Supporting the Aging Workforce: A Review and Recommendations for Workplace Intervention

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Supporting the Aging
Workforce: A Review and
Recommendations for
Workplace Intervention
Research
Donald M. Truxillo,1 David M. Cadiz,2 and
Leslie B. Hammer1
1
Department of Psychology, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon 97207;
email: truxillod@pdx.edu, hammerl@pdx.edu
2
Oregon Nurses Foundation, Tualatin, Oregon 97062; email: dave.cadiz@gmail.com
Annu. Rev. Organ. Psychol. Organ. Behav. 2015.
2:351–81
First published online as a Review in Advance on
December 24, 2014
The Annual Review of Organizational Psychology
and Organizational Behavior is online at
orgpsych.annualreviews.org
This article’s doi:
10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-032414-111435
Copyright © 2015 by Annual Reviews.
All rights reserved
Keywords
aging workforce, age diversity, older workers, age differences,
interventions
Abstract
The workforce in most industrialized countries is aging and becoming
more age-diverse, and this trend is expected to continue throughout
the twenty-first century. Although there has been an increased interest
in research on age differences at work, few studies have examined actual interventions designed to support workers at different points
across the life span. In this article, we review the literature related to
aging at work, including physical, cognitive, personality, and motivational changes; life-span development theories; age stereotyping; age
diversity; and work–life balance. Based on this review, we propose
a number of avenues for intervention research to address age differences at work. We conclude by identifying critical challenges specific
to studying age at work that should be addressed to advance research
on interventions.
351
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INTRODUCTION
The industrialized workforce is becoming older and more age-diverse, and this pattern is expected
to continue over the coming decades. Although the good news is that people are aging more slowly
(Vaupel 2010), that also means that they will need to continue to work later in life (Eurostat 2013,
Toossi 2012) to support themselves during a longer retirement and to sustain retirement systems.
As a result, many countries have begun to raise the retirement age. In addition, the recent economic
downturn has left many workers with insufficient retirement savings such that they are working
longer because of financial need. Not only has this led to a workforce that is getting older in most
industrialized countries, it also means that older and younger people are working together as never
before. Furthermore, not all older workers enjoy working in itself: In a recent survey of workers
ages 45–74, as many as 60% reported working primarily because of financial need (AARP 2013).
As the workforce ages, organizations and societies must sustain workers’ well-being and health
through their later years of employment. Countries need to maintain the well-being and quality of
life for their populations (see Costanza et al. 2014), and both employers and societies need to
preserve the health of their older workers to contain health-care costs. And given the potential for
generational differences and tensions, an issue that has gained some research attention (Lyons &
Kuron 2013, Twenge et al. 2010) and discussion in the popular press, it is important to consider
how to promote good relationships among workers of different ages.
As a result of these growing issues around age in the workplace, there has been a recent surge in
psychological research regarding employee age, particularly in Europe and North America. For
example, there has been significant research on issues such as motivational differences between
workers of different ages (e.g., Kooij et al. 2011), age stereotyping (e.g., Ng & Feldman 2012), age
diversity climate (e.g., Kunze et al. 2011), aging workers and family caregiving responsibilities
(e.g., Neal & Hammer 2007), and retirement (e.g., Wang 2007). There have also been calls for
research to better understand the role that chronological age plays in the workplace (e.g., Kulik
et al. 2014). This interest has spawned numerous recent journal special issues, conferences, and
edited volumes on age issues at work. In short, age has moved from being just a control variable in
organizational research to a primary focus of attention. In fact, organizational psychology as
a field has begun to accumulate a solid literature that should enable us to make recommendations
for workplace policies and interventions to address age issues.
In recent years, industrial-organizational psychology and organizational behavior (IO/OB)
journals have included interventions focused on issues such as employee safety (e.g., Zohar &
Polachek 2014) and supervisor support for work–life balance (e.g., Hammer et al. 2011).
However, almost none of this intervention research has explicitly examined age-focused workplace interventions. Furthermore, whereas research (e.g., Hertel et al. 2013, Kooij et al. 2010) has
examined how older workers’ perceptions of human resources (HR) practices affect job attitudes
and behavior—a potential guide for intervention research—there has been almost no research on
which actual interventions or objective policies benefit workers of different ages.
Our goal in this article is to challenge our field to address the issue of age at work head-on by
developing research-based interventions that support older workers. We begin by defining what is
meant by the term older worker in this literature. We then provide the reader with an overview of
the core areas of age research that can be used to guide future aging research in the field of IO/OB.
These studies provide explanatory mechanisms that can help guide workplace practice and support the development of age-related interventions at work that benefit older workers. We next
examine the few published intervention studies that explicitly focus on age and the gap in the
current research on age-related workplace interventions and practices. We then use these theories
and research findings to propose a number of possible workplace interventions for future research.
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We conclude by identifying several research issues that are particularly relevant to the study of
aging at work. Our focus in this article is on improving older workers’ proximal outcomes, such as
work–life balance, job satisfaction, work engagement, burnout, and strain, as well as more distal
outcomes, such as safety behavior and accidents, performance, employee health and work ability
(a person’s ability to meet his or her work demands), retirement decisions and turnover, and life
satisfaction.
WHO IS AN OLDER WORKER?
The definition of an older worker has vexed the aging workforce literature for some time. The
concept varies considerably across contexts and cultures, with a number of factors determining
who is considered older. For example, there are different age stereotypes associated with different
jobs (e.g., Perry et al. 1996). There is also worldwide variability in terms of retirement ages and
legal protections. For example, in the United States, age-related legal protections begin at age 40.
Furthermore, the concept of an older worker seems to be evolving: People appear to be aging more
slowly (Vaupel 2010), and norms are changing such that working later in life is no longer unusual.
Additionally, the aging of the baby boomers, a large, influential age cohort, appears to have
changed the concept of who is considered an old worker. In the present article, we use the term
older worker to mean workers approaching retirement age and those who may be working a bit
beyond the standard retirement age: In the United States, that might include people in their late 50s
and 60s. Furthermore, it is important to note that much of the nonworkplace aging literature
includes people too young to work in most industrialized societies (e.g., early teens) through
geriatric samples of participants well beyond when most people retire (in their 80s). In contrast, in
this article we consider the types of changes that take place over the normal work life span (early
20s through 70s), acknowledging that many people continue to work successfully beyond this
point. Finally, we note that individuals age differently: This means that comparisons between
people in different age groups may be less useful than considerations of within-individual changes
and change trajectories on a number of physiological and psychological factors across a person’s
life span. Throughout this review, whenever possible, we note how age is operationalized.
AGE-RELATED CHANGES WITHIN THE PERSON
In this section, we describe age-related changes within the person that can affect the workplace.
A summary of these within-person changes is presented in Table 1.
Physical Changes
Aging is associated with declines in certain physiological and physical abilities. For example, agerelated losses and changes are related to several physical functions, including sensory (e.g., eyesight and hearing), muscular (e.g., strength and flexibility), aerobic capacity (e.g., VO2max), and
immune response (Maertens et al. 2012). Moreover, aging is related to a reduced ability to
maintain homeostasis, which translates to the body’s reduced ability to maintain normal operations across situations or return to normal function after an environmental change (McDonald
1988). A reduced ability to reach homeostasis increases susceptibility to extreme physical work
conditions (e.g., heat, cold, humidity), which could stress an individual’s resources and require
more time to recover from a stressful event (Hedge & Borman 2012a). For example, older workers
may have more difficulty physically adjusting to nonstandard shift work (e.g., night shifts) because
of their longer recovery time from sleep disturbances (Blok & de Looze 2011).
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Increased health issues and disabilities are positively related to age, with the likelihood of
disabilities increasing significantly for those beyond age 50 (Kampfe et al. 2008). The effects of
disabilities can range from minimal (e.g., aches, joint soreness) to incapacitating health problems
(Ilmarinen et al. 1997). Interestingly, meta-analytic evidence supports a significant positive relationship between age and clinical health issues (e.g., elevated blood pressure, cholesterol) but
finds no relationship between age and self-reported increased physical health problems (Ng &
Feldman 2013a). Although one would anticipate that declines in physical functions would relate to
work injuries, research has shown that older workers have a lower incidence of injuries (Ng &
Feldman 2008) but that their recovery from injury is generally slower (Sterns et al. 1985).
