Aging Workforce: Employees Who Are Healthy and in Control Stay Working

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Individual and Work Factors Related to Perceived Work Ability and Labor Force Outcomes
Reviewed by: Lia Engelsted


In our currently aging workforce, one in five workers are now age 55 or older. Given this changing demographic, it is important to identify the factors that lead to early departure from the workforce. One of the critical factors is perceived work ability, or the balance between personal resources and work characteristics. In order to prevent premature departure of the workforce, this study (McGonagle, Fisher, Barnes-Farrell, & Grosch, 2015) identified what leads to perceived work ability, and what happens when employees experience it.



The authors explain that perceived work ability is when employees think that they have the ability to continue their jobs. One way to understand this is through the Job Demands-Resources model. According to this model, individuals must balance job demands with job resources. Job demands can include anything that requires physical or mental effort, such as time pressure. Job resources are factors that promote work engagement, such as autonomy or supportive supervisors. Individuals may also employ personal resources, such as personality characteristics or health, to combat the demands of work.

After weighing all of these pros and cons associated with the job, people decide if situations or events are threatening or harmless. If the situations or events are consistently threatening or straining, then the individual will be more likely to discontinue his or her job.



Workers considering retirement weigh “push” and “pull” factors. Push factors are the “negative aspects of the work environment that may push one out of the workforce (e.g. a stressful work environment, low levels of supervisor support)”. Pull factors are the positive aspects of the work environment that pull one towards remaining at work. Based on the individual’s perceived work ability, which is determined by job demands and resources, individuals will be pushed out of or pulled into work.



Using three different samples of data, the authors found evidence that workers’ personal resources, specifically self-reported health and sense of control, were the strongest precursors to perceived work ability in a range of occupations. In manufacturing organizations, the personal resources of health status and sense of control as well as the job demands of environmental conditions, physical demands, and working in difficult body positions were significant predictors of perceived work ability. After controlling for other variables, the researchers found that perceived work ability contributed to absenteeism, retirement, and disability leave. Interestingly, the authors did not find a relationship between age and work ability, whereas many other researchers have found that older workers report lower work ability.



The study found evidence that perceived work ability is an important psychological mechanism that can determine whether a worker will remain in or withdraw from the workforce. An individual’s personal resources, specifically health and sense of control, contribute to perceived work ability, which in turn can explain why some employees have increased absenteeism, increased disability leave, or choose to retire earlier. Therefore, organizations should promote healthy practices and try to boost personal psychological resources in order to keep aging workers in their jobs. This can include increasing employees’ sense of self-control, lowering job demands, and ensuring safe environmental conditions.

Caregivers in the Workplace: How to Improve Their Well-Being


Currently, one in five American families includes an individual with caregiving duties, and caregivers in the workplace are becoming much more common. Given the advent of the sandwich generation, or those people who care for both children and aging parents, this number is expected to rise. Even more, the increase of women in the workforce is leading to more working caregivers than ever before, because women tend to be the primary caregiver to both children and elderly parents.


Work can offer respite from caretaking and offer social and emotional support. However, caregiving can impact job performance due to increased absences, interruptions at work, and even unpaid leave. With the increased burden of working and caring for another, do working caretakers experience decreases in their psychological well-being? In this study, the authors (Li, Shaffer, & Bagger, 2015) found that working caregivers experience negative mental outcomes, and they also explain what to do about this growing problem.


Conservation of Resources

According to the conservation of resource theory, individuals balance the demands of work and caregiving by keeping a supply of resources, such as personal characteristics (self-esteem, confidence) or environmental conditions (social support, health). If these valued resources diminish, individuals may be vulnerable to decreases in well-being, as well as be unable to adjust to stressful situations. Those individuals with high resource demands, particularly caring for an individual with a severe disability, are especially susceptible to the loss of resources. This can eventually result in inability to cope with stress.


