UI Study Shows Workers are More Forgiving Towards Older Bosses

by Brian Wilson
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A University of Iowa study finds people who have a blundering boss will give them a pass if that boss is older, but they’ll judge more harshly if the boss is younger. Michele Williams, a U-I professor of management and entrepreneurship, co-authored the study that surveyed hundreds of professionals. It found workers are more willing to accept an incompetent boss who’s older and more experienced, but they’re less likely to tolerate incompetence if the boss is younger.

Those working under an older supervisor may convince themselves their employer’s promotion system is fair and their boss isn’t so bad. Williams says that worker is likely justifying a system that’s -not- fair, just to avoid the mental conflict that could result from acknowledging an unfair system.

The study found that workers who think their younger, less experienced boss is incompetent will begin to question the fairness of their employers’ promotion system. Williams says that can have a negative impact on their behavior, their morale, and their productivity.

So what are the take-aways from the study? Williams says people need to remember to judge a person by their actions, not their appearance, and give the new boss an opportunity to prove him or herself.

The study is being published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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