Instead of having to go to formal training sessions, older workers can call on these users at the precise moment they need help. This approach is also comes across as being more informal and friendly, so that older workers feel more comfortable about seeking advice.

Finally, CIOs need to make the investment and fix their search engines. Not all of the changes fall on CIO’s shoulders. The company’s software designers must develop software and websites that are friendly to the company’s older users. One important change would be allowing the use of search engines that make it easier to find information. Take a moment and think about how search engines work. A user types in a phrase and gets back an extensive list of results that they then need to hunt through to get what they want. The answer they want will usually be hidden among things they don’t need. CIO’s need to realize that searching through all that additional data can be taxing for their older workers, who process information at lower speeds. How can search engines be made less taxing? One way to go about doing this is to offer your users something that is called “faceted” search. This type of search allows a user to type in a phrase and instead of getting a list of links all lumped together, the search engine first organizes the links into big, broad categories and lets the user choose which one they want to see. The end result is that it makes things much easier to process.

What All Of This Means For You

It turns out that CIOs have yet another challenge on their hands: older workers. We need to understand that it is our job to find ways to use technology to allow the company to get the most out of all of its workers. The company’s older workers pose a special set of challenges for us. New technologies can cause problems for them. We need to find ways to make dealing with new technologies easier for this set of workers.

CIOs need to understand that with age comes a diminished ability to deal with changes in the software tools that employees are using. What this means for CIOs is that we need to spend the time looking for ways to reduce the amount of stress that our IT tools are causing the company’s older workers. One way that we can go about doing this is by being willing to train our older workers. We have to understand that just one round of training may not be enough – we have train and then train these workers once again. We also need to provide them with face-to-face training opportunities. Tools as basic as search engines may need to be updated to make them easier for our older employees to use.

CIOs have to realize that a great deal of the company’s knowledge is tied up in its older workers. These workers have been there the longest and they have the best understanding of how the company operates. What this means is that in order to get the most out of these workers, we need to find ways to make the company’s IT technology work for them. Taking the time to understand what their unique needs are will allow us to craft solutions that address their issues. If we can do this, then we will have found a way to get the most out of the company’s most valuable employees.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What’s the best way to measure the IT tool productivity of older workers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’m pretty sure that just about no one in your company is ever excited when it comes time to be trained. We’ve all become so accustomed what training always seems to turn out to be: long days spent in conference rooms listening to presenters drone on about something that none of us really feel impacts our job. However, CIOs need to understand that things have changed. In part due to the arrival of the pandemic, training has had to undergo a transformation and what training looks like today is nothing like it used to look like.