There are wide variations in how individuals age, and group averages may not describe how
physical changes impact individuals throughout their work lives. In fact, there is limited research
Table 1 Within-person age-related changes
Age-related
change Subcategory Example
Physical changes Sensory Reduced visual acuity and reduced hearing ability
Muscular Reduced strength, power, and balance
Cardiovascular/aerobic capacity Reduced VO2 capacity; higher blood pressure
Immune response Reduced production and effectiveness of white blood cells, resulting in
increased susceptibility to illness
Homeostasis Longer physiological recovery from stressors (e.g., heat, cold, humidity,
lack of sleep)
Cognitive changes Fluid intelligence Age-related reductions in processing speed, working memory, and
selective attention
Crystallized intelligence Age-related gains in knowledge, skills, and wisdom
Affective changes Emotional regulation Positive relationship between age and affective well-being (positivity
effect)
Emotion generation Less negative appraisal of stressful events and tendency to concentrate on
positive rather than negative environmental cues in older adults
Personality Big Five personality traits Increase in conscientiousness and agreeableness and decrease in
neuroticism over the life span
Big Five facets Larger increase in self-discipline (facet of conscientiousness) than in
orderliness; increase in social dominance (facet of extraversion) through
adulthood; moderate decrease in social vitality (facet of extraversion)
over the life span
Motivation Intrinsic motives Positive relationship between age and accomplishment, connection with
others, and autonomy
Extrinsic motives Negative relationship between age and extrinsic motives such as
compensation, benefits, and promotions
Growth motives Negative relationship between age and growth motives such as
achievement and mastery
Generativity Positive relationship between age and the social motive of helping people
or contributing to society
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relating these functional declines to actual work performance declines (Warr 2001), suggesting individual adaptation to the physical changes throughout the life span. Additionally, physical changes
may vary with genetics, life experiences, and the physical demands of particular jobs and professions.
Cognitive Changes
There is a robust literature investigating cognitive changes over the life span (see Rizzuto et al.
2012 for a recent review). For example, there is a negative relationship between age and a variety of
cognitive functions, such as processing speed, working memory, and selective attention (Craik &
Salthouse 2008), grouped under the category of fluid intelligence (Gf). For instance, in a longitudinal study over several cohorts, Schaie (1994) reported that perceptual speed starts to decline at
age 25 and significantly declines after age 60. However, crystallized intelligence (Gc or accumulated knowledge, skills, and wisdom) may peak at about age 60 (Salthouse 2012) and then only
gradually declines in late life; this may explain why there is a lack of a consistent negative relationship between age and job performance (Ng & Feldman 2008), even though cognitive ability
has a long-established positive relationship with job performance (Hunter & Hunter 1984). In
other words, the gradual losses in Gf may be offset by the gains in Gc. Although there are certain
jobs that require maximum performance in processes related to Gf that cannot be necessarily offset
by Gc, such as air traffic controllers (Salthouse 2012), other jobs that emphasize the use of accumulated skills and knowledge, such as higher-level supervisors and managers, would be a good
fit for older workers given their gains in Gc.
It is important to note that cognitive changes are the result of both environmental and genetic
factors and thus result in considerable between-person variation. Rizzuto and colleagues (2012)
identified several individual differences in cognitive aging, such that individuals with higher
educational attainment and good health status, and those involved in highly complex and
challenging jobs, seem to be more resilient. For those who may not have these individual characteristics or experiences, promising cognitive interventions have been investigated for older adults
and may be relevant to the workplace (e.g., Park et al. 2014, Zinke et al. 2014).
Changes in Personality
Although personality is generally thought to be stable in adulthood, mean-level changes are also
observed across the adult life span (Roberts et al. 2006). Roberts and colleagues’ (2006) metaanalytic evidence, as well as studies using very large samples (Soto & John 2012, Soto et al. 2011),
shows life-span increases in conscientiousness and agreeableness and decreases in neuroticism.
Additionally, there is evidence that some facets of the Big Five personality traits change more than
others. For example, within extraversion, social dominance increases through adulthood while
social vitality decreases (Roberts et al. 2006). However, there is debate in the personality literature
regarding the degree to which the changes in personality result from biological aging or from the
environment (Costa & McCrae 2006).
There is limited research relating personality changes to age-related attitudinal and behavioral
changes in the workplace (Ng & Feldman 2013b, Truxillo et al. 2012a). Wille and colleagues
(2014) tracked the Big Five personality traits and work attitudes in a sample of young professionals
entering the workforce for a 15-year period and found that as individuals increased in extraversion
and conscientiousness and deceased in neuroticism, they simultaneously increased in job satisfaction. They also found evidence that job satisfaction influenced changes in agreeableness,
suggesting a reciprocal influence between personality and work attitudes. These changes in
personality may be important given the possible relation between conscientiousness, health, and
disease processes (Bogg & Roberts 2013).
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Affective Changes
Whereas age-related declines are generally associated with some cognitive and physical functions,
emotional and affect regulation are functional areas in which age-related gains are observed
(Scheibe & Zacher 2013). There is an extensive developmental psychology literature showing
a positive relationship between age and affective well-being (Charles & Luong 2013), and some
have referred to this relationship as the positivity effect (Reed & Carstensen 2012). Theoretical
explanations for this phenomenon include gains in expertise through experience (Blanchard-Fields
2007), life-span motivational shifts toward emotional gratification (i.e., socioemotional selectivity
theory; Reed & Carstensen 2012), and the use of strategies to avoid or limit exposure to negative
events (i.e., strength and vulnerability integration theory; Charles 2010). Socioemotional selectivity theory (discussed below) suggests that individuals will prioritize goals that are emotionally
satisfying and meaningful when time is perceived as constrained and therefore experience more
positive emotions (Reed & Carstensen 2012).
Scheibe & Zacher (2013) proposed a model of emotion regulation, stress, and well-being in the
workplace that integrates the developmental life-span perspective with the transactional stress
model (Lazarus & Folkman 1984) and affective events theory (Weiss & Cropanzano 1996). They
posited that age influences the types and frequency of work events encountered, initial appraisal
and response to affective work events (emotion generation), and the management and coping of
affective work events (emotion regulation). On the one hand, the researchers argued that older
adults may be less affected by social stressors such as interpersonal conflict because they appraise
stressful events less negatively than younger people and have a tendency to concentrate on positive
rather than on negative environmental cues. On the other hand, older adults may be more
susceptible to extremely acute and chronic physical and psychological workplace stressors because
their physiological system takes longer to recover from stressful events.
Life-Span Development: Selection, Optimization, and Compensation Theory
Life-span development theories have emerged as the leading framework to investigate age-related
changes, and they have been frequently applied in workplace research. A basic premise of these
theories is that the within-person changes described above—physical, cognitive, and affective—
require successful adaptation on the part of the individual.
The first of these life-span development theories, selection, optimization, and compensation
(SOC) theory, is commonly used in the aging workforce literature to explain how individuals
reduce age-related losses while capitalizing on age-related gains (Baltes & Baltes 1990). The theory
proposes that three strategic actions—selection, optimization, and compensation—are used
throughout the life span to adapt and match current personal resources to environmental
demands. Selection occurs when people select and prioritize specific goals for maintaining rather
than dividing their resources across a variety of goals. Optimization is the process by which the
individual focuses his or her efforts and resources to achieve the goals. Finally, compensation
involves the process of searching for and implementing strategies to offset age-related declines to
maintain a certain level of performance.
The literature examining SOC in workplace contexts is increasing, and support for SOC in
workplace research is robust. Using SOC adaptive processes is positively related to work ability
(Weigl et al. 2013), job satisfaction (Schmitt et al. 2012), perceived career success and well-being
(Wiese et al. 2002), performance maintenance and goal attainment (Abraham & Hansson 1995),
supervisor-rated job performance (Bajor & Baltes 2003), and focus on future work opportunities
(Zacher & Frese 2011). SOC processes are also related to reduced job and family stressors and
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lower work-to-family and family-to-work conflict (Baltes & Heydens-Gahir 2003). Finally, recent
research has examined the buffering effect of SOC strategies when faced with poor family-friendly
policies and supervisor support (Young et al. 2007), low-complexity work (Zacher & Frese 2011),
and high problem-solving demands (Schmitt et al. 2012). In summary, the evidence supports the
use of SOC behaviors as a positive adaptive process that results in positive work attitudes, increased work ability, and increased well-being.
Life-Span Development: Socioemotional Selectivity Theory
Socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) is a another life-span aging theory gaining prominence in
the aging workplace literature (Carstensen et al. 1999). The main proposition of SST is that an
individual’s perception of time induces social goal selection and pursuit (Carstensen et al. 1999).
Knowledge acquisition and emotional regulation are the two identified types of social goals—
knowledge related and emotion related, respectively. When time is perceived as being more openended, as it is among younger people, knowledge-related goals are prioritized; in contrast,
emotion-related goals are prioritized when time is perceived as limited (with a perspective oriented
toward the present), as it is among older people.
Researchers have used SST to explain different goals and motivations for workplace social
interactions across the life span (de Lange et al. 2010). SST has also been used to explain the
positive relationship between age and most job attitudes. Specifically, SST posits that older
workers’ greater focus on emotion-related goals results in a focus on positive work experiences,
while at the same time positing that older workers would ignore or avoid negative aspects of the job
and work environment (Ng & Feldman 2010). SST is also used as an explanation of the differential
effects of work design characteristics (e.g., task and skill variety) on burnout and turnover for older
and younger workers (Zaniboni et al. 2013).
