Understanding the Motivation of Older Employees

Topic(s): diversity, fairness, motivation
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (2011)
Article: Profiles of mature job seekers: Connecting needs and desires to work characteristics
Authors: Y. Nakai, B. Chang, A.F. Snell, C.D. Fluckinger
Reviewed by: Kerrin George

Organizations are facing the need to retain an aging workforce that has unique needs, desires, and challenges. In an effort to explain the work characteristics of interest to workers over 40, researchers (Nakai et al., 2011) identified and examined 3 clusters of workers based on what motivates them to work: the satisficers, the free agents, and the maximizers.


Satisficers were demographically younger than the other groups, and this group was composed of more males and married individuals comparatively. These workers are primarily driven by financial security and seek opportunities to earn money as a means to manage family demands. Health benefits and remaining healthy were also a significant concern. Life goals were less important for these workers and they were willing to change industries to meet their demands. The authors suggest that these workers may be more likely to settle and sacrifice other aspects of work.

Free agents were mostly female and unmarried mature workers, who were older than the satisficers.  This group favored part-time work and was more motivated by individual goals (e.g., health, learning opportunities, and work satisfaction), perhaps because they have fewer family or financial obligations.

Maximizers composed the largest cluster of older workers. This group was also mostly female and was less educated and composed of more minorities compared to the other groups. This group had high ratings on all desires, and they considered health benefits more than the free agents and had a greater desire for full time work. They want to take advantage of all options available.


Recognizing that maximizers were the dominant group, the authors argue that it is probable that organizations may be overlooking important needs of older employees and may not be effectively appealing to this group. This information can be used to enhance person-organization fit for older workers through tailored recruitment, work design or job crafting, learning opportunities, and the design of other HR initiatives. For individuals, the authors emphasize the importance of job-seeking strategies, encouraging older workers to be active in the pursuit of work that fits their needs. Overall, this information can shape how resources are designed and allocated for older workers, highlighting the diversity among them.


Nakai, Y., Chang, B., Snell, A. F., & Fluckinger, C. D. (2011). Profiles of mature job seekers: Connecting needs and desires to work characteristics. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31, 1-18.