Family and Supervisor Support on Work and Life Outcomes

The authors found that working caregivers with supportive families had less conflict between family and work. In addition, when supervisors were perceived to accommodate their caregiving employees, it resulted in positive mental outcomes for the employee. Working caregivers who had a high level of conflict between work and life but perceived that their manager supported them, experienced decreased depression and higher life satisfaction. Therefore, other people do make a difference in improving the psychological well being of working caregivers.


Family Support

How can families with a disabled, elderly, or care needing individual support the demands of the caregiver in their family?


  1. Openly discuss the caregiving responsibilities and ways to reduce the demands.
  2. Negotiate the care arrangements with family members.
  3. Work with a family counselor to adjust to the caregiving role and to increase family support.


Supervisor Support

What can managers do to support caregivers under their supervision?


  1. Be open to offering accommodations (such as flextime) to employees that care for another individual.
  2. Listen to caregiving employees in order to identify fair and reasonable accommodations.
  3. Work with the organization’s policies to implement appropriate accommodations customized to the caregiver’s needs.
  4. Share the experience of managing caregiving employees with other managers and leaders in the organization.


The authors also recommend that organizations offer training to supervisors so that they are better able to support caregivers.


With the growing number of employees providing care to individuals with disabilities or elderly parents, it is necessary for employers to understand how to manage employees that are caretakers. This will prove helpful to the well-being of the caregivers, as well as the success of the organization.

What Type of Happy Employees Can Benefit Organizations?

Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior
Article: Putting Your Best “Face” Forward: The Role of Emotion-based Well-being in Organizational Research
Reviewed by: Winnie Jiang


We tend to think that organizations with happy employees are more likely to be successful. Happier employees tend to have better performance and are less likely to leave their companies. However, when asked what happy employees are like or what it means to be a happy employee, chances are people would not give consistent answers. Are happy employees those who receive higher salaries or those who enjoy higher job and life satisfaction? If both types of employees are considered happy, which type is actually beneficial to organizations?


A recent review by Wright (2014) uses existing research to provide insight on the definition of happiness and on which type of happy employee benefits organizations. The article reviews four dimensions of happiness and suggests that the emotion-based dimension plays the most important role in predicting favorable organizational variables such as job performance and employee retention.


The author adopted the happiness model from Cropanzano and Wright (2014), which says that there are at least four dimensions of happiness. The first one is objective life conditions. This dimension suggests that happiness is based on objective facts regarding quality of life, including wealth, health, clean and safe living environment, and so on.

The second is called eudaimonic well-being. This dimension originates from Aristotle’s view of happiness and it suggests that happiness comes from whether a person sees meaning and a sense of purpose in life.

The third dimension is life satisfaction. Happiness of this dimension is based on a person’s overall satisfaction about life or satisfaction about a specific domain such as a job or relationship.



According to the author, despite the increasing interest in employees’ happiness, there has been limited research examining the effects of the first three dimensions of happiness on organizational outcomes. Therefore, the question of whether there are direct relationships between the first three categories of happiness and organizational outcomes such as performance and retention rates is still unclear.

However, the fourth dimension – emotion-based happiness – has been found by many studies to positively affect favorable individual and organizational outcomes. At the individual level, these outcomes include being more outgoing, having higher self-esteem, higher motivation, better job performance, less likely to be depressed or pessimistic, less likely to turnover, and less likely to suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. At the organizational level, these outcomes include higher performance and retention rate.



So what type of happy employees benefit organizations? This article answers that employees who are emotionally happy or those with more positive than negative feelings are the ones who can benefit organizations. Because, as the author suggests, results from existing research have shown that emotionally happy employees have a direct positive effect on organizations, it is organizations’ best bet to focus on enhancing employees’ positive feelings and emotions and trying to lower their negative feelings and emotions. Possible ways to foster employees’ positive feelings and emotions at work include promoting smiling and praising, having regular happy hours, and encouraging managers to care about each employee on a personal level.

