Abstract: Productive Aging in the Workplace: Understanding Factors that Promote or Impede Optimal Engagement in Work Roles (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

13134 Productive Aging in the Workplace: Understanding Factors that Promote or Impede Optimal Engagement in Work Roles

Thursday, January 14, 2010: 3:30 PM
Bayview B (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Christina J. Matz-Costa, MSW , Boston College, Research Associate, Center on Aging & Work; Doctoral Candidate, Chestnut Hill, MA
Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, PhD , Boston College, Director, Center on Aging & Work; Associate Professor, Chestnut Hill, MA
Background and Purpose: Although there are multiple paths that older adults may choose to take to remain actively engaged in productive roles as they age, the recent economic recession, among other factors, has increased the urgency of the need to focus attention on the role of paid work as a path toward productive aging. Vestiges of 20th century employment structures and biased attitudes, however, can make it difficult for older workers to secure employment that meets their needs and priorities. Such workers may find themselves trapped in an undesirable job or at risk for being laid off involuntarily, both of which have been linked to negative health outcomes.

Given these issues, it is critical that social work researchers and practitioners gain a better understanding of the various factors that may be contributing to and/or detracting from workers' ability to optimally engage in work roles for as long as they need or desire. This presentation will share findings exploring the effects of a variety of individual and job characteristics, job demands, and job resources on the work engagement of employees across the age spectrum.

Methods: Data from the 2007/2008 Age & Generations Study conducted by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College was used to examine our research questions. This survey data includes 2,200 working adults age 18 to 80 from 9 organizations across the country. Given the nested nature of the data (employees within companies), hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used. Employee engagement was measured using the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES-9).

Results: Counter to several common stereotypes suggesting that workers begin to “come in for a landing” or to disengage from work roles as they get older, we found that as age increased, engagement also increased in this sample. We also found that access to flexible work options was an important predictor of engagement for Gen Y'ers in our sample (those born after 1980). For Younger Gen X'ers (b. 1972 and 1980), having access to training and development opportunities was important, while Older Gen X'ers (b. 1965 and 1971) responded positively to having supervisory roles. Younger Boomers (b. 1955 and 1964) were found to be more engaged when they felt more included in their work teams and Older Boomers/Traditionalists (b. before 1955) were found to be more engaged when they had supportive supervisors.

Conclusions and Implications: The results indicate that one size does not fit all when it comes to the impact of various work-related factors on engagement and that, when it comes to older workers, a lack of inclusion in one's work team or supportiveness from one's supervisor may actually be serving as barriers to optimal engagement. Social workers working in organizations can use these findings to advocate for programs and policies that will enhance the employment experiences of older workers. For example, a training program that coaches supervisors on how to better support supervisees at all stages of their careers could help to promote the optimal engagement of older adults in work roles.