Aging in the Work Context

What’s it about?

Demographic change, which is characterized by falling birth rates and lengthened life spans, has enormous implications for the work environment. This is why studying the interplay between work conditions and adult development is of such importance for economical and political decision-making. Companies will have to meet the challenge of retaining employees well past traditional retirement age while at the same time maintaining their productivity.


What was investigated?

The following questions were central for our research:

  • How is aging related to work outcomes such as work motivation and performance?
  • What working conditions can help maintain and increase productivity of an aging workforce?
  • Can specific experiences or characteristics of the work environment impact adult development?

What are the main findings?

Images of aging in the work context
Older employees, who have the impression that older staff is positively perceived in their company, are more motivated, dedicated and productive. Younger employees also seem to be more attracted to a work environment characterized by more positive images of aging. A special instrument that was developed to assess the ‘age climate’ within a company could also be employed by companies seeking to adapt to the needs of an aging workforce.

Opportunities for adult development
Older employees who perceive that there is a positive image of older workers in their workplace are just as oriented striving towards new gains as their younger colleagues.

Working conditions facilitate self-regulatory processes
The motivational system plays an important role for performance in the workplace. Older adults become increasingly inclined to avoid learning situations when they fear that they fall back behind their previous skill level or fail to fully update their skills. This is why it is of great interest to examine which factors of the work environment influence the adoption of different types of achievement goals for employees of different ages.

Key publications:

Bowen, C. E., & Staudinger, U. M. (2013). Relationship between age and promotion orientation depends on perceived older worker stereotypes. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68(1), 59-63. view PDF

Bowen, C. E., Noack, C. M. G., & Staudinger, U. M. (2010). Aging in the work context. In K.W Schaie & S. Willis (Eds.), Handbook of the Psychology of Aging (7th ed., pp. 263-278). San Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press.

Read more:
“Older need not mean less productive” by Radha Basu in The Straits Times.
“The Hidden Opportunities of an Aging Population” in Pictures of the Future.