The Key to Motivation and Retention in Age Diverse Workplaces

older man sitting with business team

The growing age diversity in the workforce can have motivational benefits for both younger and older employees because it enables them to meet their professional goals through the transfer of knowledge. It is important to understand which aspects of knowledge transfer motivate employees, because it could impact intention to either turnover or remain on the job.

Knowledge transfer is a communicative process in which two or more people engage. One person receives and utilizes information that was shared by another person. The process of knowledge transfer has two aspects: (1) actor knowledge receiving means receiving knowledge from a co-worker and (2) partner knowledge receiving means having co-workers receive one’s knowledge.


The authors of this study (Burmeister, Wang, & Hirschi, 2020) argue that for younger workers, the act of receiving knowledge from an older worker positively affects their intention to remain at the organization. Similarly, for older workers, providing knowledge to younger workers creates the same positive impact on their intention to remain at the organization. The authors suggest that these effects occur because a transfer of knowledge fulfils the workers’ basic workplace needs.

The authors derived their findings via an online questionnaire given to a sample of employees and their respective age-diverse partners. Results of the study provide support for most of the authors’ arguments regarding the positive relationships between knowledge transfer, need fulfilment, and intention to remain at work.

There are two theories of motivation that can explain why people find knowledge transfer to be fulfilling or motivating, which subsequently positively impacts their intention to remain at their current organization. The first is known as self-determination theory. This theory has a basic assumption that people are motivated to grow and need to satisfy the following three psychological needs to achieve that growth: autonomy (sense of psychological freedom), competence (desire to feel effective), and relatedness (desire to feel connected to others). Fulfillment of these needs increases the likelihood that people will engage in knowledge transfer in order to achieve their goals.

The second is called socioemotional selectivity theory. This theory states that people of different age-groups view time differently, and hence value different types of goals. Younger people perceive time as open-ended and thus tend to value gaining information and pursuing knowledge-related goals. On the other hand, older people perceive time as constrained, and thus tend to value emotionally meaningful goals that allow them to support future generations through sharing of knowledge.


There are a number of practical implications for managers. First, the authors say that given the benefits of knowledge transfer, managers should actively create opportunities that not only encourage interaction between older and younger workers, but also enable them to learn jointly.

Second, the authors say that since knowledge transfer contributes towards retention of employees, managers should actively identify people who are talented but seem demotivated or are at risk of quitting their jobs. These employees should be assigned specific roles in the knowledge transfer process in order to facilitate their retention

Additionally, managers should consider actively fostering a sense of self-determination among employees, considering it can impact their intention to remain at the organization. Allowing team members to take on more active roles or offering them more responsibilities can accomplish this. Lastly, managers should not overuse extrinsic rewards (e.g., compensation), as this can weaken intrinsic motivation among employees.


Burmeister, A., Wang, M., & Hirschi, A. (2019). Understanding the Motivational Benefits of Knowledge Transfer for Older and Younger Workers in Age-Diverse Coworker Dyads: An Actor–Partner Interdependence Model. Journal of Applied Psychology, advance online publication.