Motivational Changes
There is an active literature investigating the intersection of work motivation and age-related
physical, cognitive, and emotional changes across the life span. Kanfer & Ackerman’s (2004)
framework describes changes in work motivation over the life span. They identify four patterns of
adult development that affect work motivation: loss, growth, reorganization, and exchange. Loss
refers to age-related declines to individual resources, such as fluid intelligence. Growth describes
cumulative life-span gains related to resources and experiences such as crystallized intelligence.
Reorganization is related to life-span changes in the organization and the structure of characteristics not related to ability, including affect and emotion. Lastly, exchange describes changes in
the action tendencies or the shift in the salience of particular action motives through the life span,
such as changes in personality, self-concept, interests, and values.
Kanfer et al. (2013) provided an additional theoretical advancement in the age and work
motivation literature in their proposed framework for work-related goals and the motivational
mechanisms driving these goals in later adulthood. The framework follows a person-centered
and developmental approach to older worker goals, how they relate over time, and the antecedents that influence older worker goal achievement. The authors argued for differentiation
among three types of motivation: motivation to work, motivation at work, and motivation to
retire. Individual differences (e.g., self-efficacy, attitudes, personality), context (e.g., finances,
health), local work conditions (e.g., age climate, flexibility), and sociocultural/economic
conditions and norms (e.g., normative retirement age) are argued to differentially influence
the three types of motivation.
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Despite previous assumptions that all types of work motives decline with age, there is increasing evidence that this is not the case (e.g., Inceoglu et al. 2012, Kooij et al. 2011, Zacher et al.
2010). For example, in a meta-analytic investigation of age and motives, Kooij and colleagues
(2011) found a positive relationship between age and intrinsic motives (i.e., accomplishment,
connection with others, autonomy). The researchers also showed a positive relationship between
age and the social motive of helping people or contributing to society, and a positive relationship
for the specific job security motive. The positive relationship between age and helping people and
contributing to society aligns with the motivational shift observed over the life span regarding
generativity motives (see Kanfer & Ackerman 2004, Lang & Carstensen 2002). However, Kooij
and colleagues (2011) also showed a negative relationship between age and growth (i.e., achievement and mastery) and extrinsic motives (i.e., preferences for job characteristics and outcomes that
occur as a consequence of work, such as pay and advancement).Moreover, although Ng & Feldman
(2012) found little meta-analytic support for most negative stereotypes of older workers, they found
that age was associated with a decrease in interest (motivation) in training. In summary, the research
suggests changes in motivation across the life span, with increases in some types of motivation (e.g.,
intrinsic motivation, generativity) and decreases in others (e.g., extrinsic motivation, training
motivation).
Successful Aging: Individual Differences in Aging
Particularly relevant to a review focused on workplace aging is the literature on successful aging.
Research has found that some older adults do not experience substantial declines in their abilities
until a very old age, and there is considerable variability in trajectories of age-related change
(Hansson et al. 1997). In other words, some individuals appear to age more or less successfully
and in different ways than others. This is an important consideration in examining aging issues,
as individuals do not have the same aging trajectories but change at a different pace and in
different ways. Moreover, differences between individuals in aging appear to increase in later
years.
The successful aging literature investigates factors in those adults who seem to be maintaining
their abilities longer throughout their life spans (Hansson et al. 1997). Conceptualizations of
successful aging have ranged from biomedical perspective approaches, as in the absence of disease
or illness, to descriptions in terms of longevity, lack of disability, and life satisfaction (Bowling
2007). Additionally, successful aging has been approached from a life-span developmental and
psychosocial perspective, including concepts such as adaptation, control, social competence,
mastery, and cognitive efficiency (Baltes & Baltes 1990). More recently, the successful aging
concept has been integrated with how people experience, react to, and adapt to age-related changes
in aging at work (Robson & Hansson 2007, Hansson et al. 1997). In their review of the successful
aging literature, Hansson and colleagues (1997) suggested that one of the most important contributions to the literature on successful aging at work is the incorporation of a life-span developmental perspective into a work context (e.g., SOC theory, SST), which recognizes that
people’s developmental trajectories are influenced by age-related and non-age-related factors and
that positive adaptation is possible.
There has been some initial work focused on developing measures of successful workplace
aging based on Hansson et al.’s (1997) review and SOC theory (e.g., Robson & Hansson 2007,
Robson et al. 2006). However, additional examination of the antecedents of successful workplace
aging is needed to develop interventions focused on helping individuals utilize successful
workplace aging behaviors. For instance, one question is whether changes and adaptations need to
occur only at work, or more holistically, both inside and outside the workplace.
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THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF WORKPLACE AGING
The IO/OB literature has examined a number of issues regarding the social context faced by older
workers.We group this literature into the concepts of age stereotyping, age discrimination, and the
related areas of age climate and job-age stereotypes. We also examine issues related to age and
team diversity, leadership, and work–life balance.
Age Stereotyping, Age Discrimination, and Related Issues
In addition to within-person changes, older people can be affected by the social context of aging.
This includes issues such as age stereotypes of workers and whether these stereotypes lead to actual
discrimination behavior against them. It also includes issues of how older and younger workers
think they are perceived (meta-stereotyping) and the social context in terms of the age diversity
climate of the organization or team.
Age stereotyping. Cuddy & Fiske (2002) described the general perception of older people as
high on warmth but low on competence. In that sense, older people (including those much older
than those typically seen in the workforce) would be seen as kind, but not as especially agentic.
Examining older workers specifically in a series of studies, Rosen & Jerdee (1976a,b) found
that older workers have a number of negative stereotypes associated with them. In a recent
review of this research, Posthuma & Campion (2009) showed that older workers are stereotyped as having lower performance and lower ability to learn, being resistant to change,
being inclined to have a shorter tenure, and being more costly. However, other than being less
interested in training, meta-analytic evidence shows that most of the stereotypes of older
workers are not supported empirically (Ng & Feldman 2012). In fact, meta-analyses demonstrate that older workers generally have more positive job attitudes (Ng & Feldman 2010)
and higher levels of certain job performance dimensions, such as organizational citizenship
behavior (Ng & Feldman 2008). Moreover, there is also evidence that not all stereotypes of
older workers are negative, and stereotypes are changing with the aging of baby boomers and
their larger role in the workplace. For example, more recent replications of Rosen & Jerdee’s
(1976a,b) studies demonstrated that older and younger workers are rated similarly in terms of
suitability for hiring, training, and promotion (Weiss & Maurer 2004). Other studies in both
the United States and Italy have found that older workers are perceived as more conscientious
and less neurotic than their younger counterparts (Bertolino et al. 2013, Truxillo et al. 2012b).
Finally, a meta-analysis by Bal et al. (2011) demonstrated that although older workers have
more negative organizational decisions made about them (e.g., hiring) compared to younger
workers, there are positive stereotypes associated with older workers, such as increased
reliability.
Relevant information about the person being evaluated may help reduce the effects of
negative age stereotypes. In their meta-analysis, Finkelstein et al. (1995) found that the
judgments about older workers were more negative than those for their younger counterparts
(a) in the absence of additional job-relevant information about the workers and (b) when both
older and younger workers were rated. This is an important point, as it suggests that when
people have relevant information about each other (deep characteristics) rather than simple
surface characteristics (old or young), the effects of age stereotyping may decrease. This is
comparable to findings in the teams literature showing that the negative effects of demographic
differences within teams may dissipate over time as team members learn more about each other
(e.g., Harrison et al. 2002).
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Age discrimination. In addition to research on stereotypes, there are other studies demonstrating that the actual decisions made about older people at work may be different from those
made about their younger counterparts. In a meta-analysis, Bal and colleagues (2011) examined
the effects of age on a number of organizational decisions, finding that higher age was associated
with negative outcomes in terms of advancement, selection, and overall evaluation. One of the
challenges that continues in this line of research is to determine why age may be related to some of
these negative decisions, especially because older workers are not perceived as lower than their
younger counterparts on a number of positive personality traits and organizational citizenship
behaviors (e.g., Bertolino et al. 2013), show few differences in performance (Ng & Feldman
2008), and have more positive work attitudes (Ng & Feldman 2010). One possibility is that, in
addition to people’s (often positive) explicit stereotypes of older workers, less conscious, implicit
age stereotypes may also affect discriminatory decisions (Truxillo et al. in press).
