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Sloan Center News

Older Workers More Engaged Than Younger Employees

25 March 2011—Findings from a recent study, Predicting Employee Engagement in an Age-Diverse Retail Workforce, reveal that employees “approaching-retirement (55-65 years) and retirement-eligible (66 +years) … are more engaged than are the younger workers.” There were no significant differences, however, between older or younger workers regarding the job conditions that predict employee engagement.

The current trend of older workers remaining in the workplace, continuing to work past the traditional age of retirement, is creating new challenges as well as opportunities. While some employers may see the advantage of retaining older workers to avoid losing critical knowledge, other employers may still be hindered by the misperception that it may be necessary to make extensive (and costly) adjustments for older workers.

“There is this idea among employers that older workers require a lot of accommodations,” comments Jacquelyn B. James, Director of Research at the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, one of the authors of the study. “Older workers want the same things other workers want: opportunities for learning, job clarity, workplace flexibility, and supervisors who show concern for their well-being and recognition for a job well done. When these job conditions are met, workers of all ages are more engaged.”

Although career development and promotion appear less important in engaging older workers (those aged 66+) than younger employees, the study’s authors caution against perpetuating the myth that older workers are “disinterested” or “less energetic about learning.”

“We need to stop thinking of aging as going down hill,” explains Dr. James. “The ideas that older workers are inflexible, unable to adapt, and costly to employers, is outdated in the current context of longevity and health. People in their 50s and 60s may well be at their peak—on average they are energized, reliable, and engaged. The real cost that employers should weigh is the cost of losing experience. Older workers have typically accumulated valuable knowledge and resilience and can be vital contributors in the work place.”

The study, published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2011 is the only study that has “examined employee engagement as measured by practitioners in a retail setting across a wide range of ages.” Age ranges were: Emerging adults (24 years and under), Settling-in adults (25-39), Prime adults (40-54), Approaching Retirement (55-65) and Retirement eligible (66 years and over). In addition, the study discusses job quality and conditions for employment engagement among older workers vs. younger workers at different stages of careers in a large retail setting.

Access the Study at: James, J. B., McKechnie, S., & Swanberg, J. (2011). Predicting employee engagement in an age-diverse retail workforce. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(2), 173-196.