How Age Affects Employee Engagement

Topic(s): diversity, job attitudes, motivation
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (2011)
Article: Predicting employee engagement in an age-diverse workforce.
Authors: J.B. James, S. McKechnie, J. Swanberg
Reviewed by: Charleen Maher

A large portion of today’s working population consists of the baby boomer population. Although these individuals are becoming eligible for retirement, many remain employed for various reasons. As a result, research has picked up on the importance of examining job attitudes of older workers.


The present article examined differences in employee engagement among five age groups: emerging adults (age 24 and younger), settling-in adults (25-39), prime-working years (40-54), approaching retirement (55-65), and retirement eligible (66 and older). Overall, the retirement eligible group reported the highest average engagement while the emerging adults reported the lowest average engagement.

The authors also examined job quality factors as predictors of engagement among each of the age groups. Supervisor support and recognition, schedule satisfaction (having flexibility and autonomy in one’s work schedule), and job clarity were significant predictors of employee engagement for all age groups. Specifically, supervisor support and recognition had the largest effect on employee engagement for the two older groups, approaching retirement and retirement-eligible.

Career development and promotional opportunity were also significant predictors of engagement, for all age groups except the retirement-eligible folks. This job quality factor was most important for engagement among the two youngest groups of employees, the emerging and the settling-in adults.


So as the workforce continues to age, this research sheds light on the variations in employee attitudes among different age groups. For younger workers, career development and promotion opportunities may be more important to engagement, while older workers are more concerned with receiving support and recognition from supervisors. Understanding what motivates employees at different stages of life can help managers determine where to focus job quality resources such as training and development opportunities.


James, J. B., McKechnie, S., & Swanberg, J. (2011). Predicting employee engagement in an age-diverse retail workforce. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(2), 173-196.