With Age Comes Wisdom…And Better Job Attitudes

Topic: Diversity, Job Attitudes
Publication: Personnel Psychology (AUTUMN 2010)
Article: The relationships of age with job attitudes: A meta-analysis
Authors: T.W.H. Ng and D.C. Feldman
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Today, more than half of the American workforce is between the ages of 40 and 75.  This trend, known as the ageing workforce, has raised a number of important organizational issues of late, including the association between employee age and attitudes about work.  Employees’ job attitudes are particularly important from an organization’s perspective because of their link to engagement and performance on the job.

Despite common stereotypes that older employees are less motivated and productive the younger employees, Ng and Feldman (2010) argue that older employees should have more favorable job attitudes because they are more likely to settle into jobs that they are satisfied with and fit well into.  The results of their recent meta-analysis generally support this hypothesis. 

Indeed, the results of Ng and Feldman’s study suggest that older workers tend to report higher job satisfaction, pay satisfaction, and involvement in work.  They also tend to have higher levels of commitment to their organizations and identify more with their organizations than younger workers.

Older employees also tend to have better attitudes toward others in the workplace (e.g., supervisors, coworkers) than do younger employees and are thus slightly less likely to report experiencing interpersonal conflict at work. 

Additionally, compared to younger employees, older employees report less burnout and emotional exhaustion at work.  However, older employees do report a lower “sense of accomplishment” and lower satisfaction with promotions than younger employees. 

Importantly, Ng and Feldman were able to rule out the potential influence of tenure within the organization on the relationships mentioned above, suggesting that the relationship between age and job attitudes is not solely due to how long employees have worked in an organization. 

In the midst of the ageing workforce, managers and researchers have sought out ways to maintain the performance of employees as they age.  Ng and Feldman note that this concern has led to a focus on skills training for older employees and has also come along with negative stereotypes about older workers (e.g., older employees are less motivated than younger employees).  Ng and Feldman’s results, which show that older employees actually report higher motivation at work and involvement in their job, clearly do not support such stereotypes.  On the contrary, older employees report higher job attitudes which are known to positively influence performance on the job.

Ng, T.W.H., & Feldman, D.C. (2010). The relationships of age with job attitudes: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 63(3), 677-718.