Age Cohorts in the Workplace:
Understanding and Building Strength through Differences
The age composition of the workforce in many industrialized countries is changing. In 2001 at the Stockholm Summit, the European Commission set a goal of obtaining a 50 percent employment rate for workers age 55-64 by 2010 (von Nordheim, 2004). Simultaneously, the number of people in the EU aged 20-29 is expected to decrease by 20% over the next two decades, which will result in relatively fewer workers in this age range. In the United States it is estimated that the number of workers over age 55 will grow at nearly four times the rate of the overall labor force by 2012 (Alley & Crimmins, 2007). By 2015, workers over age 55 will occupy approximately 20% of the workforce (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2001).
These shifts in age composition are likely to heighten the salience of age differences in the workplace. Given this increased salience, it is important to obtain a greater understanding, both theoretically and practically, of the role of age in the workplace. The academic literature has begun to address the issue of age in the workplace in various respects, although it may be criticized as still lacking the coherence necessary to advance this field of research.
Because the aging workforce is a pertinent and timely issue for so many countries, particularly the EU and the United States, many researchers across the globe are working in parallel but not necessarily coordinating their efforts. Thus, one of the major goals of this small group meeting is to understand the research programs taking place in various countries, and from this to develop a broader research agenda. This research agenda will revolve around the following themes:
- STEREOTYPES. What is the nature of age stereotyping in the workplace? How do individuals of different ages perceive colleagues who are in their same age group, or older/younger? How are midcareer workers perceived? How do workers in each age group perceive themselves relative to workers in different age groups? Although the literature indicates that there may be stereotypes or biases against older workers (e.g., Finkelstein & Farrell, 2007; Posthuma & Campion, 2009), are there also biases against younger workers? If so, what is the nature of this bias? And what can be done to overcome age stereotyping at work?
- MOTIVATION. Does age play a role in work motivation and work engagement (e.g., Kanfer & Ackerman, 2004)? Are younger versus older workers motivated by different aspects of their work environment? Are different tactics necessary for increasing motivation and engagement among younger versus older workers? What factors attract older and younger workers to jobs? What can be done to best retain older workers?
- GENERATIONAL CONFLICT. What is the role of generational differences in the work environment? Do generational differences cause tensions among people of different generations who work together? If so, what can be done to help alleviate those tensions and promote successful collaboration among people of different age groups?
- ORGANIZATIONAL AGE CLIMATE AND HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGEMENT. How can we measure the impact of age and age differences within organizations? Do organizations have an ‘age culture’ or an ‘age climate’ that can be assessed to obtain a better understanding of the role that age plays in specific environments? Do age climates favor older or younger workers? How do age climates affect the performance, attitudes, and well-being of workers in each age group? What predicts an organization’s age climate, and is there a way to define a healthy or positive age climate? Which are the best human resources policies for the management of age differences in organizations? Which organizational solutions could be applied for the management of the late career?
- CAREERS PATTERNS OF OLDER WORKERS. What are the career patterns of older workers? What factors (economic, motivational) drive these patterns of employment? How can these best be leveraged to the advantage of both workers and organizations?
Alley, D. & Crimmins, E. (2007). The demography of aging and work. In K.S. Shultz & G.A. Adams (Eds.), Aging and Work in the 21st Century (pp. 7-23). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Finkelstein, L. M., & Farrell, S. K. (2007). An expanded view of age bias in the workplace. In K. S. Schultz & G. A. Adams (Eds), Aging and Work in the 21st Century (pp. 73-108). Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Kanfer, R., & Ackerman, P. L. (2004). Aging, adult development, and work motivation. Academy of Management Review, 29, 440-458.
Posthuma, R. A., & Campion, M. A. (2009). Age stereotypes in the workplace: Common stereotypes, moderators, and future research directions. Journal of Management, 35, 158-188.
U.S. General of accouting office (2001). Older workers, Demographic Trends, Pose Challenges for Employers and Workers. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0285.pdf
von Nordheim, F. (2004). Responding well to the challenge of an ageing and shrinking workforce. European Union policies in support of Member State efforts to Retain, Reinforce & Re-integrate Older Workers in employment. Social Policy and Society, 3, 145-153.