FRAMINGHAM (02/13/2004) - It's no secret that many in business behave differently at different stages of their careers.
People with more experience may make decisions based on past experiences, while those with less experience may tend to take more risks, based on simple lack of seeing potential downsides. However, once older, and presumably wiser, many can look through their business life and easily identify characteristics with certain levels of work experience.
In a survey of several hundred senior executives and managers in companies throughout the U.S., my company, NFI Research, found that different characteristics seem to be most pronounced at certain stages of a person's career, at least from one group's viewpoint.
Executives and managers were asked to identify which characteristics were most likely to be found in people closest to ages 22, 32, 42, 52 and 62. As might be expected, the overwhelming majority (94 percent) of respondents are in senior positions, and are in the age groups closest to 42, 52 and 62, making the survey results effectively the view of businesspeople closest to those ages and not necessarily of all people in business.
Those who are closest to 52 years old were perceived to be the most balanced, knowledgeable about business, loyal, thankful and appreciative, trustworthy, willing to teach and willing to share.
Those closest to age 62 were perceived to be the most likely to be conservative and knowledgeable about life, while those closest to age 22 were perceived to be the most fun, technologically adept, willing to learn and willing to travel.
A more interesting way to look at the issue is by characteristic. So here are the characteristics most associated with which ages (first and second choices) as chosen by survey respondents.
-Aggressive: Those closest to age 32 and 22
- Balanced: age 52 and 42
- Conservative: age 62 and 52
- Family oriented: age 42 and 32
- Fun: age 22 and 32
- Knowledgeable about business: age 52 and 32
- Knowledgeable about life: age 62 and 52
- Loyal: age 52 and 62
- Open: age 42 and 22
-Technologically adept: age 22 and 32
- Thankful/appreciative: age 52 and 62
- Trustworthy: age 52 and 42
- Willing to change: age 32 and 22
- Willing to learn: age 22 and 32
- Willing to teach: age 52 and 42
- Willing to travel: age 22 and 32
- Willing to share: age 52 and 62
There are obvious factors that determine some of these characteristics falling within certain ages, such as recent economic conditions and particular business or industry situation.
"Some of these characteristics, such as 'willing to travel,' are true for the younger and older while others are not age dependent," said one survey respondent. "Personally, I have a broader business base in my 50s and was most loyal at 40, before major organization restructuring/sale, so these are also situational. Generally, good employees only get better unless there are adverse personal circumstances, and I find real strong career commitment tends to come in the late 20s and early 30s, often in conflict with family demands."
Said another: "These days, it seems like economic and political environments have more affect on behavior than does age."
Many factors influence these characteristics, such as background, training, attitude, upbringing, etc. For example, a fun person at 22 can still be fun at 52, and a person can be trustworthy (or not) for an entire career.
An age group also may have a certain characteristic but it may not be the same for every person in that age group. "My mentor was a very gifted 50-something, while the other 50-somethings that I work with tend to be turf-sensitive and manipulative," said one respondent
The business reality is that no matter the characteristic at which age, everyone in a department or a company has to interact with those in different groups with different characteristics.
The key is to leverage all the positive attributes across the enterprise and link the knowledge in those who are more experienced and who say they are the most willing to share, with those in the younger groups who are identified as the most willing to learn.