Job-age stereotypes. The context can also have a significant effect on decisions about older and
younger people. Finkelstein et al. (1995) found in their meta-analysis that older candidates were
rated as less suitable for so-called younger types of jobs, although this was based on a sample of
only two studies. The opposite was not found, in that there were no differences in the suitability
ratings of older and younger people for older types of jobs. However, in a study about hiring for
either an older or younger stereotyped job, Perry et al. (1996) showed that older worker bias was
more likely to play out when there was a stereotyped younger job; at the same time, older age bias
played out more when participants were cognitively busy, that is, when participants lacked the
cognitive resources to compensate for their age biases. Conceptually, this is similar to the idea of
career timetables (Lawrence 1988) within organizations, for which norms about career progress
can affect workers’ evaluations.
Age meta-stereotypes. One area that has gained some traction in recent years is the concept of metastereotypes, or what a particular group believes that those in other groups think about them (e.g.,
what older workers think that younger colleagues think about them) (Vorauer & Kumhyr 2001).
Although this is a promising field of research, only one study has examined the issue of workplace
age meta-stereotypes (Finkelstein et al. 2013), and the effects of workplace age meta-stereotypes
on workplace outcomes such as attitudes, health, and well-being have not been examined.
Age climate. Over the past decade, there has been increasing interest in diversity climates at work.
Recent work has specifically focused on the age diversity climate, or shared perceptions about age
diversity policy, practices, and procedures (Böhm et al. 2014). Using a sample of 128 companies,
Kunze et al. (2011) found that increased age diversity was related to an increase in the age
discrimination climate, which in turn negatively affects organizational-level performance and
commitment. On the more positive side, however, Böhm et al. (2014) found that organizations
may have some levers by which they can affect the age diversity climate, namely, inclusive HR
practices. Specifically, in a sample of 93 German companies, they found that inclusive HR practices
led to a more positive age climate, which in turn was related to company performance and
collective turnover intentions. In other words, there may be some organizational interventions that
could be developed to improve the age diversity climate and its outcomes.
Team and Group Diversity
A good bit of research has examined the effects of demographic variables such as age in teams and
groups. One of the typical findings is that, although team diversity can have a number of positive
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outcomes, there is also some risk of negative outcomes. For instance, diversity in teams can
lead to negative outcomes such as decreased performance (e.g., Tsui et al. 2002). Age-related
relational demography research, which focuses on when a person is a different age than the rest
of his or her work group, does in fact demonstrate some negative consequences, such as
decreased integration into the group and increased turnover (O’Reilly et al. 1989). Similarly,
faultlines research focuses on subgroups that may develop within a team based on demographic and other differences (Thatcher & Patel 2012). Age is one of the most frequently
studied variables in the faultlines literature (Thatcher & Patel 2012), but the effects of age on
the development of faultlines are weaker than are the effects of variables such as sex and
ethnicity (Thatcher & Patel 2011). Furthermore, although demographic differences in teams
can be important, some researchers have found that the effects of demographic differences
(e.g., age) in teams may dissipate over time. Such demographic differences may be more salient
to group members when a team first is formed, and the effects of these differences may decline
as team members get to know one another; at that point, such surface traits will be less salient
and less important to team members relative to deep characteristics (e.g., personality, ability)
(Harrison et al. 1998, 2002). This is consistent with the finding within the aging literature that
intergenerational contact may lead to decreases in negative outcomes such as ageism (Iweins
et al. 2013). Furthermore, there may be moderators at play in the functioning of age-diverse
teams: Wegge and colleagues (2008) found that age diversity had a negative relationship with
performance on more routine tasks but a positive relationship when working on complex
decision-making tasks. The authors explained this in terms of the increased decision-making
capabilities of an age-diverse team.
Age and Leadership
A few studies have looked at the role that leader age might play in terms of making leaders
effective, at least from the viewpoint of subordinates. Zacher et al. (2011) found that leader
age affected leader effectiveness. But, more importantly, they found that leader generativity
(the leader’s desire to guide future generations) seemed to interact with leader age. Specifically, older leaders who were perceived as low in generativity were also perceived to be
ineffective, whereas older leaders who were perceived as high in generativity were perceived to
be just as effective as younger leaders. These results suggest that a leader’s behavior interacts
with leader age to affect leader effectiveness. Zacher & Bal (2012) examined the effects of
leader age on follower perceptions of leaders in the context of German college professors and
their research assistants. Interestingly, leader age was not related to the outcomes of subordinate perceptions, except for those subordinates who held negative age stereotypes. For
these subordinates, older leaders were rated as less proactive and as using a more passiveavoidant leadership style. In other words, leader age mattered, depending on the stereotypes
held by followers. Taken together, these studies suggest that negative effects of leader–follower age differences might be improved by helping older leaders increase their generativity
(even though this may be considered an individual difference that increases with age), maybe
even helping them develop generativity behaviors as they age. These studies also suggest that
improving followers’ negative perceptions of older people may improve the leader–member
relationship. Zacher et al. (in press) developed a model of how leadership may develop over
time, including variables such as leader age, follower age, and attributional processes,
providing a useful guide for future research. The interplay of age and leadership needs much
more study as to the degree to which age affects leadership, and under what conditions
(Truxillo & Burlacu in press).
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Work–Life Balance Across the Life Span
Changes over the past 30 years in the relationship between work and family domains include the
aging of the population, an increasing percentage of dual-income families, increasing numbers
of working single parents, and greater gender integration into organizations (Hammer &
Zimmerman 2011). With these demographic and labor market changes, there has been a corresponding trend toward greater organizational adoption of work–life integration policies. Wang &
Verma (2012) and Kossek et al. (2010) recently argued for integrating work–life support policies
into overall organizational strategic goals. Formal work–life policies and programs include unpaid
leave, flexible start and end times, reduced workload, permanent part-time positions, telecommuting, compressed work weeks, job sharing, phase back from work leave, dependent child
care and eldercare assistance programs, and access to resources and services such as employee
assistance programs (Batt & Valcour 2003, Neal & Hammer 2007). Similarly, Kossek et al. (2014)
described work–family interventions as those aimed at reducing work–family conflict, in turn
increasing the health and well-being of employees and the organizations in which they work.
Examples include flexible work arrangements, family-supportive supervisor behavior training,
work redesign to increase schedule control, and the provision of dependent care supports, both
eldercare and child care.
Very few studies have examined the effectiveness of work–family practices and policies using
more than basic correlational research designs (for a review, see Hammer et al. in press). Furthermore, to our knowledge, none has focused on the effects of these policies specifically on older
workers. This is despite the fact that national US surveys continue to point to work–family conflict
as being one of the top stressors impacting workers’ lives today (e.g., Am. Psychol. Assoc. 2014,
Matos & Galinsky 2014).
The only study we could identify that examined the differential effects of the availability of
workplace supports for workers with different work–family caregiving role combinations
(i.e., work and eldercare, work and child care, work and eldercare and child care) found that the
work–family culture moderated the relationship between workplace supports and job satisfaction
such that the relationship was strongest for employees with the eldercare/work role combination
who reported an unsupportive work–family culture (Sahibzada et al. 2005). For those employees
with eldercare demands compared to those in a work-only family, job satisfaction increased as the
availability of workplace supports increased in the absence of a supportive work–family culture.
The authors suggested that this finding could be attributed to the age of the employees with
eldercare demands, who tended to be older (an average age of 46) than the other groups of workers
studied. They suggested that these older employees were likely to have more job experience and
thus may have had more access to formal workplace supports than their younger coworkers.
Additionally, they may have been more likely to have chosen and stayed in companies that
provided more supports. In short, research on tailoring work–life balance interventions to older
workers has been scant, and more research is required to identify the differential needs of older and
younger workers to effectively support workers through the life span.
WORKPLACE AGE INTERVENTIONS: WHERE ARE WE NOW?
From this brief review of the workplace aging literature, it is clear that our knowledge of factors
that affect aging at work is growing. However, as noted in the Introduction, few IO/OB studies
specifically explore interventions for older workers. Some research has examined how to change
the physical and ergonomic design of the workplace to address older workers’ needs (although the
benefits to older workers specifically are often equivocal; e.g., May et al. 2004), but generally these
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studies have not strayed into the psychology of aging. Although there is research on interventions
for older people (often retirees and people beyond working age), there are few studies directly
assessing older workers as a specific population, comparing effects on older and younger workers,
or having their basis in psychological theory and research about aging.
We provide here two examples of published studies about health promotion interventions for
older workers. In the first, Hughes et al. (2011) conducted a randomized control trial to compare
two health promotion programs for 423 university employees over age 40. In addition to a control
group, which received only printed materials, there were two intervention conditions, a web-based
health risk assessment with personal coaching (COACH) and a web-based risk assessment with
training modules (RealAge). Outcomes assessed at 6 and 12 months included fruit and vegetable
consumption; weight, smoking, and other health indicators; exercise; and stress/psychosocial
variables. The COACH intervention showed improvements in fruit and vegetable consumption
and physical activity, whereas the RealAge intervention seemed to improve waist circumference.
