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Sloan Center News

Sloan Center Releases Summary of Older Worker Engagement, Job Quality, Health, Well-being

26 November 2008—As more Baby Boomers watch retirement savings dwindle in a reeling stock market, more are thinking about extending their work lives beyond conventional retirement ages.

Yet whatever the reasons for extending their working lives, older workers still face the problem of convincing skeptical employers and younger employees that they are productive and enthusiastic partners in the workforce, and not hankering for retirement, checked out, disengaged with the work and uninterested in new training and development opportunities. Too often seen as easy layoff targets in the face of declining revenues, older workers face many obstacles to continued work.   

The latest in a series of Research Highlights from the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College presents findings on these issues facing older workers.  The summary is entitled The CitiSales Study of Older Workers: Employee Engagement, Job Quality, Health, and Well-being and highlights research conducted on over 6,000 employees in 388 regional stores of CitiSales, a pseudonym for a Fortune 500 retail chain store in the U.S.

Funded by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work and the Ford Foundation, Jacquelyn B. James (Co-director of Research at the center), Jennifer E. Swanberg (University of Kentucky), and Sharon P. McKechnie (Emmanuel College) used the CitiSales Study to understand the unknown needs and attitudes of a large multi-generational workforce. In particular, the study looks at what engages older workers in the workplace and what constitutes an ideal workplace for them.

There are many stereotypes regarding the plight of older workers, but this Research Highlight dispels the myth of older worker disengagement and focuses on the real situations of worker health and well-being employed by CitiSales, a company recognized by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for its focus on older employees.

Most of the differences between older and younger workers in this study have to do with the perception of difference,said Jacquelyn James, principal investigator on the project. The perception that they are uninterested in training or development opportunities or even promotions is based on old ideas about the workplace.

The CitiSales Study of Older Workers answers the following questions:

  • To what extent to older workers differ from their younger co-workers in terms of employee engagement?
  • To what extent do older workers experience lower psychological well-being and physical health than their younger coworkers?
  • What constitutes job quality for older workers?
  • How are older workers viewed by their managers/supervisors?

Interviews were conducted with 38 district managers and three regional vice presidents of CitiSales. While CitiSales older workers are not a homogeneous group, for the most part they want the same things out of a job that younger workers do: a supportive supervisor who values them and gives them recognition, schedule flexibility, opportunities to learn on the job, and fairness in the awarding of promotions.  Those who have these on-the-job ingredients are more engaged than those who do not.  Some have said that these are elements of an 'emotional paycheck', said James, and inspire workers of all ages to want to give back to the organization.

The CitiSales Study of Older Workers also emphasizes the fact that many employers will be faced with a sizable deficit in the labor pool as Baby Boomers retire.