How a Sense of Calling Can Affect Career Decisions


What helps determine whether people pursue their sense of “calling”? The advice I always got was, “Work hard, get a respectable job in a stable industry and then pursue your passion on the side.” This shaped my extrinsic motivation, or the type of motivation that comes from outside a person, when pursuing a career. Others take to heart advice from notable public figures like the late Steve Jobs who said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” This kind of advice fosters intrinsic motivation, or the type that comes from within a person, when pursuing a career. The pursuit of a career that meets at the intersection of these two approaches would be ideal, but often economic realities deter many. Recently, two researchers sought to understand what influences career decisions when these approaches clash.



Career theory posits that intrinsic and extrinsic values are both important in understanding career choice and development. Extrinsic values are more objective and measurable, and relate to wanting higher pay, prestige, and job security. For this paper, researchers were interested in intrinsic characteristics, which are more subjective and can be summed up as a calling, meaning, “a consuming, meaningful passion people experience toward a domain.” This is an interesting concept because it is linked to positive work outcomes such as work engagement, job satisfaction and clarity of professional identity. However, little is known about how people pursue careers when these aspects are misaligned within an individual.



This study was longitudinal in nature, meaning it was done over a lengthy time period, and examined people with varying degrees of a sense of calling (strong vs. weak) within the music domain. The study also noted the extent to which an individual’s perceived ability (what they thought of their own ability) and actual ability (measured as recognition from others) affected their pursuit of their calling in music.

The results suggest that a sense of calling early in life (intrinsic motivation) is a particularly important factor in helping resolve career decisions later on, and in determining the trajectory of one’s career pursuits. A strong and early calling made it more likely that a person would get a degree in that area and be professionally involved. They also showed that participants with stronger early callings were likely to perceive their ability more favorably, which made them more likely to pursue music professionally. The implication is that actual ability was not as strong a determinant in pursuing a passion as one would expect.



Apart from the numerous applications for individuals, from an organizational perspective, it may be worthwhile for managers to investigate how to harness the passion of those who may feel a strong sense of calling, yet have chosen to pursue more extrinsic values. For example, some companies allow employees to start small side projects, whether social or technical, and are reaping the benefits of this approach. This could have an impact on positive organizational outcomes, such as improving work engagement and job satisfaction.

The Secret Recipe for Good Workplace Conflict

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Can Conflict Be Energizing? A Study of Task Conflict, Positive Emotions, and Job Satisfaction
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


The term “Workplace Conflict” sounds ominous. It conjures up images of yelling, screaming, finger pointing and, in rare cases, hunkering down under makeshift table forts and lobbing used Styrofoam cups at rival camps.

But can workplace conflict occasionally be good? New research by Todorova, Bear, and Weingart (2014) has found that, under the right circumstances, frequent workplace conflict can lead to an exchange of valuable information and, eventually, to higher job satisfaction.



Employees who express differing opinions about how work should be done are engaging in “task conflict.”

There are two different ways they can do this. When intense conflict occurs, employees “clash and argue,” and typically spend more time defending their own opinions than listening to the other side. Naturally, this doesn’t often lead to any good outcomes.

But employees can also engage in mild conflict, which is characterized by “debating and expressing.” In this scenario, employees are still arguing, but they are also listening to the other side in an honest attempt to solve the problem. This type of conflict can lead to more positive results.



The current study found that frequent mild task conflict provides employees with new information that will ultimately help them succeed at their jobs. For example, after debating about the best way to file records, a secretary may learn a more efficient way of doing his or her job.

And what happens when people get better at their jobs? The researchers found that they are more likely to feel active, energized, interested and excited. These positive emotions about work lead to higher overall job satisfaction.



The positive effects of frequent mild task conflict are stronger in two different circumstances.

The first is when conflict occurs in an active learning environment, which is when employees experiment, reflect and use feedback in an attempt to discuss results and improve work processes. This learning environment communicates to employees that conflict is meant to be constructive, helping them learn to improve at their jobs. Accordingly, employees respond well and feel good about learning new information.