Despite the strengths of this intervention from a design and measurement standpoint, the study was
atheoretical in terms of measuring psychological variables or applying psychological theories
related to aging so as to better understand the mechanisms involved in adopting or maintaining
participation in the program. In the second study, Strijk et al. (2013) compared an intervention
(weekly yoga, workouts, aerobic exercise, lifestyle coaching for goal setting, feedback, and
problem solving strategies) with a control group in a sample of 730 Dutch hospital workers over
age 45. They measured vitality, work engagement, productivity, and sick leave at baseline, 6
months, and 12 months. The results showed that the intervention had no effects, except for people
in the intervention group who actually complied with the yoga and workout regimes. Again,
although this study employed a strong design and measures, there was no underlying psychological
theory or processes that might be used to explain the results.
These two studies illustrate some key gaps in the current state of research on workplace age
interventions. First, this research gives little consideration to the psychological processes that
might explain why an intervention would benefit older workers. Second, given our understanding
of the influence of social context on behavior, psychology has a lot to offer in terms of implementing successful age-oriented workplace interventions. Perhaps most importantly, we found
very little workplace intervention research—be it in psychology, health, or medicine—that has
used age as a focal variable. Over 15 years ago, Griffiths (1999) pointed out the need for more job
design and management research using intervention research and explicitly considering age.
Although research on age at work has increased in the intervening years, research on workplace
interventions for older workers has not (e.g., Crawford et al. 2010,McDermott et al. 2010). But we
now know quite a bit about the psychology of aging and older people generally, and older workers
specifically. In this next section, we describe how theory and findings about the aging process and
work can be applied to workplace interventions.
POTENTIAL INTERVENTIONS TO SUPPORT OLDER WORKERS
In this section, we propose a number of interventions and practices, based on these empirical
findings and theories regarding age differences at work, that might be used to support older
workers and an age-diverse workforce. Table 2 includes a summary of these potential interventions and practices and their theoretical mechanisms. We note that in considering these
interventions, older workers should not be seen as a single group with the same age-related
trajectories; rather, individual differences among them should be considered as well. Furthermore,
such interventions need to account for the needs of coworkers and supervisors, as well as intraindividual change over time.
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Table 2 Proposed research agenda for age-related workplace interventions based on existing theories and research findings
Intervention category Examples Explanatory mechanism/relevant research
Selection, optimization,
and compensation (SOC)
training programs
Training for older workers on how to best select
skills and tasks that fit their abilities and interests
SOC theory (Baltes & Baltes 1990); changes in
fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence
(e.g., Schaie 1994); changes in personality (e.g.,
Roberts et al. 2006)
Work redesign Increased autonomy and skill variety; decreased
task variety; mentoring interventions
Age-related changes inmotivation (e.g., Kanfer &
Ackerman 2004, Kooij et al. 2011); positive
outcomes associated with perceived job
characteristics for older workers (e.g., Hertel
et al. 2013, Truxillo et al. 2012b, Zaniboni
et al. 2013); socioemotional selectivity theory
(SST) (Carstensen et al. 1999); SOC theory
(Baltes & Baltes 1990)
Increasing positive
relations between groups
Positive intergenerational exposure; team
interventions; improved age diversity climate
through training of supervisors and teams;
leadership training for supervisors to deal with
age differences; reduction of negative stereotypes
(explicit and implicit)
Intergenerational contact (Iweins et al. 2013);
team interventions (see Harrison et al. 2002);
reduced age faultlines (Thatcher & Patel
2011); age diversity climate (Böhm et al. 2014)
Age-supportive human
resources (HR) practices
Interventions to allow flexible HR practices for
different age groups; emphasis on different HR
bundles for different age groups
SOC theory and SST (Kooij et al. 2010, 2014)
Work–life supportive
policies
Flexible work arrangements; part-time work;
telecommuting; eldercare support
Social exchange; work–life balance and conflict
(Hammer et al. 2013, Hill et al. 2003, Madsen
2003)
Training practices for
older workers
Additional time; smaller groups; self-paced
learning; emphasis on learning goal orientation;
error management training (encouraging
participants to make mistakes in training)
Age-related cognitive and affective changes
affect training (Beier et al. 2012, Callahan et al.
2003, Wolfson et al. 2014)
Training for leaders/
supervisors to support
worker safety and health
Training for supervisors to provide improved
leadership and employee support; training for
older workers to support and mentor younger
colleagues regarding safety
Changes in work–life balance issues across the
life span (Hammer et al. 2011)
Ergonomic interventions Redesign of physical aspects of jobs; use of
technology to support older workers
Age-related changes in physical and cognitive
abilities (Sharit & Czaja 2012)
Health promotion Interventions to increase physical activity and
intellectual activity and improve nutrition
Support physical and mental needs of older
people (Crawford et al. 2010, Rothman 2006)
Helping workers
throughout the life span
Career management interventions SOC theory and SST (Kooij & Van De Voorde
2011; Zacher 2014a,b)
Total Worker HealthTM
approaches
Comprehensive interventions to reduce
occupational hazards and improve health,
safety, and well-being
Improve both the health and safety of workers
of all ages through multiple mechanisms
(Schill & Chosewood 2013)
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Selection, Optimization, and Compensation Training Programs
As noted above, SOC theory has been shown to be a robust theory that can be used to explain
behaviors of older and younger people and age differences in reactions to job characteristics and
various HR practices. We propose that workplace interventions based on SOC theory are ripe for
examination. Weigl, Müller, and colleagues (Müller et al. 2013a,b; Weigl et al. 2013) found that
SOC strategies for older workers can lead to positive outcomes, such as more positive health during
bridge employment and improved work ability. These authors also developed a scale to assess SOC
strategies, a potentially useful tool in older worker interventions.
We see a number of ways to approach such SOC interventions. First, there could be training for
older workers on how best to select and focus on the skills and tasks that fit their abilities and
interests. Second, training and preparing supervisors and other team members for these changes
would be required to increase the effectiveness of the SOC strategies. Finally, organizational reflection as to the limits regarding what tasks might be off-loaded by older workers, along with
guidance, support, and cooperation, would be an additional consideration to insure the effectiveness of the intervention. In any case, SOC interventions appear to hold particular promise as
ways to address the aging workforce (Zabel & Baltes in press).
Work Redesign Interventions
Closely related to SOC interventions, the research cited above on job design suggests a need for
intervention work. For example, research has shown more positive outcomes for older workers
when they perceive increased autonomy (Hertel et al. 2013) and skill variety (Zaniboni et al. 2013)
and decreased task variety (Zaniboni et al. 2014) compared to their younger counterparts.
Workplace interventions should work to support older workers in crafting their jobs to fit their
needs, again with cooperation from supervisors and coworkers. Moreover, interventions should
take into account changes in motivation across the life span (Kooij et al. 2011), such as moves
among some older workers away from extrinsic factors, such as pay and advancement, toward
intrinsic factors. This might include addressing generativity needs (Kanfer & Ackerman 2004)
through interventions focused on mentoring, an approach that would benefit younger workers as
well as organizations wishing to preserve organizational memory after the eventual retirement of
older workers.
Increasing Positive Relations Between Groups
One often cited issue is the potential for differences between demographic groups to translate into
tensions between people of different ages (relational demography) or to actual faultlines. Furthermore, age differences within organizations have the potential to lead to more negative outcomes (e.g., Kunze et al. 2011). However, there is also evidence that positive exposure to team
members who are demographically different may decrease negative effects over time (e.g., Harrison
et al. 2002) and that perceived intergenerational contact may improve perceptions of others of
different ages (Iweins et al. 2013). This might also help relieve any differences found between
generations (e.g., Lyons & Kuron 2013). In this light, interventions that increase the positive
exposure to others of different ages, either through the composition of teams (in a systematic way
so as not to exacerbate differences) or through more focused interventions and structured discussions to reduce stereotypes (both explicit and implicit), would seem a fruitful avenue for
organizational research. The result may not be the removal of all tensions among team members—
such tensions seem inevitable in interactions among people—but rather that simple age differences
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would not be the cause of these; such differences might instead be the result of deep differences
(Harrison et al. 2002), such as personality.
These sorts of age interventions could also be seen over time as supporting a positive organizational age climate, and the climate should be considered as a focus of intervention in itself. As
with other types of climates (e.g., safety climate; Zohar & Luria 2005), support for persons of all
ages would need to be communicated from the top down and exhibited by supervisors and team
members. Such a climate would also be supported by interventions focused on the HR system. An
intervention to improve the age diversity climate might include training supervisors and teams on
differences between team members of different ages and the strengths that each can bring. This
might also include training leaders and followers on age differences and how best to navigate age
differences between supervisors and subordinates (see Zacher & Bal 2012).
Age-Supportive Human Resources Practices
Several studies have shown that older and younger workers react differently to different types of
perceived HR practices (Kooij et al. 2010, 2014). For example, consistent with life-span development theories such as SOC theory and SST, younger workers seem to have better outcomes
when there are perceived to be more training opportunities, and older workers seem to have better
outcomes with maintenance-focused practices, such as schedule flexibility.
