The digital age: Older people also have advantages for managing information

Who can deal better with the daily flood of information in the workplace: younger or older people? The younger ones, it is often believed, because they are fitter in dealing with modern media. But the older generations' abilities for dealing with information in the digital age are sharper than assumed, a Fresenius University professor proposes.

Age and years of experience become an asset for digital engagement, contrary to widespread assumptions

Who can deal better with the daily flood of information in the workplace: younger or older people? The younger ones, it is often believed, because they are fitter in dealing with modern media. But the older generations' abilities for dealing with information in the digital age are sharper than assumed, a Fresenius University professor proposes.

Studies show that we can absorb and process information more quickly at a young age. However, the processing speed decreases with increasing age. "But while in the past it was primarily a matter of gathering information, today it is much more important to filter information," said Prof. Dr. Ingo Aberle, business psychologist at Fresenius University in Wiesbaden, Germany. "Information is readily available and we are constantly supplied with new information via various channels. Of course, the proportion of information that is irrelevant to any given person also rises sharply. That can easily lead to stress."

This is where Aberle comes into play with what he calls "experiential knowledge": skills and strategies are needed to apply the right filter and to distinguish the important from the unimportant. "There are definitely advantages to people who have been in the profession for a long time." Aberle thus assigns a higher relevance to the strategic handling of information than to the pure processing speed.

That the young learn from the old, is not an outdated format - but there are limitations. Due to changing processes, it can happen that functional strategies lose their validity. Quick adaptations to new framework conditions are necessary. "A current example is dealing with the social media and networks," says Aberle: "There we find new rules of communication and in order to do justice to these changed circumstances, reversed mentoring is used to some extent. In contrast to traditional mentoring - an experienced employee assists a younger employee - in this approach a younger employee becomes the mentor of an older employee. "This sounds good in theory, but is not always easy to implement in practice, as many conflicts can arise in the workplace when young and old work together."

But how can these conflicts be avoided - and how can the strengths of both age groups best be used? "There is a need for a culture of lifelong learning. This applies equally to younger and older employees," Aberle replied. In addition, the general handling of age differences is relevant. Here it is necessary to establish a culture of appreciation and recognition of age diversity: "This appreciation explicitly affects both older and younger employees. Only together can we meet the increasing demands of an information society that is becoming ever faster and more complex." And this also applies increasingly to digitization in medicine.

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