Secondly, when mild task conflict occurs between people who work in different functions, more novel information is shared and employees respond better. The study found that, when task conflict occurs between people who work in the same job, there is simply not as much new information to be gained.



This article helps leaders understand how to use workplace conflict to the benefit of both their employees and the workplace. Here’s a simple guide to having more productive workplace conflict:

  • Conflict should be task-related and about how to do work, and not interpersonal.
  • Conflict should be kept to mild expressions of debate, and not intense arguing.
  • Conflict works best in a learning environment, which is when employees are actively engaged in discussing and improving work processes.
  • Conflict provides best results when it is between people who have very different organizational functions.

Tell Me Again: How Retelling Stories in the Workplace Builds Culture

Publication: Academy of Management Review
Article: Retelling stories in organizations: Understanding the functions of narrative repetition
Reviewed by: Anjali Banerjee

The little stories that tend to get passed around an office on a daily basis can have a profound impact on life in the workplace. “Did you hear about Susie? She was fired just for fixing the boss’ coffee wrong. Right on the spot, just like that!”

A new study on Retelling Stories in Organizations by Stephanie L. Dailey and Larry Browning seeks to understand the functions this sort of narrative repetition can have. Ultimately, the authors found storytelling in the workplace builds the foundation for a unique organizational culture.



Workplace stories, such as the example above, function as a form of folklore within the company. As they spread through each retelling, these tales provide insight into the complexity of an organization.

The individual, the context, and the audience each inform the process of retelling the story, though the essence of the narrative always remains basically the same. Used as a way to process social information, storytelling reflects a more dynamic and fluid perception of the organization.

These stories ultimately have the potential to influence employees’ perception of reality, and have moral and behavioral implications as well.



The researchers identified several forms and functions of these stories:

  1. To control behavior: These forms of stories serve as lessons, and indoctrination to the behaviors that are either encouraged or discouraged by the moral. Themes of punishment or reward are common.
  2. Oppositional stories: These stories provide an outlet for expressing frustration with the company. Researchers suggested that even these types of stories can be used strategically, if key leaders in the organization are aware of them.
  3. Differentiation/integration: This type of story serves to answer the question, “Who are we as a group?” These stories establish the unique identity of the company, and make a distinction between the organization and its competitors. These tales shape impressions of the organization, and the employees’ place within it.
  4. Preparation for the future and change: These stories can be used to provide stability and a road map during times of difficulty or change by setting examples for solving problems.



By focusing on the process and implication of retelling stories in the workplace, researchers found that sharing stories generally establishes a sense of unity among employees. The key take-away of these findings is that it’s important for organizational leaders to be good listeners. Keep an ear out for the kinds of stories that pass through the halls of your organization, and be very selective about which ones you pass on.

Ultimately, these stories not only establish organizational culture, but inform employees’ perception of the company as well as their own behavior within its structure.

Mindfulness in the Workplace

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (March 2013)
Article: Benefits of mindfulness at work: The role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

One of the newest concepts that people are talking about (at least here in Colorado) is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state in which you pay attention to the present without making judgments, negative or positive, about the feelings or thoughts you have. You’ve probably heard of it, and maybe you’re a little bit skeptical. Very few studies are out there that investigate mindfulness in the workplace, but a team of researchers in the Netherlands, led by Ute Hülsheger, recently set out to determine the benefits of mindfulness at work.

Hülsheger and her colleagues studied workers in service industries, because these fields tend to demand that employees fake their emotions at work; in I/O psychology, we call this surface acting. For example, an employee might be really angry with a rude customer, but in a customer service role she must surface act, hiding her true feelings and pretending to be happy.

Through two studies, the researchers found that people vary both in how mindful they are at any given time (state mindfulness), as well as how mindful they are overall (trait mindfulness). The level of mindfulness also predicted job satisfaction and emotional exhaustion, with higher levels of mindfulness resulting in greater job satisfaction and less emotional exhaustion. In addition, mindfulness training reduced the need to fake positive emotions, causing job satisfaction to increase and emotional exhaustion to decrease.