The compelling work by Kooij and colleagues (2011, 2014) on differential effects of perceived
HR practices on older and younger workers, as well as its strong theoretical support, suggests the
potential for a number of ways that organizations can work to support their employees across
the life span. Kooij and colleagues (2014) identified four distinct bundles of HR practices—development, maintenance, utilization, and accommodative—based on life-span theory and research
that could aid the aging worker. Development practices such as formal training would focus on
helping increase aging workers’ levels of functioning. Maintenance practices, including flexible
work schedules, would aim to sustain current levels of functioning. Utilization practices, such as
lateral job movement, would focus on facilitating a worker’s return to previous levels of functioning. Finally, accommodative practices, such as part-time work, would aim to have the aging
worker function at an adequate, but lower level of functioning. Future research is needed to
examine the effectiveness of bundling these four different types of HR interventions in the context
of an aging worker facing life-span changes.
Truxillo et al.’s (2014) review of the aging literature within the context of standard organization HR functions suggests a number of ways to make HR systems more sensitive to age (e.g.,
how to make training more attractive for older employees). However, as also noted by these
researchers, age differences have been examined only in terms of employee perceptions of HR, and
the effects of different actual HR practices on older and younger people have not been examined.
This is an important point given that actual HR practices and the way that employees perceive
them may be quite different (Khilji & Wang 2006).
Work–Life Supportive Policies and Programs
Flexible work arrangements, reduced load/part-time work, telecommuting, and eldercare supports are among the most important HR/work–life policies that support older workers. Flexibility
to go to medical appointments, care for an aging spouse or partner, or help take care of
grandchildren would be beneficial to older workers and may increase their valued contribution to
the organization through positive social exchange processes and reductions in work–nonwork
conflicts. Such flexible polices may even help with recruitment and retention of all workers,
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including older workers, as recent meta-analytic findings indicate that the availability of flextime
and/or work–life balance initiatives is a significant predictor of applicant attraction (Uggerslev
et al. 2012). Thus, schedule flexibility may be as important for older workers as it is for younger
workers with child care responsibilities. However, to our knowledge, the effects of such interventions on older workers specifically, or as compared to their younger counterparts, have not
been examined.
Such a work–life intervention could be modeled off of Hammer et al.’s (2011) familysupportive supervisor behavior (FSSB) intervention. Hammer et al. (2011) used a randomized
field study to assess the effects of a training program aimed at increasing FSSBs. They first
conducted a workplace industry assessment to identify barriers to work–family conflict reduction
and determined that supervisors needed more clarity on how to behave in a family-supportive
manner. They then validated a measure of family-supportive behaviors (Hammer et al. 2009) and
developed the FSSB training intervention to reflect the behavioral dimensions identified in the
validation study. Ultimately, after training supervisors on FSSBs, Hammer et al. (2011) found that
workers described higher job satisfaction, lower turnover intentions, and more positive reports of
health. However, none of this existing training has attended to or captured the age diversity of the
workplace and thus may be more or less effective for older workers compared to younger workers.
This is clearly an area in need of future research.
Telecommuting allows workers greater autonomy in decision making regarding where and
when to work, increasing their ability to perform family-related tasks, which may be especially
important for older workers. Work by Hill and colleagues (1996, 2003) and by others (Madsen
2003) has demonstrated positive outcomes associated with employee use of telework policies,
including increased productivity, a positive influence on personal/family life success, and reduced
work–family conflict. Future research is needed to fully examine the effectiveness of telecommuting interventions as an accommodation strategy in the context of an aging workforce.
Reduced workload/part-time options make up another category of flexible work arrangements
and can include phase back from temporary leave, phase out toward retirement, permanent parttime positions, and job sharing. These types of work–life policies typically involve a voluntary
reduction of hours in an attempt to more successfully balance work and nonwork responsibilities
(Hammer et al. 2013). These arrangements might be beneficial to retain workers with a reduced
work ability, albeit at a lower level of functioning (Kooij et al. 2014).
Finally, eldercare supports are another potential resource provided by an organization to
aid an aging workforce. Interventions can be designed to facilitate the eldercare responsibilities
employees have outside of the work domain and may include information, referral services, and
subsidies for eldercare respite services and leave usage. Currently, there is little research on the
specific benefits of such work–life support policies and programs, reduced load/part-time work,
telecommuting, and eldercare support for older workers compared to younger workers, but this is
clearly an area of needed research. There may be benefits and policies that are more useful to older
workers than to their younger counterparts. For example, as people age, the impact of sleep
disturbance is exacerbated; therefore, older workers may benefit more from flexible work and shift
hour options (Hansson et al. 1997). Moreover, research on factors such as child care, spouse/
partner care, and eldercare responsibilities and their potential differential effect on work and wellbeing outcomes is limited, and it may be that the stress and strain associated with caregiving for
parents, spouses/partners, or children may be qualitatively different. Therefore, a separate line of
research is needed to better understand how to support older workers who have caregiving responsibilities. We suggest here that paying attention to the possible differential work–life support
needs of workers will lead to higher levels of both individual worker and organizational
effectiveness.
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Facilitating Training for Older Workers
Given the workforce aging trends, age diversity is an important workforce characteristic to account for when establishing an effective human capital management strategy, requiring thoughtful
organizational talent development policies, practices, and initiatives embedded in an age-inclusive
organizational context (Noe et al. 2014). Compounding the difficulty of creating successful
training and development interventions for older workers, research shows that age is negatively
related to training performance (Ng & Feldman 2008) and to training interest (Ng & Feldman
2012). However, this does not mean that older workers do not benefit from training (Beier et al.
2012); in fact, older workers can be quite successful if the training is designed to accommodate
their needs (Callahan et al. 2003, Van Rooij 2012). A consideration of the target audience (person
variables), training context, and transfer environment will be extremely important to develop an
age-inclusive training. For example, age-related cognitive, physical, and emotional changes can
impact training development (Wolfson et al. 2014). In addition, age-related motivational changes
may require framing the training as an intrinsic benefit (Beier et al. 2012). Tying the content to be
learned to a similar domain as that of the individual’s prior knowledge or experiences should also
benefit older workers (Beier & Ackerman 2005). Finally, it is vital to consider the influence of the
social context on employee development behavior, such as negative stereotypes about older
workers and differences in access to developmental opportunities (Maurer 2007, Maurer &
Rafuse 2001). These situational factors have been argued to impact an individual’s career development self-efficacy (Maurer 2001), which can reduce seeking out training and development
opportunities. Finally, the acceptance of lifelong learning as a part of working in the twenty-first
century is necessary among workers of all ages.
The increased use of technology-based instruction (TBI) as a development strategy (Kraiger &
Ford 2006) is another issue to consider in an aging workforce context. Wolfson and colleagues
(2014) examined research intersecting age-related socioemotional and cognitive changes and TBI
and proposed several recommendations to enhance older adult learning and transfer outcomes.
They suggested that TBI for older workers should be highly structured, give feedback and adaptive
guidance, and incorporate a user-friendly and consistent interface. Similarly, Van Rooij (2012)
reviewed the age-inclusive instructional design literature and found evidence of positive effects for
older training participants when there are smaller groups, the training is self-paced, a learning goal
orientation is emphasized, error management training is provided, and training participants are
encouraged to make mistakes. Other research in the IO/OB literature has echoed Van Rooij’s
conclusions (e.g., Callahan et al. 2003, Carter & Beier 2010).
In summary, although multiple disciplines, including industrial gerontology, instructional
design, and IO/OB, have examined the issue of aging and training and development and have
proposed several recommendations, there is still limited systematic investigation considering the
individual, training-related, and training transfer environments in conjunction. Furthermore,
a difficult paradox exists when considering age-specific training interventions in the workplace,
which is how to avoid exacerbating the issue of older worker stereotypes while also building
interventions focused on accommodating or exploiting age-related changes. One solution could be
to include older workers in the development of training because it would result in training that
accounts for older workers’ needs and would capitalize on older workers’ generativity motives.
Supporting Worker Safety and Health
At least three critical meta-analyses in the past 5 years have demonstrated the link between the
safety climate (organizational level and group level, as well as individual perceptions of the
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climate) and safety outcomes (Beus et al. 2010, Christian et al. 2009, Clarke 2006). It has further
been argued that the safety climate is determined by supervisory practices, communications, and
behaviors (e.g., Zohar & Luria 2005). Therefore, the development of an intervention that targets
supervisory behaviors to support people of specific ages would show promise. Additionally, given
the positive relationship between age and safety outcomes (Ng & Feldman 2008), another
possibility is the involvement of older workers in supporting the safety of younger workers. This
could involve training or mentoring of younger workers by their older counterparts.
