Employee Motivation Changes With Age

Topic(s): motivation
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior
Article: Age and work-related motives: Results of a meta-analysis
Authors: D.T. Kooij, A.H. De Lange, P.G. Jansen, R. Kanfer, J.S. Dikkers
Reviewed by: Neil Morelli

You’ve most likely read the following headline, “The US workforce is aging.” Whether organizations like it or not, this change is coming. With it comes the possibility of skilled labor shortages and “brain drain.” To prevent this, companies have often turned to offering financial or other economic incentives to persuade employees to stay on. Does this work? What job qualities motivate a maturing employee?


The current research on motives suggests that as we age, our priorities change in regards to our need to develop ourselves professionally (growth), be emotionally connected to others (social), and maintain our personal resources (security). Our focus on intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards can also fluctuate. Researchers (Kooij et al., 2011) recently analyzed the cumulative findings from 86 studies that explored the relationship between age and the motivation umbrella of needs, values, and motives. In general, older employees were found to be less motivated by growth opportunities (e.g., training and learning; depended on job type), work-related security, and extrinsic motivators.

A closer look at the individual work-related motives showed that older employees are more motivated by jobs that allow for accomplishment, interesting work, autonomy, helping others, and job security (intrinsic security). They also revealed that older employees are less motivated by jobs that focus on development/challenge, advancement/promotion, working with people, recognition, and compensation/benefits.


Organizations will most likely face the threat of losing valuable employees to retirement in the near future. Before adopting a “one-size-fits-all” approach to motivation, like offering more money or a new title, practitioners and HR professionals should consider the differences in age-specific motivators. This meta-analysis of research conducted over the past 40 years shows us that when employees mature, their internal needs and motives do as well.


Kooij, D. M., de Lange, A. H., Jansen, P. W., Kanfer, R., & Dikkers, J. E. (2011). Age and work-related motives: Results of a meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(2), 197-225.