An aging workforce and the digital shift don’t always go hand in hand. Dealing with increasingly complex digital tools can even generate stress for workers over 60, which in turn can affect their productivity. Stefan Tams, holder of the Research Professorship in Technology and Aging at HEC Montréal, is interested in the factors that modulate this type of stress.
The results show that a decline in selective attention in participants over the age of 60 makes them more vulnerable to distractions.
In a recent experiment, he studied the impact of different digital interfaces on stress among 120 people, half of whom were over 60 and half of whom were under 30 years of age. Participants had to play the memory game Concentration on a computer while being exposed to distractions. Using saliva samples, the researcher measured their adrenaline level, which is a marker of stress.
The results show that a decline in selective attention in participants over the age of 60 makes them more vulnerable to distractions such as text messages and e-mail and messaging alerts. These interruptions stress them and decrease their concentration.
In addition, older participants worked better with keyword-based interfaces, in which they search for files using a search engine, and were less comfortable with interfaces that require finding a file in a folder structure. According to the researcher, this can be explained by the fact that as we get older, we lose some of our “fluid intelligence”, which is used to adapt and learn, whereas our “crystallized intelligence”, which is reflected in, for example, greater experience and a richer vocabulary, is a significant strength.
The results also show that the more confident older adults are in their technological abilities, the less stress they experience. By adapting their digital interfaces and offering more professional development, organizations can therefore help older individuals make better use of new technologies.