Ergonomic Interventions
Ergonomic and human factor interventions focus on appropriately designing and fitting job tasks,
tools, and the environment to individual needs with the focus of supporting the health and productivity of workers (Choi 2009). These types of work design interventions are relevant given the
age-related changes to cognitive, sensory, and motor capabilities experienced by workers over
their lifetimes. For example, to account for age-related changes, researchers have made recommendations to increase worksite illumination, control for glare, use larger fonts, and reduce
background noise (Charness et al. 2007). Interventions that consider reach capability and reduction of lifting and carrying tasks might also be helpful (Sharit & Czaja 2012). Owing to agerelated reductions in the ability to maintain homeostasis, which result in longer physiological
recovery from stressful events, a consideration of how to limit nonstandard shifts that cause sleep
disturbance could be especially beneficial to older workers (Blok & de Looze 2011). Additionally,
insuring that the ambient work environment (i.e., high and low temperature, humidity) remains
relatively comfortable would also reduce physiological stress on older workers (Hedge & Borman
2012a). However, actual research on the effectiveness of these interventions to support older
workers is limited.
Given these observations, it may appear that an attractive alternative for older workers would
be desk jobs that require less physical effort. However, there are also risks with sedentary work for
older workers (Sharit & Czaja 2012), the greatest being that prolonged sitting can result in spinal
issues such as back pain and reduced mobility (Chaffin et al. 1999). Therefore, seating designs that
provide lumbar support, a backrest, armrests, adjustable seat height, cushioned surfaces, and
sufficient leg space should reduce back stress (Sharit & Czaja 2012). We also point to recent
changes in desk design, such as walking desks and adjustable sitting/standing desks. Additionally,
given the adoption of technology in the workplace, design features related to technological systems
should also be considered (Charness et al. 2007). Charness and colleagues (2007) reviewed
considerations and recommendations related to aging and workplace technology, including design
principles, but additional empirical work about the effects of these types of workplace interventions is still needed.
Health Promotion
Given that successful aging often depends on lifestyle factors such as exercise and healthy eating
(Hansson et al. 1997), health promotion interventions clearly hold promise for older workers. In
a recent review of the health and safety promotion needs of older workers, Crawford and colleagues (2010) noted, however, that there is limited research on health promotion interventions
targeting older workers. Based on their review of 180 publications, the authors concluded that
age-related physical and psychological changes could be moderated by lifestyle factors, such as
increased physical activity, intellectual activity, and nutrition. Moreover, research in the developmental psychology literature on age differences in initiating change (perhaps easier for
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younger workers) and maintaining it (perhaps easier for older workers) suggests that the psychology literature could contribute to the development of successful interventions for older
workers versus their younger counterparts (Rothman 2006).
Supporting Workers Throughout the Life Span
Research examining successful aging strategies and behaviors (discussed above) may be an area
ripe for identifying interventions that would facilitate adaptation to life-span changes. Relatedly,
interventions focused on building resilience resources could also be beneficial to the aging worker.
For example, Burton et al. (2010) observed a positive effect on resilience in a 13-week training
program.
Additionally, helping workers adapt to life-span changes is important given the dynamic nature
of today’s workplace. In fact, career adaptability is found to be positively related to career satisfaction
and self-rated career performance (Zacher 2014a), and research has found that future temporal focus
(Zacher 2014b) and subjective health (Kooij & Van De Voorde 2011) are positively related to career
adaptability. Furthermore, in a 7-month follow-up of a randomized controlled field trial intervention
on improving career management preparedness, Vuori et al. (2012) found that those in the intervention group had decreased depressive symptoms and retirement intentions and increased mental resources compared to the control group. Therefore, investigations of career adaptability may
identify potential mechanisms that could be the focus of interventions.
Total Worker HealthTM Approaches
Total Worker HealthTM (TWHTM) approaches, recently trademarked and advocated by the
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), are comprehensive interventions
that integrate both organizational and individual approaches to reducing occupational hazards
and improving the health, safety, and well-being of workers. For example, interventions that
integrate system-wide changes, such as improving schedule control and supervisor support for
family and personal life, have been shown to be effective and are characteristic of what the NIOSH
designates as TWHTM interventions (Schill & Chosewood 2013). Recently, a summit was held
that specifically focused on recommendations for reducing barriers to the implementation of
health protection and health promotion for older workers (Loeppke et al. 2013). Many of their
recommendations from this summit are consistent with those reviewed and suggested in this
article, such as the need to better understand the aging workforce and to have a multigenerational
perspective in the workplace. To date, however, we are unaware of any TWHTM interventions that
have been specifically developed to support older workers or that examine age differences (Anger
et al. in press). However, Crawford et al. (2010) suggested that a combination of health promotion/
individual-level behavioral changes and physical workplace equipment changes or adjustments
would lead to the most effective workplace interventions for aging workers. This clearly represents
a TWHTM approach to aging worker interventions.
CRITICAL RESEARCH NEEDS
In this article, we emphasize the theory and research that is available to IO/OB researchers for
understanding the implications of age differences at work. Furthermore, above we describe some
possible age-related workplace interventions that might flow from this literature. In this section,
we point out some vexatious research issues specific to studying the aging workforce. These are
summarized in Table 3.
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Research Design and Methodological Issues
Much of the work to date in the area of the aging workforce considers only correlational studies. But to identify causal mechanisms, future research should use experimental and quasiexperimental designs with intervention and control groups that are evaluated at the individual,
group, or organizational level. In addition, although longitudinal studies are useful in many types
of IO/OB research, they are crucial to understanding many aging workforce phenomena, including within-person changes over long periods of time. Such research will provide insights into
interventions for workers in early and midcareer (discussed below) and may help to disentangle the
thorny issue of maturational effects versus generational differences.
In addition, much of the IO/OB research on older workers is lacking in some of the measures
that may be of greatest interest when examining a vigorous aging workforce, particularly measures of objective health. The use of such measures might require working beyond disciplinary
lines. Indeed, because the aging workforce is a multifaceted issue, it may involve collaboration
with colleagues not only from psychology and business, but also from sociology, economics,
demography, medicine, and ergonomics.
Scalable, Wise Interventions
In addition to large-scale interventions, we need to consider interventions that can be easily
adopted at a low cost to enable their dissemination even to small employers. Walton (2014)
Table 3 Critical research needs for studying the aging workforce
Research need Example
Research design Identify causal mechanisms; use multilevel (individual, group, organizational) designs;
use experimental and quasi-experimental designs; use longitudinal designs with very
long time horizons to assess within-person change; examine measures that are atypical
for industrial-organizational and organizational behavior research but that are critical
to the issue of age (e.g., objective health measures); work across disciplines
Scalable, wise interventions Consider small, psychologically rich interventions to facilitate dissemination
Global research Compare workforce aging issues across countries and cultures to guide interventions for
different cultures
Support for workers of all ages Study interventions for workers of all ages (young, middle-aged, and older); frame
interventions as addressing age issues in different ways (e.g., preventing later losses
versus addressing existing deficits)
Age differences in adoption versus
maintenance
Conduct research on age differences in accepting versus maintaining change; consider
the age appropriateness of interventions not only in terms of benefit to people of
different ages, but also in terms of likelihood of adoption
Holistic, integrated interventions Consider the whole person in and out of work to address aging workers’ issues; borrow
from research on nonwork interventions (e.g., on maintaining cognitive skills) for their
value in the workplace
Better understanding of chronological
age as a construct
Understand which of the many factors associated with chronological age affect attitudes,
behavior, well-being, and health
Technology Adapt technology to fit worker needs rather than adapting only the worker to the
technology
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described the concept of “wise” interventions, which are brief and precise and hone in on the
underlying psychological process involved in change. Walton provided a number of real-world
examples of wise interventions—simple but with significant psychological impact—across
a number of arenas, from dealing with marital conflict to improving educational attainment. We
believe that using a wise intervention approach to address aging issues at work should aid in the
adoption and dissemination of interventions across employers. For example, interventions to
guide supervisors on how to support a strong age diversity climate might use smartphones and
similar devices rather than lengthy classroom-based sessions.
Global Issues
The aging workforce is a global issue, creating challenges for many industrialized workforces.
However, most of the research in this arena has been from a limited number of European countries
and the United States. But there is reason to believe that differences across countries and cultures
can affect aging issues. For example, Bleidorn and colleagues (2013) found that age-related
personality maturation (e.g., increases in conscientiousness) begins earlier in countries where
people start work responsibilities earlier in life. In the workplace arena, Inceoglu et al. (2009)
found in a comparison of work motivation in five European countries that a country’s retirement
age affected the relative change in work motivation. Additionally, Barnes-Farrell et al. (2002)
found that subjective age perceptions (or perceptions about one’s own age) were differentially
related to stress outcomes in samples from different nations. However, such cross-country
comparisons are relatively rare in older worker research. As another example, we can imagine
that some of the changes predicted by SOC theory could depend on the broader context of the
culture and country. Given the global nature of this problem, we encourage researchers to undertake more cross-cultural and cross-national comparisons that can also aid in developing
interventions.