These results imply that mindfulness training can be beneficial in your organization, especially in service industries. People can be taught to be mindful, improving job satisfaction and reducing emotional exhaustion.

Survey Nonresponse and Job Satisfaction

Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (March 2013)
Article: Nonresponse in employee attitude surveys: A group-level analysis
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

Using surveys to assess the job satisfaction of employees is widely understood to be a vital part of successful management and employee retention. However, not all employees respond to these surveys. Gauging the job satisfaction of employees who don’t respond to a survey is at least as important as gauging the satisfaction of those who do respond. But how can survey nonresponse be accurately assessed? A recent study conducted by Fauth and his colleagues aimed to answer this question.

In this study, job satisfaction scores were combined by work group. The researchers then correlated that to the responses of four different groups. Group-level job satisfaction was significantly connected to response rates for the groups. In other words, more satisfied workers were more likely to respond to employee satisfaction surveys. Those in smaller groups were also more likely to respond.

In plain language, this means that when you interpret the results from your employee opinion surveys, you should consider the response rates. Lower response rates may indicate unsatisfied employees. Also, be wary of comparing the job satisfaction results for two different groups, if the groups have different response rates. Try to increase the response rates by stressing that positive changes can result from employees taking the survey and emphasizing that you value the results whether they are positive or negative.

The Connection Between Self-Esteem and Job Satisfaction

Previous research (e.g., Chang, Ferris, Johnson, Rosen, & Tan, 2012) has shown that core self-evaluation – an umbrella term that includes self-esteem, self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability – predicts job satisfaction. Simply put, if an employee thinks highly of herself, she tends to be satisfied with her job. Furthermore, these investigators found that if an employee feels good about herself and has success at work, she is even more satisfied with her job.

In contrast, if an employee feels bad about herself and has failures at work, she thinks even less of her job. This is important for employers to be aware of as failures at work could have much more negative impact on those employees with lower self-esteem or confidence. In addition, how the manager responds to the failure may further exacerbate the issue (“How could you do such a thing?!”), or start to turn things around (“Learning is an important part of development, so let’s see what we learned and what we need to do to get this right next time”). The right type of intervention may be a means of improving job satisfaction, and ultimately job performance.

Data were collected from two samples: 137 matched pairs of employees and their immediate supervisors as well as 227 participants recruited via StudyResponse, a nonprofit service that matches researchers to participants.

Fake Smile at Work? How you do it may determine your job satisfaction

Publication: Personnel Psychology (2013)
Article: A meta-analytic structural model of dispositional affectivity and emotional labor
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

Have you ever given a fake smile to someone at work even though you weren’t feeling happy or very excited to see him? If so, you’ve engaged in a process known as emotional labor in which you manage your emotions in order to act in an appropriate way in a work setting. Maybe you wouldn’t go to such efforts when around friends and family, instead feeling free to express the emotions you actually feel. In a work setting though, it may not be best to show your irritation about missing lunch to your brand new client.

Previous research has divided emotional labor into two categories: surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires even though it may not be the emotion that you are feeling. For example, you may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting a client even though you feel neither happy nor cheerful. Deep acting also refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires, but instead of merely faking it, you try to generate the required emotions by thinking of historical events or associations. For example, you may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting a client, and even though you’re feeling tired and grumpy, you generate happiness and cheer by thinking of positive associations or of things that make you happy.

Through a literature review of over 116 samples, the results of this investigation indicate that the type of emotional strategy utilized – surface or deep – affects job performance. Specifically, those who use a surface-emotional-labor strategy are less satisfied with their job and more stressed and exhausted, while those who use a deep-emotional-labor strategy are more satisfied, less stressed, and perform their job better. In explaining this finding, the authors believe that surface emotional strategies have worse affects on job performance because they require more effort in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance between an emotion felt and an emotion expressed. Though this result is important for the job performance of anyone with a client-facing role, it is particularly important for those in the service industry in which customer satisfaction is key.