Only Older Workers or Workers of All Ages?
One way to address the needs of older workers is to consider the needs of workers of all ages. As the
research shows, a positive age diversity climate, which supports people across the life span,
benefits all workers (Böhm et al. 2014). Moreover, today’s younger workers are tomorrow’s
middle-aged and older workers, and thus interventions to support people throughout their work
life span are critical.
Related to this issue of age interventions across the work life span, we propose a framework for
considering potential workplace interventions for older workers. Specifically, we propose that the
health promotion/prevention model might be a useful lens by which one could approach interventions addressing the aging workforce. This model has three tiers/categories of types of interventions—primary, secondary, and tertiary—which are differentiated by the target population
and intention of the intervention (i.e., prevention versus accommodation). Primary interventions
have a broad population focus and are aimed at preventing the onset of specific diseases via risk
reduction by altering behaviors or exposures that can lead to disease, or by enhancing resistance to
the effects of exposure to a disease agent. For example, in the aging worker context, primary
interventions would be those that would help all workers, but would especially aid workers
proactively so that when they reach the end of their career, they have the resources to be healthy
and effective. Examples might include interventions focused on creating an age-supportive work
climate, building awareness and use of successful workplace aging techniques, reducing exposure
to hazardous chemicals, and offering health promotion programs.
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Secondary interventions identify and address changes to control disease progression. Applied
to an aging context, this would include interventions for those in mid- to late career aimed at
reducing stressors associated with reduced age-related function, such as short-term memory
interventions, ergonomic interventions, and flexible work schedules. Interventions could also
exploit gains associated with age, such as increased generativity (e.g., mentoring programs).
Tertiary interventions are applied when the condition is not reversible, and the focus is on
rehabilitation and assisting the individual to accommodate to the disability. Applied to the aging
workforce, tertiary interventions would specifically target older workers with reduced work
ability with the goal of retaining them in the workforce. For example, providing access to hearing
aids and glasses might aid an individual with vision and hearing losses. Thus, tertiary interventions
seek to decrease the effects of disease on a person’s function, longevity, and quality of life. In
summary, applying a health promotion/prevention approach to catalog age-focused prevention,
control, and accommodation workplace interventions may identify best practices as well as research gaps that could trigger future development and research.
Age Differences in Accepting and Maintaining Change
Some work in developmental psychology suggests that there may be differences between older and
younger people in initiating change and maintaining it. For example, there is evidence that, although younger people may initiate change more easily, older workers can sustain it more effectively (Rothman 2006). This line of research is important to consider in developing programs
for workers of different ages, and it certainly should be integrated into interventions that involve
change and maintenance of behaviors. Furthermore, it suggests that interventions should be
considered from two angles: those that are likely to be adopted by older and younger people and
those that, if adopted, are more likely to benefit older and younger people.
Integrated, Holistic Interventions
One weakness of some IO/OB research is a tendency to focus strictly on workplace issues, not
taking into consideration the larger social context in which people live and that can substantially
affect their health and ability to work (see Loeppke et al. 2013). Thus, integrated approaches that
support older people in arenas both inside and outside of work should be adopted, taking a more
person-centered approach to workers (Weiss & Rupp 2011). Furthermore, research findings
about interventions outside of work proven to support people’s health and cognitive skills (e.g.,
Park et al. 2014, Zinke et al. 2014) should be drawn upon by organizational researchers to address
the health and well-being of older employees.
Better Understanding of the Chronological Age Construct
Chronological age is a convenient marker for a plethora of other variables—cognitive, physical,
affective, and motivational—that could affect individuals’ attitudes, behavior, and well-being, as
well as what they need in terms of workplace interventions. Now that age is beginning to be viewed
as more than just a control variable in the IO/OB literature and a topic worthy of examination in its
own right, a next step is to better understand what chronological age is and how it affects employee
attitudes and behavior. For instance, Wang and colleagues (in press) showed that age is related to
feedback orientation and that this is the mechanism though which age moderates the effects of
feedback on feedback reactions. In addition, although age may relate to work ability (Ilmarinen
et al. 1997), so does health (e.g., McGonagle et al. in press)—a variable highly associated with age.
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Thus, future research should go beyond measuring simple chronological age and instead treat it as
a function of multiple facets of the aging process that impact an individual’s ability to continue to
work, including physical, cognitive, affective, and motivational components. Such an approach
would allow the field to move beyond trying to define an older worker in terms of a specific
chronological age and instead look at the factors associated with age that might also affect the
workplace (e.g., subjective perceptions of age and aging) (Barak 1987). This could allow for the
development of interventions that fit different types of older workers.
Technology as Friend, Not Foe
Much discussion has been geared toward older workers’ ability to cope with changing technology.
Besides the fact that this assumption may be outdated as more older workers become technologically savvy, we recommend a rather different mindset: Let technology serve the individual and
support the aging worker. In short, we challenge organizations to consider not only how to help
older workers adapt to technology, but also how to develop technology that is easily adopted by
and actively addresses the needs of older workers.
CONCLUSION
The aging of the workforce is an issue that is already impacting industrialized societies, and it is
expected to grow in the coming decades. Although robust research based on age at work has begun
to take root in the IO/OB literature, there has been virtually no research on actual interventions
and best practices to support the aging workforce. Above we provide an overview of the research
that can guide future studies on age-related interventions. We also cautiously identify some potential workplace interventions that could support older employees and that might be evaluated in
future research. As a field, we need to accept the challenge of identifying what employers and
societies can do to help deal with this growing issue—and move beyond age as a statistical control
variable.
DISCLOSURE STATEMENT
The authors are not aware of any affiliations, memberships, funding, or financial holdings that
might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this review.
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Annual Review of
Organizational
Psychology and
Organizational Behavior
Volume 2, 2015 Contents
Organizational Psychology Then and Now: Some Observations
Edgar H. Schein ……………………………………… 1
Group Affect
Sigal G. Barsade and Andrew P. Knight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
The Modeling and Assessment of Work Performance
John P. Campbell and Brenton M. Wiernik . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Justice, Fairness, and Employee Reactions
Jason A. Colquitt and Kate P. Zipay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
Methodological and Substantive Issues in Conducting Multinational and
Cross-Cultural Research
Paul E. Spector, Cong Liu, and Juan I. Sanchez . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101
Leadership Development: An Outcome-Oriented Review Based on Time and
Levels of Analyses
David V. Day and Lisa Dragoni . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
Beyond Lewin: Toward a Temporal Approximation of Organization
Development and Change
Jean M. Bartunek and Richard W. Woodman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
Beyond the Big Five: New Directions for Personality Research and Practice in
Organizations
Leaetta M. Hough, Frederick L. Oswald, and Jisoo Ock . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
Corporate Social Responsibility: Psychological, Person-Centric, and
Progressing
Deborah E. Rupp and Drew B. Mallory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211
Time in Individual-Level Organizational Studies: What Is It, How Is It Used,
and Why Isn’t It Exploited More Often?
Abbie J. Shipp and Michael S. Cole . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237
vi
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Dynamics of Well-Being
Sabine Sonnentag . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 261
Low-Fidelity Simulations
Jeff A. Weekley, Ben Hawkes, Nigel Guenole, and Robert E. Ployhart . . . 295
Emotional Labor at a Crossroads: Where Do We Go from Here?
Alicia A. Grandey and Allison S. Gabriel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 323
Supporting the Aging Workforce: A Review and Recommendations for
Workplace Intervention Research
Donald M. Truxillo, David M. Cadiz, and Leslie B. Hammer . . . . . . . . . 351
ESM 2.0: State of the Art and Future Potential of Experience Sampling
Methods in Organizational Research
Daniel J. Beal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 383
Ethical Leadership
Deanne N. Den Hartog . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 409
Differential Validity and Differential Prediction of Cognitive Ability Tests:
Understanding Test Bias in the Employment Context
Christopher M. Berry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 435
Organizational Routines as Patterns of Action: Implications for Organizational
Behavior
Brian T. Pentland and Thorvald Hærem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 465
Pay, Intrinsic Motivation, Extrinsic Motivation, Performance, and Creativity
in the Workplace: Revisiting Long-Held Beliefs
Barry Gerhart and Meiyu Fang . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 489
Stereotype Threat in Organizations: Implications for Equity and Performance
Gregory M. Walton, Mary C. Murphy, and Ann Marie Ryan . . . . . . . . . . 523
Technology and Assessment in Selection
Nancy T. Tippins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 551
Workplace Stress Management Interventions and Health Promotion
Lois E. Tetrick and Carolyn J. Winslow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 583
Errata
An online log of corrections to Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and
Organizational Behavior articles may be found at http://www.annualreviews.org/
errata/orgpsych.
Contents vii
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